Pole Hill

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View of London
Plaque on obelisk

Pole Hill is a geographical feature on the border between Greater London and Essex. From its summit there is an extensive view over much of east, north and west London, although in the summer the leaves of the trees in Epping Forest have a tendency to mask some of the visibility to the north and west.

Origin of name[edit]

The earliest recording of the name is as "Pouls Fee" or "Pauls Fee" in 1498. It is shown as Hawke Hill on the Chapman and André map of 1777. Hawke derives from the nearby Hawkwood. Hawk is the Old English for a nook, cranny or corner and so means wood at the corner of the parish (of Chingford.)

It was named Paul because it was in the manor of Chingford Pauli, also known as Chingford St. Paul's, which belonged to St Paul's Cathedral in London. Fee is from the Middle English fe which means a landed estate indicating it formed part of the manor. After the erection of the Greenwich Meridian Obelisk mentioned below, it appears to have acquired the cognomen of Polar Hill, but this soon dropped out of use.[1]

Astronomical history[edit]

The hill stands in Epping Forest at 0 degrees longitude, and 51 degrees 38 minutes north latitude. At its highest point it is 91 metres above sea level. It is chiefly noted for the fact that it lies directly on the Greenwich meridian and, being the highest point on that bearing directly visible from Greenwich, was at one time used as a marker by geographers at the observatory there to set their telescopes and observation equipment to a true zero degree bearing.[2]

On top of the hill there are two obelisks. The larger is made of granite and bears the following inscription:[3]

This pillar was erected in 1824 under the direction of the Reverend John Pond, MA, Astronomer Royal. It was placed on the Greenwich Meridian and its purpose was to indicate the direction of true north from the transit telescope of the Royal Observatory. The Greenwich Meridian as changed in 1850 and adopted by international agreement in 1884 as the line of zero longitude passes 19 feet to the east of this pillar.

At that point (19 feet / 5.8m east) there is a smaller concrete obelisk, which marks the true modern position of the Greenwich Meridian. The pillar however was not erected to mark the meridian. It is an Ordnance Survey trig point placed here to mark the top of the hill. The fact that it is on or near the Meridian is a coincidence.

Famous connections[edit]

Lawrence of Arabia once owned a considerable amount of land on the western side of the hill and built himself a small hut there in which he lived for several years.[4] Nothing remains today of this structure on Pole Hill. Lawrence's hut was demolished in 1930 and rebuilt in The Warren, Loughton.[5] The present day residential road Arabia Close,[6] however, sits very close by and is named (indirectly) for Lawrence.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Some Chingford Field Names by A.J. Britton – Chingford Historical Society Bulletin No. 7 July 1970
  2. ^ The parish and borough of Chingford, A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5 (1966), pp. 97-114 at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.asp?compid=42713
  3. ^ The Megalithic Portal and Megalith Map:
  4. ^ Letter from Lawrence to V W Richards, 1 September 1919, quoted at http://www.telawrence.net/telawrencenet/letters/1919-20/190901_richards.htm
  5. ^ http://www.guardian-series.co.uk/news/rbnews/8227950.HISTORY__A_look_at_Lawrence_of_Arabia_in_Epping_Forest/
  6. ^ Google Map of current-day Pole Hill with Arabia Close marked: http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=Arabia+Close,+London+E4&sll=51.634228,0.000343&sspn=0.006446,0.019312&g=e4+7du&ie=UTF8&ll=51.63548,0.003004&spn=0.006446,0.019312&z=16&iwloc=addr

Coordinates: 51°38′10″N 0°00′00″E / 51.636°N -0°E / 51.636; -0