Severndroog Castle in 1876, in W. T. Vincent, The Records of the Woolwich District, 2 vols (Woolwich: J. P. Jackson, 1888), II, p. 641. Image: British Library.


As the nineteenth century wore on, people continued to remark upon the great distances from which Severndroog could be seen. Thomas Hartree Cornish noted that Severndroog could be seen downriver from Woolwich in his poem The Thames (1842), in which he incorrectly described the castle (which was still less than sixty years old) as a ‘mansion of the past’. In the middle of the century, Severndroog’s famous visibility on London’s horizon was also used to express anxiety about the expanding capital’s tendency to swallow up surrounding countryside and villages, growth that brought with it the claustrophobia of urban living, smog, and the loss of the ability to view anything at a distance. In an often reprinted Victorian short story, one inhabitant of Clapton in north-east London describes how ‘One used to be able to see Lady James’s tower on Shooter’s Hill; but soon nobody will be able to breathe. Nothing but brick and mortar all about us’. In the end, it was the rising tree line of Castlewood, as much as air pollution, that caused Severndroog to gradually disappear from London’s skyline. One nineteenth-century source suggests that the castle was largely hidden from view by the 1870s. This image of Severndroog from 1876, which was printed in The Records of the Woolwich District (1888), is probably nostalgic. It shows the castle towering above surrounding saplings that had, in reality, now grown into mature trees: a fitting tribute to the once ‘far-seen monumental tower’ that had begun to appear in works of art over eighty years earlier.



Severndroog Castle in 1876