High above London on Shooter’s Hill is a remarkable folly – Severndroog Castle. Built as a monument to Sir William James in 1784 it lay derelict for decades, but after several years of campaigning by local people it now offers visitors fantastic views across the city and the home counties.
The castle was built one year after his death by his second wife, Lady Anne, who was two decades his junior – they had married when he was 42 and she was in her early twenties. By this point the family also owned two substantial homes – one in Eltham and the other in fashionable Soho which had been made possible by Sir William James’ meteoric rise in the East India Company. Starting his working life as a humble ship’s mate he ended his career as chairman of the board, as well as being a Member of Parliament. His final accolade would come in 1778, when he was given a baronetcy.
Severndroog Castle’s curious name relates to Sir William’s activities in India, where he was responsible for the capture of Survanadurg fortress – set on an island just off the coast south of Mumbai – from Tulaji Angre, a local nobleman who was widely considered to be a pirate because of his attacks on the local shipping lanes. The reason why it’s name was anglicised is sadly lost to history…
The restoration of the building was completed in 2014 after 11 long years of campaigning and fundraising by the Severndroog Castle Building Preservation Trust. Today you can visit its charming little cafe on the ground floor, and for a nominal fee of £2.50 ascend through it’s two sympathetically restored hexagonal rooms on the upper floors and then visit the roof, which is where the magic happens. Here you’ll discover what makes the castle so very special – it has an absolutely commanding view over the surrounding landscape. The West End, City and Canary Wharf can be seen in the near distance, while further off you can spy the tall buildings of Croydon to the south. On a good day – just like the one on which I visited – you can see well into Hertfordshire, Kent and Essex too.
A visit is highly recommended – the ground floor cafe is open seven days a week while the rest of the building can be viewed on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays from 12:30pm to 4:30pm.