Telegraph Hill rises to around 50 metres at its highest point and was formerly known as Plowed Garlic Hill. It gained its current name from a semaphore telegraph station which was constructed on the summit of the hill circa 1795. The signalling station was one of the points from which news of Wellington's victory at Waterloo was flashed to London. It was removed in 1823.
The poet Robert Browning at one time lived at the foot of Telegraph Hill, in a cottage which he wrote looked like a 'goose pie'.
For many years Telegraph Hill was covered by market gardens owned by the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers, one of the ancient livery companies of London. In the late 19th century the Haberdashers decided to develop Telegraph Hill for housing. The company had already built terraced housing on its land nearer New Cross Road when it commissioned a study of the development potential of Telegraph Hill in 1859. The surveyor recommended 'the erection of dwelling houses of a high standard' on wide tree-lined streets.
Most construction took place around 1871. The villas are distinctive in style and as a result of this architectural unity Telegraph Hill is now a conservation area. The company added Haberdashers' Aske's School for boys and girls (named after one of its members Robert Aske, and now Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham College) in 1875, a separate Haberdashers' Aske's girls' school in 1891 and St Catherine's Church in 1894.
In the 1895 the London County Council opened Telegraph Hill Park to the public.
Telegraph Hill Centre was built in 1971 and opened by Bishop Trevor Huddleston, the noted anti-apartheid campaigner. Funding from London Borough of Lewisham was cut in 1986/7. In 1993, the vicar and curate of St Catherine's Church met with local residents and set up the Telegraph Hill Festival. Telegraph Hill Centre was also instrumental in working with local residents to set up Bold Vision and Hill Station cafe. The Centre is now a self-funded entity and continues to provide services for the community on Telegraph Hill and its surrounding areas by operating as a sub committee of the Parochial Church Council of St Catherine's Church.
Telegraph Hill Society is an active local residents' group which campaigns for improvements to the area. Its achievements include campaigning successfully for the restoration of the Victorian park at the top of Telegraph Hill. The refurbished park was reopened in Summer 2005.
A large number of artists have studios on the hill, who along with local musicians, actors and performers participate in Telegraph Hill Festival held annually in Spring. Telegraph Hill Festival includes musical events, large scale musicals, plays and theatrical events, public art and open studios, reggae sound systems, comedy and pop up diners across the area.
In 2009 Bold Vision was established as a social enterprise with the aim of strengthening community in the area. Bold Vision's first project was building the Hill Station, a cafe between the two halves of Telegraph Hill Park in the undercroft of Telegraph Hill Centre. Bold Vision was supported by Telegraph Hill Centre who leased the space on a peppercorn rent, acting as an incubator to channel seed funding for the new venture in addition to making a significant financial contribution. Bold Vision's other projects included acting as incubators to enable Common Growth, a food growing project and the campaign to save New Cross Public Library.
Telegraph Hill Park is in two halves on either side of Kitto Road; the upper park contains tennis courts which apparently occupy the site of the telegraph station which gave the hill its name. The lower park contains ponds and children's playgrounds. A farmers' market is held in the lower park on the third Saturday of each month.
Telegraph Hill is home to the highly popular Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham College, which is the most over-subscribed state school in the country with a ratio of 12:1 applications for the past decade. GCSE and A-Level results put Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham College within the top 10 Independent state schools in the Country. The hill's other secondary school, Telegraph Hill School, closed in 2003. A campaign by local parents failed to persuade the council to establish a new secondary school on the site. Instead, a sixth form centre called Crossways Sixth Form was built on the site, and opened in 2004. The site was taken over by Christ the King Sixth Form College in 2013. Telegraph Hill also has a primary school: the Edmund Waller Primary School, in Waller Road.
Telegraph Hill ward is one of 18 council wards that make up the Lewisham borough council. Local council elections in the ward have recently been dominated by concerns about traffic calming schemes and the perceived need for a new secondary school, and the voters have a history of supporting candidates from smaller parties. In 2002 this resulted in the election of a candidate for a local party called LEAP (Local Education Action by Parents).
In the 2006 Borough Council elections, Telegraph Hill voters elected Robin Cross, Ian G. Page and Christopher Flood. Robin Cross ran for the Labour Party, but retired from the council in 2010 to spend more time on his work in international development - he is the Director of Projects for the international development and disaster relief charity "Article 25" (registered Charity No 1112621). Ian Page and Chris Flood both ran for the Socialist Alternative, the name used in elections by the Trotskyist Socialist Party; they were two of only five borough councillors for the party in the country. In the 2006 elections, Telegraph Hill was, among a total of 624 London wards, the one with the largest share of votes (50.6%) going to parties to the left of the three mainstream parties (Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat).
In the 2010 elections for the Borough Council, the three councillors elected were Paul Bell, Joan Millbank and Dan Whittle, all standing for the Labour Party. All three were new members of the Council. In the Borough Council elections of 2014, voters elected Joan Millbank, Paul Bell and Luke Sorba, all Labour Party candidates.
In comparison with overall numbers for London and England, the Telegraph Hill ward had relatively few residents of over 45 in 2011 (26.2% compared to 32.3% in London and 41.7% in England; up from 24.9% in 2001) and relatively many in the age group 20-44 (50.1%; up from 49.0% in 2001).
According to the 2011 census, 10,356 (63.1%) of the residents were born in the United Kingdom - close to the 63.3% in London as a whole, compared to 86.2% nationally. 613 residents (or 3.7%) were born in Jamaica, and 683 (or 4.2%) in Nigeria; other countries of birth constituted smaller shares of the population. 50.6% of the population were white; 30.0% black; 7.7% Asian; and 7.9% mixed.
The census identified 10.8% of residents aged 16–74 as being in higher managerial, administrative or professional occupations; a further 24.1% were in "lower managerial and professional occupations"; 14.6% of residents were full-time students; and 8.2% had never worked or were long-term unemployed. In comparison to overall numbers for London and England, there is a high proportion of non-pensioner one-person households (25.9% of households) and lone parent households with dependent children (10.7%), compared to national averages (17.9% and 7.1%, respectively). As a residential area, population density of Telegraph Hill (106.3 persons per hectare) is more than twice the average density of London (52 persons per hectare).