Historically, Shortlands was known as Clay or Cley Hill. There was a house of that name which, in the early 19th century was renamed Shortlands House – and is now Bishop Challoner school.
It became known as Shortlands in around 1800. The name is a medieval term that refers to the layout of fields alongside a river, where the fields would have been on the valley sides. In some valleys, fields run parallel to the river, making them long and thin – long lands. Here, by the Ravensbourne, they ran at right angles to the river up the slopes either side making them shorter and wider.
The area was largely rural until the mid-19th century when the coming of the railway in 1858 and the sale of older estates promoted the development of many of the large Victorian properties that can still be seen, with substantial suburban development following in the 1920s and 30s.