This typical work of the 1790s was executed when Sandby was based at Woolwich. He spent the early part of his career as a draftsman for the Board of Ordnance and was based in Scotland working on a military survey from 1747 to 1751. On returning south he joined his brother Thomas at Windsor and spent ten years there sketching and etching while Thomas carried out architectural and landscape gardening for the Duke of Cumberland. In 1760 both brothers moved to London, playing an important part in the establishment of the Royal Academy. By 1768, when Paul took the position of Chief Drawing Master at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, he was at the height of his career.
Sandby painted a number of views of Woolwich including a large and similarly expansive view across to the Thames in the Royal Collection, dated 1796. The Records of the Royal Military Academy 1741 -, 1892, 1893, p. 33 record that Sandby was asked 'to take views about Woolwich and other places; which teaches them [the students] at the same time to break ground, and forms the eye to knowledge of it'.
The church is possibly St Mary Magdalene, built 1732-8.
Sandby was fascinated by trees, something that became an emblem in his later work. Here he has used to great effect the play of light through the poplar trees to the left and on the fence, accentuating the sense of distance and throwing the foreground figures into what is almost a silhouette, beneath the oak.