Thursday, 25 July 2013

The Conquest of Box Hill

Climbing Box Hill by the steps in the current British heatwave would not be recommended for a man of my age and fitness by any reputable physician, but that which does not kill me etc etc.

At 735 feet AOD, Box Hill - close to Dorking in Surrey - is the highest point on the North Downs. Having been there at least once before (many years ago) I dispensed with an OS map and relied on memory. This was a mistake. Accompanied by my good lady wife, a much more enthusiastic walker than myself, we crossed the River Mole near the Stepping Stones, missed the path to the summit and ended up in a nettly cul-de-sac beneath a WW2 pillbox. This got me thinking about Box Hill's strategic importance, and added a dimension of interest beyond mere sightseeing and exercise.

Even without relying on the stepping stones, the River Mole is hardly much of an obstacle at this point and time of year. Indeed, you can more-or-less wade it without getting your knees wet, but the hill itself is steep enough towards its southern end. It would be unmanly and unmilitary to dwell too long on the gruelling ascent. Suffice to say there is a magnificent view from the top where you can literally see for miles and miles. Most people, of course, just drive to the top and park in the car park, but we are footsloggers.

The above photo shows the view towards Dorking which is a mile away. A little further from the viewing platform from which this was taken, there is a National Trust centre and close to that 'Box Hill Fort'.

It's not really a fort but rather a military depot. 13 of these mobilisation centres were built in the 1890s to protect London from invasion from continental Europe and formed the London Defence Positions. The swift victory of Prussia in 1870 had rattled some cages, but France was possibly a more immediate threat and Britain and France almost went to war in 1898 as a result of the Fashoda Incident.

The brick facade has steel shutters and doors.


 A magazine to the rear was protected by an earth mound above.

The fort would have acted as a control centre and magazine for extensive earthworks along the North Downs.

At this point I suddenly remembered mention of the fictional Battle of Dorking, by George Chesney, and immediately ordered a copy from Amazon.

Amazon is a place where one thing leads to another and it wasn't long before I had also ordered William Le Queux's The Invasion of 1910.

In the late nineteenth century the sun was beginning to set on the British Empire and invasion literature became quite a cult.

This genre is not something I've taken a wargaming interest in before, but I know others have and here is a game report on the Battle of Dorking in The Shire and everything after blog.


  1. There's also a good site further along the North Downs at Reigate Hill where they occasionally have reenactment events. Ironically I drive between both these places for work most days but never get am chance to stop :(

    1. Thanks for that. Reigate Fort looks very accessible from the railway station, so I'll mount an expedition.