Tuesday, 30 July 2013

The Reconnaissance of Reigate Fort

Kindly prompted by blog follower, Alastair, we set out on an expedition to Reigate Fort, a little to the east of Box Hill and another part of the London Defence Positions built in the 1890s to defend London from the French. Whilst Britain had been the world's super power since the Battle of Trafalgar, its strength was thinly spread and its naval dominance slipping. Although the subsequent naval race with Germany and the commitment to building 'Dreadnoughts' restored confidence in British naval supremacy and rendered the London Defence Positions obsolete, the fear of invasion was still great enough for parts of the LDP to be revitalised during the First and Second World Wars.

The southern edge of the South Downs forms a natural escarpment and a strong defensive position, and would have been the best, and, indeed, the last, place to resist an advance on London by forces landed on the south coast. London itself would have provided good internal lines of communication.

The fort lies about a mile north of Reigate. The ascent up London Road/Reigate Hill (the A217) is considerably easier than climbing up the south end of Box Hill, but rather less pleasant alongside the heavy traffic. There is a bus for the less energetic and a car park for motorised visitors.

The fort was not permanently manned, but was maintained by a caretaker in a nearby cottage. Guns and men would have been brought up in the event of need and the fort would have become a strong-point in a more extensive trench system.

 View of Reigate from a position just to the east of Reigate Fort.

Close-up of signboard showing toolshed, magazine and the two casements on the southern side. There was a firing step along the inner edge but this is now largely eroded.
Outer fence and entrance.

Surrounding ditch from entrance bridge.
Bullet-proof gates.

Brick toolshed.

 Prior to restoration the site was obviously heavily wooded. The trees have left a few rotting stumps and pot holes.

Toolshed interior.

Entrance to magazine.

Magazine (left), toolshed (right).

 Southern rampart and casements.

 View south-west from southern rampart.

 Entrance to casement. One is open, the other is blocked up, possibly due to tree damage. At this point my hungry camera eat all the batteries so the rest of the pictures were taken on a smartphone and have less realistic colours.

 Ventilation for casement. 

 View of inside of fort from eastern rampart.

View from the northern rampart into the eastern end of the fort. Possibly a drainage sump?

A WW2 era pillbox defending the northern side of the fort. This once again demonstrates how good strategic positions persist despite technological change.

2 comments:

  1. Glad you made it to the top! There's definitely a fictional 19thC campaign in there somewhere, defending the leafy Surrey/South London suburbs from the encroaching French hordes (or Prussians I suppose at. Push) and making a last stand by the cafe and gift shop!!

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    1. Yes, the idea is crystallising! But the problem with any credible alternative history is to explain how a continental invasion force actually did overcome the Royal Navy, despite the worries that drove British defence strategy at the time. Discounting some fantastical deus ex machina device, that really leaves being overwhelmed by a hostile alliance…

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