Reigate Fort at Reigate Hill and Gatton Park
Built towards the end of Queen Victoria’s reign as part of a key defence plan to counter the threat of French invasion. Today, you can visit the outside of the fort to soak up the atmosphere of this evocative place and learn the details of its military history.
Why was Reigate Fort built?
With Britain’s naval power waning and the threat of invasion from France hanging over the country, the 1890s was a worrying time. England had to be ready to defend itself and its capital. If London was lost, the country and the empire would surely follow.
The London Defence Scheme
Reigate Fort was built on top of Reigate Hill in 1898 as part of the London Defence Scheme, a 72-mile chain of defence that stretched from the North Downs to Essex. It was designed to protect the capital while a huge ship-building programme was initiated by the government.
The last line of defence
One of 13 new military installations in the chain, Reigate Fort was a mobilisation centre, holding cutting tools for clearing trees and digging tools for entrenching, as well as ammunition. If an invasion materialised, trenches could quickly be dug to form the last line of defence for London.
Features of Reigate Fort
Inside the heavy-duty gates of the fort, a number of separate buildings each had their own functions.
Two sets of gates protect the entrance to the fort. The first are spiked and made of steel, the second are heavier and bullet-proof. They open to a width of 10ft, enough to let a horse-drawn wagon through.
The tool store
This building held the equipment required for trench warfare. Spades and pickaxes for digging the trenches, saws and axes for clearing trees from the firing lines and spiked coils of barbed wire to slow an advancing army. Tents for the soldiers to sleep in may also have been stored here.
The two arched chambers of the magazine building were where munitions were stored. There was ammunition for muzzle-loading and breech-loading rifles, and fuses and shells for the heavy artillery guns located at nearby Redhill. Given all the explosives stored there, the magazine was covered with earth to prevent damage from enemy shelling.
Like the tool store, the underground casemates held entrenching tools. But if an invasion had happened, they would also have provided protection from enemy bombardment and may even have been used as war rooms, to co-ordinate military tactics.
The decommissioning of Reigate Fort
By 1906, the British Admiralty was confident that its naval forces could safeguard against an invasion, particularly following the launch of the revolutionary battleship HMS Dreadnought.
The mobilisation centres were no longer needed. Reigate Fort was decommissioned in 1906 and sold off the following year.
Which soldiers used Reigate Fort?
Over the years, the fort has been used as a temporary base for a number of regiments, including:
- East Surrey Regiment
- Sherwood Foresters
- Staffordshire Regiment
- 3rd Royal Engineer Field Companies (volunteers)
- 3rd Royal Artillery Brigades (volunteers)
The restoration of Reigate Fort
In 1972, Reigate Fort and the other mobilisation centres were designated Scheduled Ancient Monuments by English Heritage because they recall a time of significant change in British warfare.
Now cared for by the National Trust, the fort has been restored with the help of a number of grants and a dedicated band of volunteers.
Volunteer-led guided tours inside the buildings are currently suspended, but the grounds of the fort are open to visitors every day, along with information telling some of its stories.
Relax in a landscaped park designed by ‘Capability’ Brown, challenge yourself with walks along the North Downs or visit places of historical interest, like Reigate Fort.
Learn about the tragic B-17 bomber crash at Reigate Hill during the Second World War, and the touching memorial to the nine US airmen who lost their lives.