The defence of London

Explore how London was defended from invasion in the 19th Century

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In the late 19th century, Britain feared that the centre of the Empire, London, was not protected sufficiently from an attack. As a result, over a dozen forts were built surrounding London in the North Downs area in places such as Box Hill and Halstead. As we know, mainland Britain was never invaded but if it was, what protection would these structures have given?

116 kilometres (72 miles) long, the fortifications protected the south-eastern borders of London in the nearby counties of Surrey and Kent. A complete encirclement of London was considered unfeasible so the decision was made to protect the most likely area of invasion: south-east from rival European powers.

Officially known as ‘mobilisation centres’, the positions contained storehouses as well as defences. More light outposts rather than heavy fortresses, the 13 areas consisted of ‘magazines’ containing ammunition and arms as well as shelter from possible energy bombardment. Each of the ‘earthworks’ differed in design with some covered in earth for extra protection and concealment and some under metal ramparts or earth ditches. If the capital were to come under attack, these storehouses would ensure each area was properly prepared and supplied for defence.

With the threat of invasion subsiding, the defence systems were soon abandoned and sold off. Many of them are still standing and can be seen today as remnants of the British Empire and London’s importance to the Empire and indeed, the world.

Reigate_Fort_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1143457
Remains of the fort at Reigate. Copyright Ian Capper

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