Just on the edge of London lies an architectural and military marvel — a relic of the time Britain feared invasion by France.

(c) Landmark Trust

The French had developed a method of communicating very quickly over long distances using a relay of tall towers, with large semaphore signals on top which were visible miles away by the next tower in the sequence. Messages that had taken days to get from one end to the other could now be sent in minutes.

Britain had built a basic network of its own, but it was dismantled following Napoleon’s exile to Elba.

Although Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo a couple of years later, the fact that the French had an efficient network of towers with semaphores on top had worried the British, and in 1815 orders were given for the UK to build a superior network.

One of those tall towers was built on the edge of London, at Chatley Heath, and not only is it the last surviving tower, it was also the tallest in the network when built.

A bit like a lighthouse, the tower had live in staff, usually a retired naval officer, along with an assistant and they kept watch out for urgent Admiralty messages that needed to be sent between London and Portsmouth.

(c) Landmark Trust

Within 20 years though, the tower was redundant as the electric telegraph had been invented further speeding up communications, and making lots of tower operators equally redundant.

Although occupied as a home until the 1960s, it was banned as a home due to the lack of modern facilities and abandoned, was badly damaged by fire in 1984.

The tower was given restoration work by Surrey Council in 1989 and was occasionally open to the public, but today its condition makes that impossible.

(c) Landmark Trust

But it has a future.

The tower has been taken over by the historic building’s charity, the Landmark Trust, and they are fundraising to restore it. The aim, as with their other buildings is to turn it into a building that can be rented for holidays, so that anyone can visit and spend a few days here.

It’ll also likely be open to the public on occasional open days.

The Landmark Trust is now fundraising for the final £50,000 that they need to start restoration works and preserve this vital piece of military and architectural history.


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