diamond geezer

 Tuesday, April 12, 2016

This year the town of Woking is celebrating 150 years since the birth of author HG Wells. He spent less than 18 months living in the town (circa 1895) but wrote some of his most famous works here, including the most famous of all - The War of the Worlds. Originally serialised in 1897, it later became a novel, several movies, a concept double album and the inspiration for a considerable body of science fiction. The laying waste of humanity by a superior intelligence, and the invaders' fortuitous demise, make for a compelling tale. But the story is also thick with geographical detail, as Wells delights in destroying his home town, most of the surrounding countryside and much of north Surrey.
"I'm doing the dearest little serial for Pearson's new magazine, in which I completely wreck and sack Woking -- killing my neighbours in painful and eccentric ways -- then proceed via Kingston and Richmond to London, which I sack, selecting South Kensington for feats of peculiar atrocity."
Despite its fictional obliteration, a series of commemorative events are planned in Woking this year, culminating with the unveiling of a statue on the 150th anniversary in September. The Wells in Woking Festival has a busy website, with a Twitter feed here, a full event diary here, and a particularly impressive souvenir programme can be downloaded here. I chose to walk the Heritage Trail, a well-documented four mile circuit round the town and adjacent Horsell Common, passing many points of WotW-ian interest. And it made for a very pleasant half-day out. [16 photos]

The Wells in Woking Heritage Trail (leaflet and map)

Maybury Road: Woking station is dead easy to get to from central London, about half an hour out, with very regular trains. Maybury Road runs east from the station immediately alongside the tracks, residential on one side only, and HG Wells lived up the far end at number 141. You can see his semi from the train, four buildings along from the hockey shop, identified by a small blue plaque between the uPVC windows. It's a shame he didn't live nextdoor, because that's still got the original brickwork and a porch draped with evergreen foliage, whereas 141 has been plastered and paved so looks considerably less inspirational. But it was from here that Herbert rode out on his bike to reconnoitre the local area, and to here that he returned to write another fact-packed chapter of his alien saga. [photo]

Maybury Hill: The Trail doesn't actually go this way, but I diverted under the railway to see the shallow incline where HG's unnamed narrator must have lived. Wells' house in Maybury Road was too low down to have been under threat from a heat ray based on Horsell Common, whereas houses on the hill had sufficient elevation to be in direct sight, once Woking's Oriental College had been blasted away. This splendid building was originally the Royal Dramatic College, a retirement home for ex-actors, before being taken over in 1884 by a Hungarian Muslim scholar. He built Britain's first mosque nextdoor, the striking Shah Jahan, whose jade green minarets are also easily seen from the train. It still thrives, as I discovered when I turned up at prayer time, so only managed to snatch an appreciative side view from the car park. As for the Oriental College, this alas has been demolished far more comprehensively than the Martians managed, and is now the warehouselike Lion Retail Estate (Asda, Argos, Halfords, etc). [photo]

Horsell Common: The Trail crosses the Basingstoke Canal, the same route the narrator would have taken when news of the first cylinder's landing first broke, to enter Horsell Common. This extensive area of acid heathland abuts the town and neighbouring villages, or rather is all that's left of the original landscape after suburbia took several nibbles. It's also a marvellous place to walk, as Woking's residents (and their dogs) seemingly know well. I enjoyed taking backwoods paths I'd never have found without the map, passing through a thick landscape of silver birch, holly and pine, plus (in certain more open quarters) gorse bushes bursting with spring yellow. There's also a pub halfway round, if this kind of thing is important to you when going for a ramble. [2 photos]

Muslim Burial Ground: Located in the southeast corner of the common, nearest to the mosque, this square walled enclosure was laid out after WW1 as the final resting place for 19 Muslim soldiers who died in Britain from their wartime injuries. A handful more were buried here after WW2, but vandalism in the 1960s led to their bodies being moved to a cemetery elsewhere. The monument was later restored thanks to a donation from a local resident, a certain Mr Paul Weller, and within the last six months has been remodelled as a Peace Memorial Garden. Each soldier is now remembered by a freshly-planted tree, in two lines either side of a perfectly symmetrical water feature, creating an impressively serene place for reflection (if you can ignore the small pylon alongside). [photo]

The Sandpits: This is what the trail has been aiming for, this is science fiction nirvana, ever since HG Wells selected the sandpits in the centre of the common as the landing place of the first Martian cylinder. A long sandy beach wraps around a pond in the bottom of a shallow depression, evidence of several centuries of manmade extraction, with twisted roots revealed where the surrounding land has fallen away. The existence of water draws all the dog owners on the common to this point, taking the opportunity for a fetch and a splash, and to play boisterously with all the other four-legged friends present. Enticed by Wells' prose I hung around for fifteen minutes on the bench overlooking the scene, reading the very chapters based on the landscape in front of me, and at no time was the pool or its golden beach ever canine-free. [3 photos]

"Very early in the morning poor Ogilvy, who had seen the shooting star and who was persuaded that a meteorite lay somewhere on the common between Horsell, Ottershaw, and Woking, rose early with the idea of finding it. Find it he did, soon after dawn, and not far from the sand pits. An enormous hole had been made by the impact of the projectile, and the sand and gravel had been flung violently in every direction over the heath, forming heaps visible a mile and a half away. The heather was on fire eastward, and a thin blue smoke rose against the dawn."
The Lightbox: It's an enjoyable mile and a half back to town, carefully following the route on the trail map via some of the common's lesser-used tracks. Recrossing the canal the first building is The Lightbox, one of those early 21st century lottery-funded art-sheds, housing a broad collection of cultural artefacts. One gallery contains the town's museum (free), two others host temporary exhibitions (paid for), plus there's a decent-looking cafe to help entice shoppers inside. This month there's also a small exhibition of War Of the Worlds-inspired prints and artworks, some of them particularly appealing, other perhaps a little obtuse... but worth a look. [photo]

The Martian: The Trail ends by threading through the town centre, specifically to pass one of the most unusual public sculptures in the South East. A seven-metre-high three-legged silver Martian strides across the top of Crown Square, tentacles gleaming... and the people of Woking generally ignore it. This lofty creation been here since 1998, when it was unveiled by Carol Vorderman, so the incongruity of death stalking a shopping precinct is a bit passé these days. A little further down the Chobham Road is a partner piece, a metal cylinder embedded obliquely in the pavement, and look out for mosaics depicting Earth's all-conquering bacteria alongside. If you've enjoyed the circuit you might end your walk in one of two themed pubs - the local Wetherspoons is called The Herbert George Wells, while a freehouse up the road has been named The Ogilvy after the astronomer who first identified the craft. And raise a glass to the town's total destruction, a fictional triumph which has placed Woking firmly on the map. [5 photos]

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan21  Feb21  Mar21  Apr21  May21  Jun21
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20  Jun20  Jul20  Aug20  Sep20  Oct20  Nov20  Dec20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

» my flickr photostream

twenty blogs
ian visits
blue witch
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
in the aquarium
round the island
wanstead meteo
christopher fowler
ruth's coastal walk
the ladies who bus
round the rails we go
london reconnections
dirty modern scoundrel
from the murky depths
exploring urban wastelands

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
Things to do outside London
Inner London toilet map
The DG Tour of Britain

read the archive
Jun21  May21
Apr21  Mar21  Feb21  Jan21
Dec20  Nov20  Oct20  Sep20
Aug20  Jul20  Jun20  May20
Apr20  Mar20  Feb20  Jan20
Dec19  Nov19  Oct19  Sep19
Aug19  Jul19  Jun19  May19
Apr19  Mar19  Feb19  Jan19
Dec18  Nov18  Oct18  Sep18
Aug18  Jul18  Jun18  May18
Apr18  Mar18  Feb18  Jan18
Dec17  Nov17  Oct17  Sep17
Aug17  Jul17  Jun17  May17
Apr17  Mar17  Feb17  Jan17
Dec16  Nov16  Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

the diamond geezer index
2020 2019 2018 2017 2016
2015 2014 2013 2012 2011
2010 2009 2008 2007 2006
2005 2004 2003 2002

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
Herbert Dip
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards