Box Hill, Surrey
Box Hill is a summit of the North Downs in Surrey, approximately 30 km (19 mi) south-west of London. The hill takes its name from the ancient box woodland found on the steepest west-facing chalk slopes overlooking the River Mole. The western part of the hill is owned and managed by the National Trust, whilst the village of Box Hill lies on higher ground to the east. The highest point is Betchworth Clumps at 224 m (735 ft) above OD, although the Salomons Memorial (at 172 metres) overlooking the town of Dorking is the most popular viewpoint.
|Elevation||224 m (735 ft) |
|Prominence||49 m (161 ft)|
|Topo map||OS Landranger 187|
|Age of rock||Cretaceous and Eocene|
Box Hill lies within the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and forms part of the Mole Gap to Reigate Escarpment Site of Special Scientific Interest. The north- and south-facing slopes support an area of chalk downland, noted for its orchids and other rare plant species. The hill provides a habitat for 40 species of butterfly, and has given its name to a species of squash bug, now found throughout south-east England.
An estimated 850,000 people visit Box Hill each year. The National Trust visitors' centre provides both a cafeteria and gift shop, and the panoramic views of the western Weald may be enjoyed from the North Downs Way, a long-distance footpath that runs along the southern escarpment. Box Hill featured prominently on the route of the 2012 Summer Olympics cycling road race events (the men doing nine circuits and the women doing two circuits).
Box Hill stands at the south-eastern corner of the Mole Gap, the valley carved by the River Mole through the North Downs. Box Hill School is in the village of Mickleham 1.4 kilometres (0.9 mi) to the north, and the hill overlooks the town of Dorking to the south-west. The hill is approximately 30 km (19 mi) south-west of central London and is the 12th highest in Surrey.
The National Trust owns and manages much of the western and north-eastern part of Box Hill. Leopold Salomons, owner of Norbury Park donated 95 ha (230 acres) in 1914 in order to protect it from development. Additional land was purchased or donated between 1921 and 1999 and today the Box Hill estate covers an area of around 490 ha (1,200 acres), including Mickleham Downs to the north and Lower Boxhill Farm to the south.
The 'village' of Box Hill (part of a joint civil parish with Headley) is to the east of the National Trust property. The earliest flint cottages date from the 1800s, although much of the village was constructed in the first half of the 20th century. By 2005 there were more than 800 dwellings of which over five hundred were mobile homes. An estimated 41% of the community is aged 60 or over. St Andrew's Church, part of the Parish of Headley, was opened in 1969 and the village hall opened in 1974
Box Hill is a Special Area of Conservation and included in a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest, affording it a level of legislative protection against planning applications. The chalk downland environment supports notable populations of bats, lepidopterans, orchids and the hill's namesake, the box tree (Buxus sempervirens). Box Hill also has over 40 species of butterflies and plants.
The earliest archaeological evidence of human activity on Box Hill are two Bronze Age round barrows located close to the Salomons Memorial. The larger barrow is 20 m (66 ft) in diameter and 2.2 m (7 ft 3 in) high. In medieval times the larger barrow was used as a boundary marker or mere for the parish of Mickleham. Traces of prehistoric field boundaries are visible on Burford Spur and the low flint banks on the steeper and more wooded White Hill may be contemporaneous.
Medieval and early modern periodsEdit
The origin of the Box trees growing on the hill is disputed: Several sources from the late 18th century suggest that the first Box Trees on the Hill were planted by Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel during the reign of Charles I. Older medieval documents however make reference to local individuals with surnames including Atteboxe, de la Boxe and Buxeto, suggesting that Box was already common in the local area by the 13th century, and it has also been observed that Thomas Howard never owned the Box Hill estate. The diarist John Evelyn records a visit to the hill in August 1655 to view "those natural bowers, cabinets and shady walks in the box copses." The close grain of the Box wood made it highly prized for its timber for carving and there are numerous accounts of the sale of trees from the hill throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.
The pillow mounds to the north-east of the Salomons Memorial are thought to date from the medieval period and were probably constructed as artificial warrens for rabbits. High Ashurst warren is recorded as remaining in use until the late 18th century. A second warren was probably situated close to Warren Farm in the Headley Valley and it has been speculated that the present farmhouse was originally the warrener's cottage.
The proposals for a land value tax outlined by Chancellor David Lloyd George in his People's Budget of 1909 prompted the trustees of the Deepdene estate to start to sell the unimproved land on the western side of Box Hill. As a result of negotiations led by Sir Robert Hunter, one of the founders of the National Trust, Leopold Salomons of Norbury Park purchased 95 ha (230 acres) which included the Old Fort, Swiss Cottage and the western flank of the hill above the River Mole, for £16,000.
Two further purchases of 28 ha (69 acres) and 102 ha (250 acres) transferred Lodge Hill and Ashurst Rough to National Trust ownership in 1921 and 1923. The Trust continued to purchase land, and by the mid-1980s the estate comprised some 500 ha (1,200 acres). The most recent additions to the Box Hill Estate include farmland at Westhumble and at the foot of the hill, purchased in the late 1990s.
The National Trust also owns Headley Heath, a geologically distinct area of heathland which lies to the north-east of Box Hill village. The majority of the heath was acquired in a single purchase in 1946.
Box Hill was given to the nation by Leopold Salomons in 1914.
On the hill there are car parks and a viewpoint, from where the town of Dorking can be viewed. But that is not the highest point: the ridge rises toward the east, and most of the village of Box Hill is higher, at an altitude of around 200 metres (656 ft). The Ordnance Survey mark a spot height of 224 metres (735 ft) at the radio mast at .
Near the viewpoint there is a National Trust shop containing a small visitor centre, and a café. The car parks are owned and run by the National Trust. Details of footpaths are available in this area. There are a number of public footpaths, but they are not necessarily clearly marked (e.g. the 'Family Fun Trail', details of which are available in the shop).
Box Hill is served by local and London bus routes, providing access to both the visitor centre and the foot of the hill, where there is another car park (opposite the Burford Bridge Hotel) that is frequented by motorcyclists.
The route to the top from the A24, known as the Zig Zag Road, is quite steep and is a popular test of fitness for cyclists. There is another small car park halfway up this road, with room for only around 10 cars.
The nearest railway station is Box Hill & Westhumble railway station.
Salomons Memorial (viewpoint)Edit
The most notable sight on Box Hill is the view from the viewing platform. There can be a very clear view, roughly south over Dorking and further towards Gatwick Airport and right across to the South Downs, including Chanctonbury Ring and Devil's Dyke, Sussex (a distance of 26 miles, according to the inscription on the viewing platform). The Salomons Memorial is sometimes mistakenly thought to be at the summit of the hill, but the land continues to rise to the east. The highest point is at Betchworth Clumps, a wooded area to the south of The Tree on Box Hill public house, at an elevation of 224 metres (735 ft). The summit is occupied by a water tower and transmitter mast.
The Old FortEdit
The Old Fort is one of 13 mobilisation centres (known collectively as the London Defence Positions) built in the 1890s to protect London from invasion from continental Europe. The six acre site of the fort was originally purchased by the Ministry of Defence in 1891, and construction began in 1896. Box Hill fort was laid out in the form of an infantry redoubt, typical of the period, but also included magazines for the storage of artillery ammunition. (In common with the majority of the twelve other mobilisation centres, the Box Hill fort was designed for the use of the infantry only and the stored ammunition was intended for the use of mobile field artillery which would be deployed nearby as required.) A reform of defence policy by the Secretary of War Viscount Haldane in 1905 resulted in all 13 centres being declared redundant, and Box Hill Fort was sold back to the estate trustees in 1908. The building cannot be entered by visitors. It is inhabited by bats, which are protected species in the UK.
Zig Zag RoadEdit
The Zig Zag Road is the most direct route to the National Trust visitors' centre from the Mole Gap for both cars and bicycles. The exact age of the Zig Zag Road is uncertain, but it first appears on the Ordnance Survey map of 1869, and has been popular with cyclists since the 1880s.[note 1]
The road is a steady climb of 120 metres (390 ft) over 2.5 kilometres (1.6 mi) and, although on a much smaller scale, has been likened to the Alpe d'Huez in the French Alps. The Zig Zag Road featured prominently in the 2012 Summer Olympics cycling road race events: in a mid-race circuit at Box Hill, the men climbed the road nine times and the women twice.[note 2]
Peter Labilliere was born in Dublin on 30 May 1725 to a family of French Huguenot descent. He joined the British Army at the age of 14, becoming a major in 1760. After leaving the army he became a political agitator and was accused in 1775 of bribing British troops not to fight in the American War of Independence, although he was never tried for treason. Throughout the 1770s and 80s Labiliere corresponded regularly with both Benjamin Franklin (at that time the American representative in France) and the Long Island wax sculptor Patience Wright. The effect of his anti-war protests on British public sentiment is uncertain, although he appears to have attracted a following of over 700 like-minded adherents, and the army was required to rely on German mercenaries, as recruitment of British troops for the war became increasingly difficult.
Labilliere moved to Dorking from Chiswick in around 1789, living in a small cottage called "The Hole in the Wall," on Butter Hill, and often visiting Box Hill to meditate. With old age he became increasingly eccentric and neglected his own personal hygiene to such an extent that he acquired the nickname "the walking dung-hill". He died on 6 June 1800. In accordance with his wishes he was buried head downwards, on 10 or 11 June on the western side of Box Hill above The Whites. In the presence of a crowd of thousands that included visitors from London as well as the local "quality gentry", Labilliere was buried without any religious ceremony, having reportedly said that the world was "topsy-turvey" and that it would be righted in the end if he were interred thus. But this preference was not mentioned in his "Book of Devotions": rather he there said that he wished to emulate the example of St Peter, who was crucified upside-down according to tradition.[note 3]
The memorial stone on Box Hill is not believed to mark the exact location of his burial (which is thought to be several metres to the west on a steep incline). There are two errors on the memorial stone itself: He was buried in June 1800 (rather than July) and all surviving manuscripts indicate that he spelt his name Labilliere (rather than Labelliere).
He then earned a mention (continuing the 'e' spelling) in Edith Sitwell's 1933 book The English Eccentrics, which surely draws on Timbs' description, and through which he came to feature in W.H. Auden's 1940 book of poems New Year Letter (The Double Man in the United States) (Part 1, ll. 368-82):
- [We] Get angry like Labellière,
- Who, finding no invectives hurled
- Against a topsy-turvy world
- Would right it, earning a quaint renown
- By being buried upside-down;
- Unwilling to adjust belief,
- Go mad in a fantastic grief
- Where no adjustment need be done, ..
Weypole and Stepping StonesEdit
The Weypole (or Waypole) is a roughly semi-circular 2.4 ha (5.9-acre) area of level ground at the foot of Box Hill, between The Whites and the River Mole. The area was originally part of the grounds of Burford Lodge, built by John Eckersall in 1776, and the apple and cherry trees in the area suggest that it was used as an orchard for a time. The Burford Lodge estate was later owned by the horticulturalist Sir Trevor Lawrence, who created a garden along the banks of the Mole for his collection of orchids.
A ford across the River Mole is thought to have existed here since prehistoric times. The way-pole was a notched post secured in the riverbed, to indicate the depth of the water. Stepping stones at this site are first recorded in 1841 and they may have been installed by an owner of Burford Lodge to facilitate access to the Weypole orchard. The current stones were dedicated on 11 September 1946 by Prime Minister Clement Attlee, at the request of James Chuter Ede, local politician and Attlee's Home Secretary, replacing those destroyed during World War 2 as an anti-invasion measure. The spot is popular with both anglers and families, although swimming is strongly discouraged. The stones give their name to the pub in the nearby village of Westhumble.
John Logie Baird, the inventor of the first working television system, lived at Swiss Cottage from 1929 until 1932. Baird conducted some of his experiments on Box Hill, including his Noctovisor, an infra-red viewing device.
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In England: A Nation, (London: R. Brimley Johnson, 1904), edited by Lucian Oldershaw, and in a chapter entitled "The Patriotic Idea" written by G. K. Chesterton, the beauty of Box Hill violated by an invading army is used to express a healthy patriot's love for his nation is opposed to the jingoistic nationalism of tabloid newspapers: "But just as a man who has been in love will find it difficult to write a whole frantic epic about a flirtation, so all that kind of rhetoric about the Union Jack and the Anglo-Saxon blood, which has made amusing the journalism of this country for the last six years, will be merely impossible to the man who has for one moment called up before himself what would be the real sensation of hearing that a foreign army was encamped on Box Hill."
British biker rock band, Dumpy's Rusty Nuts, released a single called 'Boxhill or Bust' in the early 1980s. The song is something of a cult anthem for bikers, and reflects the popularity of Box Hill amongst the biking community.
Musician Ben Watt of Everything But The Girl wrote a song "On Box Hill", released as the B side of the single "Some Things Don't Matter" (Cherry Red Records) in 1983. This song about a sunny day on Box Hill also appears on his début album North Marine Drive.
In Richard Thompson's song "1952 Vincent Black Lightning", Box Hill is the location to which James and Red Molly ride on James' motorcycle. In cover versions of this song by American musicians, Box Hill is sometimes changed to Knoxville, a city in Tennessee, U.S.A.
Mystery author Cyril Hare sets his 1954 novel, That Yew Tree's Shade (published in the U.S. as Death Walks the Woods) at "Yew Hill", which Hare admits in an introduction is modelled on Box Hill.
Actor and singer Tom Felton's song called "Time Well Spent" mentions him going to "chill out on Box Hill".
The 2012 British film Berberian Sound Studio contains a short film-within-the-film - a spoof 1970s-style documentary about the outstanding natural and man-made features of Box Hill.
In the newsEdit
In 2013 a body that had lain undiscovered for 2 years was found on Box Hill. It was identified as missing teacher Brian Hynard who had left 2 suicide notes before disappearing. In 1995 teenager Ruth Wilson disappeared after being dropped off by taxi on Box Hill.
- In February 2017 the Sunday Times newspaper identified Box Hill as one of the top six rural cycling accident blackspots in the UK, stating that seven accidents on the Zig Zag Road had been reported to the Police in 2015.
- On 15 August 2014 Ciaran O'Hara and Roger Barr cycled up the hill 73 times to complete a challenge known as Everesting, in which cyclists repeatedly climb a hill to gain the same vertical elevation (8848 m) as Mount Everest.
- Labilliere's Book of Devotions was taken by the youngest daughter of his landlady, who passed it down to her children. The book is now held by Dorking Museum along with some of his personal trinkets.
- Wooldridge & Hutchings 1957, p. 79
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- Lander 2000, pp. 39–40
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- The W. H. Auden Society Newsletter No. 15 - Notes and Queries, November 1996
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Box Hill.|
- Box Hill information at the National Trust
- Photograph showing the upside down burial on Box Hill
- Official Box Hill Community Website
- Surrey County Council. "Dorking_Box_Hill". Exploring Surrey's Past. Retrieved 30 May 2017.