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Originally constructed in 1896/97 as part of the London Defence Scheme, Polhill Fort (also known as the Knockholt Fort and latterly Fort Halstead) was the largest of a series of defences surrounding the south and east of London. For centuries, the British Royal Navy had pride of place across the worlds seas, defending Her interests overseas, but recent advancements in ship and armament design by both Russian and French navies saw Britain caught off guard, and the threat of a land invasion was on the National mind at the time. The requirement was set out as early as 1886 to “produce at short notice a field army sufficient to defend England, and primarily to protect London.” In the event of imminent invasion, a mix of Regular and Militia troops would be supported by Volunteers. After much political wrangling and deliberation, the plan was relatively simple; a defensive line stretching along the North Downs from Guildford to Knockholt, and then north to Epping, 72 miles in total. Unfortunately, the project took 14 years to complete in some part to insufficient funds. As the threat developed, the scheme was almost outdated by the tie of completion, the Defence of London Scheme extended into the 1914-18 war when it was developed and further defences constructed; so it wasn’t all lost. The ‘fort’ at Halstead has been in continuous military service for nearly the entirety of its existence, but is soon to see an end to active service in the years running up to 2020 and beyond. This article hopes to plot the history of ‘the Old Fort’ from inception to disposal.
While not strictly forts in the historic sense, the London Defence Scheme called for a series of mobilisation centres, or redoubts, upon which mobilised troops could descend in a time of war, collect their tools and weapons and disperse to their sectors to rapidly construct further earthen defences. An estimated advance warning of 1 week was forecast from the time of mobilisation to the time when the defences would be ready. The mobilisation centres would be strategically placed along the ….
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