The Dorking Gap


There was a threat of invasion by Napoleon in the mid 1800's and the people in the south of England looked to the Government for help. The people of Surrey foresaw a catastrophic defeat of Britain, they pin-pointed the weakness of the Dorking Gap, as a area where enemy forces could penetrate England's southern shores. It was left to an old soldier, veteran General Sir Edward Hamley with the help of Lord Salisbury, to bring pressure to bear on the Government and in 1881 it was authorised that money would be set aside for the defence of the 'Dorking Gap'.


The first step taken by the people of Surrey was to build shelters for women and children. It was considered important that the women and children should have a place of safety in the event of invasion by Napoleon's armies.. Few records were kept about these shelters, but there is a song that is sung in the playgrounds of schools in Surrey, by the children as the play with their skipping ropes: "Tired of skipping, tired of counting sheep, one dose of brimstone and we're all fast asleep" It is thought that this song was first sung when the children were being given "invasion-drill practice". The children lined up to enter the underground shelters with their teachers and sang their songs.


The next step, taken, by a number of villages in the 'Dorking Gap', involved the building of a string of defences across the county. Later this line was extended, both west and east, to cover much of the southern coast.


It was not until 1903 that the first British Secret Underground Army, created by Tom Holland the Head of the Political Intelligence Executive (P.I.E.), accepted the task of establishing an underground resistance movement, in case of invasion from an enemy. But this was not to meet any threat from Napoleon; his armies did not make any attempt to cross the English Channel. It was the dereliction of Britain's defences following the demise of Napoleon and when troops were stood down, only a few Regulars were kept for "Imperial" duties, leaving the Yeomanries responsible for internal security.


So it was that Treacle P.I.E. (the name given to Tom Holland's secret underground army) was created to prepare for a German invasion. "It's a sticky business," the P.I.E. agents would tell the villagers. With little or no knowledge what the Treacle Miners were doing, the villagers made up their own stories. It became a way of creating a smile or a good laugh in the days of uncertainty before the declaration of war in 1914. The tales they told had much humour. Here are some of the stories from the "Dorking Gap", and other places in the south of England.




ROWHOOK near Horsham







PATCHAM near Brighton


SOMPTING near Worthing










CAISTER-ON-SEA also known as Caister-by-Yarmouth, Norfolk


SPORLE (near Norwich) and LONG STATTON


FRING (north Norfolk)


CORPUSTY, Aylsham, Norfolk



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