Few people I’m sure have romantic notions of Woking, even less will have a visit there on their bucket list. But I don’t think many people will appreciated it as one of the locations featured in the one of the earliest science fiction novels ever written – The War of the Worlds by H.G.Wells, first published in 1898.
I’m a big War of the Worlds fan – in any version; book, radio play, film, television, concept album – whatever the format I’m all over it. H.G.Wells gave us the best and simplest alien invasion story, and probably the most realistic. They invade, we run in terror – there is no hero to save the day, just a narrator trying to survive and observing the ‘massacre of mankind’ as he tries desperately to reunite with a loved one. Book ends with the planet being saved by germs, mankind basically got lucky, genius!
A few summers ago, I had been visiting friends down south and had timed it so that I would have a free day to finally do something I’d wanted to do for ages. Ever since I’d seen a picture of a shiny Martian tripod on the internet which was apparently a rather striking sculpture in Woking town centre I had wanted to do a War of the Worlds pilgrimage.
I jumped on the train from London clutching a battered vintage Penguin copy of the classic and went to explore unlikely ground zero of the Martian invasion of Earth….
Woking has fully embraced its links to the novel – H.GWells actually wrote it while he lived there and there are several public art works around the town. There is a beautiful tiled mural in an underground walkway and ‘Red weed’ twists its way round the ornamental gate to the main square.
I found the Martian!
Gleaming in the sunshine exactly as I’d seen it in pictures. It looked amazing and seemed odd that people were just walking past and carrying on their business without giving a glance to the GIANT MARTIAN WAR MACHINE in the road!!
What I hadn’t realised was the tripod was one piece of a much larger street long art work. There’s a crashed cylinder made from brick at one end then little inserts into the pavement showing bacteria dividing and multiplying. I would happily live Woking just to walk by it every day.
I then ventured to Horsell Common itself, landing site of the first Martian Cylinder, just a short walk from the town. I have wandered many places on my own, but during the walk to find the sand pits I genuinely feared I’d get lost and my body would be found weeks later clutching a useless map and my battered copy of The War of the Worlds. But I did find them and survived to tell the tale! The sandpits are an interesting feature, lovely and quiet and peaceful and it’s strange to find what looks like a ‘beach’ without being by the sea.
I returned to the town passing by the tripod again, it is beautiful!
How better to finish my pilgrimage than to head to Primrose Hill once I was back in London – where the books narrator finds the Martians have been defeated and mankind has survived.
Primrose Hill is beautiful area of London I’d never been to before – there’s a stunning view of the city’s skyline. With just a bit of imagination it was easy to turn the large cranes on a building site nearby in to the three-legged war machines which I eyed nervously as I walked to the top of the hill…
N.B. I’ve also realised there is another geeky location to add to my bucket list location – Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, USA. Which is the site of the Martian invasion in the famous 1938 Orson Wells radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds. Be a shame not to do the double!