The Semaphore Tower

Chatley Heath, Surrey

Overview

Bookings for stays from spring 2021 open soon

Bookings open on 3 October at 10am.

This restoration project featured in BBC1's Countryfile. Catch up on the episode here.

  • Dogs AllowedDogs Allowed
  • Fire or StoveFire or Stove
  • Parking AvailableParking Available
  • BathBath
  • DishwasherDishwasher
  • ShowerShower

Beds 1 Twin, 1 Double

Sleeps
4
4 nights from
£542 equivalent to £33.88 per person, per night

The only remaining semaphore tower in Britain

A unique remnant from the Napoleonic era, the Grade II* listed brick structure is the only surviving semaphore tower in Britain. It was once a cutting-edge building at the forefront of technology and design, a vital link in a signalling chain that transmitted messages from Admiralty House in London to Portsmouth Docks in just a few minutes. But in recent years water ingress had been threatening the structural integrity of the tower to an alarming degree, and its future had been uncertain until Landmark took on the project.

Thanks to the generosity of over 1,000 supporters to our public appeal, experienced contractors Valley Builders began work in spring 2020 and are now are well underway sympathetically and sensitively restoring the structure. We believe it will make a magical Landmark for up to four guests, the renewed roof a wonderful spot to enjoy 360 degree views across to London and the Home Counties, the refurbished machinery a living lesson in technological and engineering history. The five-storey tower will have a kitchen, sitting room, double bedroom and twin bedroom, plus a bathroom and a shower room.

In the heart of a nature reserve

Chatley Heath itself is a nationally important site for dragonflies and damselflies, with twenty species recorded. It also attracts many rare birds. The tower is surrounded by 800 acres of woodland and heathland that can be explored by the many footpaths and cycle paths. The basement will provide a bike store for those keen on exploring the area by bike. We look forward to welcoming guests from near and far for holidays and free open days on completion.

Photographs taken prior to restoration works commencing. Floor plan remains subject to change

Floor Plan

Map

Clear directions
Faqs

    What you need to know about this building

  • Does the property allow dogs?

    Yes.  Two dogs are allowed.
  • How is the property accessed?

    The property is accessed via an un-made up track.
  • What is the nearest railway station and how far away is it?

    Effingham Junction is 2.5 miles from the tower.
  • Is there car parking specifically for Landmark guests?

    Yes, there is parking for 2 cars close to the tower.
  • How can I get fuel for the open fire or stove?

    Fuel is available at local outlets, further details will be provided with your booking confirmation.
  • What are the kitchen facilities?

    The kitchen is fully equipped with all plates, cutlery, fridge etc.
  • What are the bathroom facilities?

    There is a bathroom and a shower room.
  • Does this Landmark have steep, narrow or spiral stairs?

    Yes, there is a steep winding staircase.
  • Is there a garden or outside space?

    There is a roof terrace and a small garden area around the base of the tower.
  • Is there higher than expected background noise?

    The M25 is approximately 500ft from the property.  The motorway is in a cutting and there is dense woodland between the tower and the motorway which helps reduce the noise level.  From inside the property with the windows closed you can hear the hum of traffic.

    Booking and Payment

  • What happens if I can’t get to the Landmark due to bad weather?

    If the weather is bad, please contact our booking office who will be able to tell you whether the Landmark is accessible. If the housekeeper can safely get to the building to prepare it then we consider that it is open and available for guests. However if we cannot undertake a changeover then we will do our utmost to transfer your stay to another Landmark, depending on what we have available. It may not be of a similar size or in the same part of the country as your original booking. If the building is accessible but the customer cannot travel due to poor weather in his/her local area then please be aware that Landmark will not provide a refund. However the customer may be able to claim on his/her own travel insurance. We recommend that all guests take out travel insurance when they first secure a booking.
  • How can I pay?

    We accept Maestro (if issued in the UK), Visa, MasterCard, direct transfer and sterling cheques drawn on a UK bank. Cheques should be made payable to the Landmark Trust except for Lundy stays and boat/helicopter tickets which should be payable to The Lundy Company Ltd. All payments must be in sterling.
  • How do I pick up the key?

    The key arrangements will be included in the Further Infomation document which will be sent to you prior to your stay.
  • Can I pay a deposit?

    If your stay starts more than three months from the date you make the booking, you are required to pay a deposit of one third of the cost of your stay (or £100 per booking, if greater) at the time of booking. Camping on Lundy must be paid for in full at the time of booking.
  • How can I cancel or change my booking?

    If you wish to cancel or change your booking, please contact our Booking Office on 01628 825925
  • Do you accept payment in other currencies?

    At the moment we only accept payment in sterling.
  • What if I arrive late?

    Our housekeeper will leave the key in a suitable place, the details of which will be sent to you prior to your stay.
  • How far in advance do I need to book?

    It depends. Some of our most popular Landmarks are booked up a long time in advance, but many can be booked at short notice. We will always have Landmarks free for the coming weekend so it’s always worth checking our availability list.
  • Do you have to be a member to book a Landmark?

    No, Landmarks are available to be booked for anyone.
  • Do I need a Handbook to be able to book?

    No, all the information you need can be found on our website, although we’d like you to buy one anyway as it will be a pleasure to own!

    Staying at a Landmark

  • Are Landmarks accessible for people with disabilities or limited mobility?

    Some of our Landmarks are suitable for people with disabilities or limited mobility. However, many Landmarks have steep or narrow staircases, uneven floors and thresholds, changes of level, low ceilings or beams, as well as indistinct colours on steps and in corridors. We recommend that you call Booking Enquiries on 01628 825925 if you would like to find out the suitability of a particular Landmark for anyone with a specific disability.  Further information on access when visiting Lundy can also be found here.
  • Are Landmarks only available as self-catering accommodation?

    Yes, Landmarks are only available as self-catering accommodation. We do not offer bed and breakfast.
  • Do you provide catering?

    Landmark does not provide catering, but we can recommend Greycoat Lumleys who can arrange for expert and well-trained staff to cater for one evening or for your entire holiday. Their cooks and chefs are able to work with you to meet your specific requirements
  • Do you allow dogs?

    You may bring up to two dogs to properties where dogs are allowed (please see specific property details for exemptions however dogs are not permitted on Lundy except assistance dogs). They must be kept off the furniture and under proper control.
  • Can I bring a pet?

    Apart from two dogs (see above) no other pets are permitted.
  • What time can I arrive and what time do I have to depart from the Landmark?

    Arrival is from 4pm and departure is by 10am.
  • Am I insured if I break something?

    We do not carry insurance for breakages. However we appreciate that accidents do sometimes happen. If you have a breakage during your stay, please let the housekeeper know and if appropriate we reserve the right to invoice you accordingly.
  • Are Landmarks suitable for children?

    Yes, most of our Landmarks are perfect for children, with gardens to play in and secret places to discover. Our furniture is surprisingly robust and we positively encourage families to stay. However, some of our buildings may not be suitable for small children; for example, some of them have steep or uneven spiral staircases. We recommend that you call the Booking Enquiries team if you would like to find out the suitability of any of our Landmarks for young children.
  • Can I get married in a Landmark?

    Unfortunately, most of our Landmarks are not licensed for weddings. However, you may get married on Lundy.
  • Can I hold a big party in a Landmark?

    All our larger Landmarks are perfect for gatherings of family or friends. You may invite an additional two guests to visit you during your stay, however they must not stay overnight. This is very important because our fire regulations specifically note the maximum number of people in any one building. In addition our properties are prepared, furnished and equipped for the number of people specified and greater numbers cause damage and excessive wear and tear to vulnerable buildings. Should this condition be ignored we shall make a retrospective charge per person per day (whether or not they stay overnight) for each guest over the permitted limit, the charge being pro-rated on the total cost of your booking.
  • Are there televisions in the buildings?

    We deliberately do not provide televisions and find that most people appreciate this.
  • Why are your access tracks sometimes difficult?

    One of the challenges of restoring unloved buildings is gaining access to them. We frequently have to negotiate rights with our neighbours and share tracks with them. In many cases tracks do not belong to us and we have no right to maintain them. Wherever possible we work with our neighbours to provide you with a good quality surface, but where this is a problem then you will be warned at the time of booking.
  • Will there be sockets for my electrical appliances?

    Yes, we have standard electricity sockets for UK appliances. If you are coming from outside the UK, you will need to bring your own adaptor plug(s). If you are visiting one of our European properties we have standard European electricity sockets. If you are visiting from the UK, you will need to bring your own adapter plug (s).

    Facilities

  • Are the kitchens and bathrooms restored to a modern standard?

    Sometimes our kitchens and bathrooms have to be imaginatively fitted into the available space in buildings where before there were none, but they are all planned and equipped to a high and modern standard.
  • Is linen provided?

    Yes, Landmarks are fully equipped with sheets and towels. All the beds are fully made up for your arrival.
  • Are the kitchens fully equipped?

    Yes, our kitchens are well equipped with cookers and fridges. There are freezers and dishwashers (in larger buildings) and, where space allows, microwaves as well as a wide and standard range of utensils. A full equipment list is available at time of booking.
  • Do you provide logs for the open fire/stove?

    Logs are provided at many of our Landmarks for an additional cost.
  • Will there be a mobile signal in the Landmark I book?

    Mobile coverage varies. Some Landmarks have an excellent signal, but others have none at all. If you are concerned, you can check with the housekeeper before your arrival.
  • Is there Wi-Fi in your buildings?

    No. At the moment, we have decided not to implement Wi-Fi in our buildings following a consultation with our customers. Many said that they would find it useful, but many also felt that it would somehow damage the experience of staying in a Landmark. As the responses were so split, and as we have so many other initiatives requiring funding, we have decided to put this on hold for the time being.
  • What should I bring with me? Are there toilet rolls, soap, shampoo, milk, teabags, coffee, hairdryer?

    A welcome tray with tea and sugar awaits your arrival and you will find a pint of milk in the fridge. We also provide toilet rolls and a bar of soap per basin, but no other toiletries. We do not provide hairdryers.
History

A mid-19th century tower

The Semaphore Tower stands deep in ancient heathland near Wisley in Surrey. This unique remnant from the Napoleonic era was once a vital link in a signalling chain that transmitted messages from Admiralty House in London to Portsmouth Docks in a matter of minutes. The construction of the line was ordered in 1816 in the aftermath of the Battle of Waterloo, when foreign invasion still seemed a real possibility.

For over 20 years the urgent affairs of the Royal Navy passed back and forth along this line, relaying orders to the fleet and reporting the movements of friend and foe alike. If things had turned out differently – if there had been another war with France, if England had been invaded – this Tower in Chatley Heath might have played a key role in a great naval conflict.

The Royal Navy’s most advanced signalling system before the electric telegraph

Historically, long-range military communication was a real challenge: simple hilltop beacons signalled the arrival of the Spanish Armada in 1588. As naval warfare developed across the centuries, more sophisticated signalling systems were invented using flags or moving balls, but these were slow and unreliable. Semaphore was the solution; moveable arms on a mast that signalled letters of the alphabet.

The French invented the first semaphore system in 1794, but the British preferred to find their own solution. The first British coastal naval signal stations in the 1790s used either flags and balls or a system of shutters in a frame, but none were efficient in bad weather.

'England expects that every man will do his duty.'

Rear Admiral Sir Home Riggs Popham was fascinated by signalling. In 1800, Popham created the first flag system for individual letters, famously used by Nelson to declare ‘England expects that every man will do his duty.’ Later, he devised a semaphore with wooden arms for ship-to-ship signalling. Much easier to operate than the shutter system, it was soon adopted on land.

Yet in 1814, with Napoleon apparently safely confined on Elba, the Admiralty decommissioned all their signal stations. Napoleon’s escape and the ‘damn nearest run thing’ at the Battle of Waterloo made the Admiralty realise that such optimism has been misplaced. Eleven days after Waterloo, an Act was passed to acquire land for a new chain of signal systems, this time using Popham’s semaphore.

The only five-storey Semaphore tower

The Chatley Heath mast was the only station on the Portsmouth line that required a five-storey tower for visibility across the seven miles to its two neighbours. In 1822, on its completion, it was chosen to be the junction for another line to Plymouth. The stations were operated by Royal Naval lieutenants who were close to retirement. They worked with an assistant, possibly a former petty officer or wounded seaman.

Early reports of water ingress

Each station housed a lieutenant and his family. From the beginning, water ingress was a problem at Chatley Heath and many letters were sent by the first station superintendent there, Lieutenant Harries, to the Admiralty on the subject. In one such letter dated December 1826 he complained:

“Water still finds its way through centre of the mast even to the lower room.... great difficulty in getting any workman in neighbourhood to do any small jobs by the distance we are from their abode... my family and myself are almost poor hermits.”

New technology and new residential use

For over 20 years, orders and reports clacked up and down the line from Admiralty House to Portsmouth. But the railways were coming and with them the electric telegraph: in 1847, the semaphore lines were decommissioned.

After its decommission, needy retired naval officers and then local civilians lived in the tower until 1963. Left empty, it suffered vandalism and then a major fire in 1984. Surrey County Council and Surrey Historic Buildings Trust restored it well, and again let it residentially.

Thanks to the generosity of over 1,000 supporters to our public appeal, experienced contractors Valley Builders are now well underway sympathetically and sensitively restore the structure. We are transforming the site into self-catering holiday accommodation for up to four people, and look forward to welcoming visitors from near and far for holidays and free open days on completion.

 

Project progress

Here we share some insights into our ongoing restoration of Semaphore Tower, which will complete in the winter of 2020/21 ready for holidays starting in the spring.

 

Planning

Nestled in the Chatley Heath nature reserve in scenic Surrey, we know that the Semaphore Tower has always faced water ingress challenges. We know also that the wooden mast and its mechanisms, while they had remarkably remained in place, needed significant care in order to work once more. Much of the woodwork and brickwork required an overhaul, and new services plus electrics were necessary throughout. This was the context for our restoration and across 2018-19, while our fundraising appeal was underway, we were also busy planning the programme of works.

 

Work begins

In the winter of 2019/20 the project team, led by our surveyor Richard Burton, with architects Louise Bainbridge and Sarah Harlow from Seymour & Bainbridge, quantity surveyor Karl Riechers of Huntley Cartwright and services engineer Neil Prowse of Martin Thomas Associates, put our finalised plans into motion. Thanks to the generosity of over 1000 supporters to our appeal, in late in 2019 we were able to formally sign a contract with the highly experienced contractor Valley Builders, who had won the competitive tendering process.

Onsite work began in earnest in the cold of February 2020. It took weeks of work for the external scaffolding to be stitched together securely, slowly lacing up and around the tower’s five storeys. As the scaffolding was underway, so too was work to clear and prepare the interiors, plus investigate the mast.

 

A global health pandemic

Within weeks of starting work, the Covid-19 pandemic hit the UK. While the country adjusted to life under lockdown – juggling working from kitchen tables, home schooling and much more besides - the Government announced that, in England, work could continue on building sites.

In response, the Valley Builders team rapidly developed Covid-secure procedures, following all the latest advice and guidance at every stage. Although something we could never have anticipated, in some ways the project lends itself to social distancing – each level of the tower has limited floor space, so limited workspace too. Although some delays inevitably crept in, principally due to supply chain challenges, work slowed but, remarkably, continued throughout lockdown.

 

Restoring the mast

Through April and May, engineering and heritage conservation specialist Ian Clark worked onsite to restore the all-important semaphore mast structure and its mechanism. With careful and sympathetic conservation carpentry, the wooden mast was overhauled and then painted the original deep red. The mechanism, which runs from the rooftop down into what will become the kitchen, was examined and repaired. Against the odds, we inherited a weighty handle that controls the mechanisms which Ian could use to test and fine-tune this work.

 

Countryfile visit

On a sunny day in late July, we were delighted to host a visit from the BBC’s Countryfile TV series. Presenter Margarita Taylor interviewed our historian Caroline Stanford, learning about the history of the building and its early occupants. The resulting 5-minute piece aired on Sunday 2 August to a five million viewers, and remains available to watch here.

With thanks

Thank you to our supporters

We are hugely grateful to all those who have supported the appeal for Semaphore Tower, including:

Guardians of Semaphore Tower and other lead supporters:

Mrs S Andrew, Mr A Baker, Dr J Bull, Dr P Corry, Ms S Darling, Dr C Guettler and Ms J Graham, Mr S and Mrs R Jordan, Dr and Mrs B Moxley, Mr M Seale, Mr D Simon, Ms M Swann, Mr J Thompson, Mrs P Thompson, Mr W Tsutsui

Patrons and other generous individuals:

Mr R Baker, Mr D Brine, Mrs M Clark, Mr G Clayton, Mrs D Ford, Dr R Gurd and Ms M Black, Mr D Haunton, Mr D Holberton, Mr A Jardine, Mr N and Mrs W Kingon, Ms V Knapp, Mrs P Maitland Dougall, Mr S Martin, Professor R Mayou, Mr N Merry, Mrs P Nasr, Mr B Preston, Mr M Simms, Dr P Strangeway

Gifts in Wills and in memory:

In memory of Mr P Harris

Charitable Trusts and Statutory Grants:

The H B Allen Charitable Trust, Felix Foundation, , Martha David Fund, Mintaka Trust, The Sargent Charitable Trust, RV and RH Simons Charitable Trust, Peter Stormonth Darling Charitable Trust

We thank all who have supported the appeal, including other Guardians, Patrons and trusts who have chosen to remain anonymous.