Steam Tactics

Early motoring in England

(written by Henry Knight for the ORG in the 1960s)

Ever since I first read the story some fifty years ago, I have wanted to trace the route along the roads of Sussex, and now that I live in Sussex I have tried to do this.

The route falls into two parts, the early part of perhaps 15 miles which is minutely particularised, and the latter part of some 100 miles which is not given in detail. This latter part is fairly easy to follow, viz: Park Row is Forest Row, though this is not in Surrey [at Ordnance Survey grid reference TQ425350, 2¾ miles (4½ Km) SE of East Grinstead, at the junction of the A22 with the B2110]; Cramberhurst is Lamberhurst [at TQ673355, 6 miles (9½ Km) ESE of Tunbridge Wells, on the A21 – “the Hastings road”]; the Long Man of Hillingdon is that of Wilmington [village at TQ545045, the Long Man himself at TQ544035]; Trevington is Jevington, near Eastbourne [up in the Downs, at TQ563015]; Cassocks is Hassocks [at TQ303155, just over seven miles north of Brighton, on the north side of the Downs], and Penfield Green is Henfield. Sir William Gardener’s zoo is that of Sir Edmund Loder at Lower Beeding; Horsham is under its own name.

This is quite a possible afternoon’s run for a 10 h.p. Lanchester car of about 1901 – I followed a 1904 Lanchester for several miles from Eastbourne only the other day [it is not clear when this was written] and it was travelling very well. I think we can accept this part of the route without further consideration.

The early part of the route presents various topographical difficulties. Kipling presumably started from Rottingdean where he then lived, and his original destination was Instead Wick (page 178). Leaving aside the identity of Instead Wick, the first real problem is Linghurst, which was a place big enough to have a police station (page 192) and apparently also a Bench of Magistrates (pages 193-4). It cannot be Billingshurst [despite the partial similarity of the name]. for the Assistant Chief Constable of Sussex tells me that in 1900-03 there was neither a police station nor a Bench at Billingshurst; he suggests Petworth or Midhurst for Linghurst , but both of these seem too far to the west.

Horsham [at TQ175310] seems to be more like to be Linghurst: the route fits in well with the main road into Horsham from the south, now A.281.

The signpost or milestone “11¾ miles” from Linghurst would give the place of meeting Agg the carrier (page 177) as being near Henfield [TQ215158].. In that case, Parsley Green cannot be Partridge Green [TQ189191], the road from which joins the A.281 only about 8 miles from Horsham; if the riot with the traction engine hauling gypsy wagons (page 179) was at Partridge Green, Agg could not have been overtaken 11¾ miles from Linghurst Here I suspect Kipling used a double bluff: he gives a name resembling an actual place name, when he in reality refers to a third palce.

Agg’s carrier’s route presumably started from a railway station and wnet through “off the railway” villages; for this Henfield seems as good a starting point as Partridge Green – or better – and this would take him up A.281.

“The vindictive carrier” was next sighted outside the post-office at “secluded Bromlingleigh”; as his cart was standing on the left of the road, and Hinchcliffe had to pass it (page 185), the post-office with the pretty postmistress must also have been on the main road A.281. Shermanbury, a mile or so north of the first meeting with Agg, seems suitable as Bromlingleigh, but so far the Postmaster-General has failed to play Pinecoffin [a reference to ‘Pig’ in Plain Tales from the Hills] to my enquiry whether Shermanbury had a post and telegraph office on the main road in 1901 or so.

After getting the steam car’s tank refilled with water (page 188) they “held to the main road as our fate had decreed”, to get petrol at Pigginfold a few miles further up. But before getting there Hinchcliffe remarked “We have come seven miles on fifty-four minutes, so far”. Now seven miles from Henfield brings one to about the hamlet of Crabtree, and I conjecture that Crabtree, not Cowfold, is the Pigginfold of the story. Whether there was then at Crabtree an ironmonger or a cycle shop that sold petrol, I have not yet discovered.

[It seems highly unlikely that there were ever either at Crabtree: this Editor used to drive through the hamlet on a weekly basis in the mid-1980s, and again in the 1990s. It remains, as it must have been eighty years earlier, a straggling collection of cottages and villas, extending for about half-a-mile up the hill which leads to the long mid-Wealden ridge which runs irregularly, and with many gaps, some 8o miles from Blackdown in the west to peter out somewhere south of Maidstone in the east. Cowfold, only two miles to the south, even now only a village, would have been the place to find supplies of any kind: and, lying at the intersection of what were, even then, two important routes, was a more likely source of petrol. A.W.]

It must have been very soon after that (“I suspected her time was very near”, page 189) that “the engines set up a lunatic clucking” abd jammed. This happened three miles short of Linghurst (Horsham, page 189) somewhere about Monk’s Gate, half a mile northwest of the junction of A.281 and A.279. After he eccentric strap screw had been recovered and replaced, they had “run as much as one mile and a half without incident” when the plain clothes policeman stopped them (page 191).

This fixes the shanghai-ing of the constable as near Coolhurst, a mile-and-a-half from Horsham. [Coolhurst does not appear on today’s Ordnance Survey maps, but the village of Manning Heath borders this road to the east at this spot, with Coolhurst Wood marked half a mile away. A.W.] Thence “the main road, white under the noon sun, lay broad before us, running north to Linghurst. We slowed and looked anxiously for a side track.” Soon they must have seen the uniformed policeman ahead, “where a lane ran into the road”, and Hinchcliffe jerked the car up that lane. [We are now at TQ190296]

The lane down which Hinchcliffe turned must have been that which runs from A.281 to Doomsday Green. A modern map shows this as a narrow metalled road with a bridge over a stream; a road map of soon after the first war marks the road as indifferent but is less clear about a bridge. We should have to assume that in 1901 the stream was unbridged and that the steam car crossed in Military Tournament style, or that Kipling altered the facts to suit the story.

Presumably after crossing the stream they came out on to the lane which runs through Doomsday Green to Alfold Crossways, and north of this lane lies St. Leonard’s Forest, on the edge of which they filled with water and then “made shift to climb the ridge above Instead Wick.” “On the roof of the world” – presumably in St. Leonard’s forest – the steam car finally broke down “in floods of tears”.

Then the dues in machine appeared, Kysh on his way to Horsham, presumably from Instead Wick (page 201), and with him Kipling’s driver. I have, however, no explanation of how Leggat had contacted Kysh: the last we had heard of Leggat was when he “skipped into the bracken like a rabbit” near Coolhurst (page 193).

The steam car was on the ridge above to which the road was downhill (page 200). This probably indicates Crawley as Instead Wick and as the original luncheon rendez-vous. But if Kysh were on his way from Crawley to Horsham in order to testify to Kipling’s character, he would presumably gone by the direct road A.264 north of St. Leonard’s Forest, for Leggat could not have known that the steam car had bone of north0east into the wilds of the Forest. I can see no explanation why Kysh should have been going from Crawley to Horsham by an indirect by-road and so met Kipling by chance.

I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that from leaving the uniformed policeman on the A.281 (page 195) until the Octopod arrived at Forest Row (Park Row, page 204) the route given in the story is imaginary and cannot be identified. It seems to compress a trip starting from St. Leonard’s Forest and going through Ashdown Forest to the east into a shorter trip which took them to Forest Row.

I hesitate to dispute the identity of Park Row with Forest Row, for the road to the latter does drop 300 feet in half a mile or so (page 204).

I had also hoped that the “four miles of yellow road cut through the barren waste” down which the Octopod “sang like a six-inch shell” was the narrow, lonely and straight road from Pease Pottage southwest to join the Doomsday Green – Ashfold Crossways road, and that it was the bridge below the hammer pond there which brought Kipling’s “few remaining grey hairs much nearer the grave” (page 204). But this direction does not fit with the road to Forest Row.

From Forest Row we need not try to follow in detail the journey until late in the evening the constable was decanted in Sir Edmund Loder’s park at Leonardslee in Lower Beeding (page 209), where in the gardens by the furnace ponds was then kept a collection of wild animals – deer, antelope, zebras, beavers, etc. The gardens are still open to the public in May [in 2008, April-October, but the whole estate was put up for sale in April 2008 by the latest descendants of Sir Edmund Loder. A.W.], but the animals are no longer there; the last survivors were the beavers, which died out through in-breeding soon after the end of the second world war.

[But wallabies were reintroduced after Sir Henry wrote this, and there are now 40-50 of them – Sir Edmund’s great-grandson says that he’s not sure precisely how many there are, as “they don’t stand in line to be counted – We use them as mowing machines: they need no wages, no petrol, no pensions and they never go on strike. And mowers don’t keep their replacements in their pockets.” – The Times 13 April 2008. A.W.]

Then, leaving the policeman praying to kangaroos (page 209) the Octopod returned to “sanity, main roads, and, half an hour later, the Grapnel Inn at Horsham”. The main road they joined was presumably A.281 near the gates of Leonardslee in Lower Beeding [the steam car had passed that way, just before noon], and from there to Horsham is only about five miles. To do this in half an hour, “Judic”, after achieving her incredible improprieties, must have returned to the bourgeois legal limit of twelve miles an hour.

The Grapnel Inn, at Horsham was clearly the Anchor Inn there, and the Clerk of Horsham Council tells me that its building, though no longer an Inn, still stands in the Market Square.

Though much of the route of “Steam Tactics” can be followed or reasonably conjectured on the ground, I have reached to conclusion that for the rest Kipling “so muddied the wells of inquiry with the stick of precaution” that details cannot be identified. So that the Snark of my fifty year old ambition turns out to be a Boojum after all.

But in my search I learnt a useful lesson – “how desire doth outrun performance”.


Place-names in the story suggested by Sir Henry Knight,
Mr Daintith, and Thurston Hopkins.

Reference to a map will show that Thurston Hopkins’ route extends a good deal
further west than the other two, almost to the north-west corner of Sussex.


©Henry Knight and Alastair WilsonA. E. Caddick 1939 All rights reserved