Upon moving to my current apartment and looking in to what there is to do in the local area, I was extremely excited to learn that my new domicile was in easy driving distance Woking, the scene of the first Martian landing in H. G. Wells‘ seminal science fiction novel, War of the Worlds.
War of the Worlds is one of my favorite stories of all time, however, I was introduced to it via the amazing musical adaptation by Jeff Wayn before having read the book. If you’re not familiar with it, War of the Worlds tells the story of Martians invading 1890’s London. It was one of the earliest alien invasion stories and set the standard by which all future such stories would be judged. Everything from Day the Earth Stood Still to Avengers owes something to War of the Worlds.
Wells wrote War of the Worlds 1895 and 1897. For the first two years of that period he lived in Woking, which is most probably why the beginning of the story – and the first Martian landing – takes place there. He would regularly go for walks and bike rides in the area, particularly in Horsell Common, and would imagine what it would look like if aliens invaded the quiet area.
As one would expect from a town that homed one of the world’s most famous authors, Woking has a few mementoes to the Wells and you can easily take a tour of the town following these. This is the journey my wife and I took on our visit.
The tour, sensibly enough, start at the building which Wells called home for that two year period. The building, which at the time Wells lived there was called ‘Lynton’ is now 141, Maybury Road. It’s a rather quaint little house with the only indication of Wells having lived there the English Heritage blue plaque displayed on the building’s front which reads
H. G. Wells
Lived and worked here
1895 – 1896
From here the tour moves to Horsell Common, one of the most important locations in the book and the place I was most excited to see. An absolutely beautiful forested area, it was wonderful walking along the rough paths between the trees.
The biggest point of interest here is an area known as “The Beach.” Aptly named due to all the sand mixed in with the soil, there is a depression here that often fills with water, giving the impression of a crater-like hole. This is where most consider to be the site of the crashed Martian cylinder that the narrator of War of the Worlds discovers.
On the other side of the Common, after a bit of walking, we reached Wheatsheaf Common. Across the road from us stool the Wheatsheaf Public House in which two of the characters from the novel discuss the Martian invasion.
Further along we came to the town’s subway station. On the walls of the subway foot tunnels has been created a brilliant mural depicting the Martians laying siege to Woking. Through the subway tunnels and out the other side we came to possibly the most impressive part of the tour.
In the center of the town in Crown Square stands a seven meter sculpture of one of the Martian tripods which the aliens used to march across London in War of the Worlds. It’s a very impressive sight with the sun glinting off its chromed features. Around it can be seen representations of the bacteria that, after man had failed, destroyed the Martian invaders (spoiler, sorry). Nearby is also a representation of one of the Martian cylinders, ploughed into the earth.
The final attraction on the tour was a statue of the man himself, H. G. Wells. While War of the Worlds is perhaps Wells’ most famous novel, he was quite prolific during his time in Woking, also writing The Time Machine and completing The Island of Doctor Moreau.
The statue depicts Wells sitting in his writing chair, holding a sphere in his hand as he studies it. The sphere is a reference to the spherical spaceship used in his story The First Men in the Moon, while on the back of the chair is inscribed the date 802,701AD; the year the time traveler from The Time Machine travelled to and met the Morlocks. Creeping up from the base of the statue and winding its way around the leg of Wells’ chair is the Red Weed, a crawling, vine-like plant native to Mars that the Martians bring with them during War of the Worlds.
Visiting Woking and following the steps of one of the greatest authors the world has known was quite a humbling experience. It is no understatement to say that War of the Worlds changed the face of popular fiction and its influence can still be felt. It was wonderful to see the scenery that inspired the story and it will make it that much more enjoyable next time I visit the Martian invasion of Earth.