The Motor Car & Fire

The new threat was the advent of the combustion engine.
Cars and motorcycles poured out of the London suburbs into the nearest unspoiled countryside and – as common lands are not permitted to be enclosed - they drove wherever they pleased heedless of the destruction in their wake. Reggie Bray wrote: “At present they come only to disfigure and destroy: by their reckless carelessness in throwing down lighted matches and cigarettes, or by lighting fires and boiling water, they are steadily devastating the commons. In a relatively short time the lands will be bare of trees and in a state they were 100 years ago when planting first began. I am afraid we regard the general public as destroying angels who come in motor cars.”

By 1924 the ‘angels’ had destroyed by fire more than a quarter of the entire forest -  including the south side of Holmbury Hill, much of Pitch Hill and part of Reynards Hill – all the most popular, and most beautiful, parts of The Hurtwood. How could this havoc be controlled?

The answer lay in the Law of Property Act 1925, which gave landowners the power to regulate public access to common land and particularly to prohibit motor cars and cycles except in authorised places; in return for these restrictions, the land would be dedicated to the public ‘for air and exercise’, for the purpose of ‘quiet enjoyment’.
Summer of '76

Fire continues to be a hazard and the fire-breaks across Holmbury Hill and Pitch Hill were created in the late 1960s early 70s. They proved their worth almost immediately when the 1976 drought wrought havoc across Surrey’s heaths and woodland. The Hurtwood escaped largely unscathed. The very wide rides from Hammonds Pond up to Holmbury Hill were created in the 1920s however, not as fire breaks but as racehorse gallops and the straight track from Blackheath Car Park to Farley Green was known as ‘the gallops’ and in the 1960s was regularly harrowed for the strings of racehorses that used it in the early mornings. More recently the rides were used for Husky rallies.