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A Fear of Invasion

A Fear of Invasion

In 1803-1805, one of the ever present worries was that of an invasion by the French. People deserted their homes on the coast to stay with relatives further inland. During 1803 and 1804, many people evacuated the coast; others merely sent part of the family inland. While the coast dwellers were convinced that an invasion would take place, those who lived further inland were not as certain.

A signal system called a telegraph was erected from the coast to London to warn of the invasion and Martello towers were erected along the coast line.

English semaphore
French semaphore
Napoleonic Guide - semaphore


My Dear Mother,
... The good people at Lavenham seem to us to go a little too far in their assertions: how, for instance, can they affirm that Buonaparte never threatened us, when, besides the immense army so long collected on the coast, which we know was called the Army of England, (and which was that but a threat?)-- did he not declare to Lord Whitworth, that he would settle the dispute on the banks of the Thames? And was that not a threat? besides numberless other instances in which we cannot have been totally misinformed. What do you mean their numbers are inconsiderable? Are there not certainly 200,000 men collected on the coast, besides large armies in other parts of France? And it appears to us a little inconsistent that people should at one time maintain that Buonaparte never intended, or thought of invading us, and then, that if we were not so much prepared to oppose them they certainly would invade us! as to the French army being in winter quarters, we have never heard it, nor do we believe it; and, as to all danger being over for the winter, very strong expectations have been raised about this day month; and Heath has lately had fresh orders from Government to make provision in Cambridgeshire; as they are considerably expected on the Norfolk coast, and to come round through Cambridge. We think it looks very like a Provential interposition that the weather has been so remarkably and unusually mild. They say in Holland that their ports not being frozen is almost unexampled, and indeed it appears nearly as remarkable as the Waal being frozen when the French took Holland. Though at Colchester there are many unbelievers and laughers; there are many too who still entertain strong fears. Henry Thorn for one firmly believes they will come, and advises us not to return. The Stapletons have returned, on account of their school-- by no means because they think the danger is over. The King's camp equipage is come to Chelmsford, and the Bishop of Worcester's palace (at Worcester) is preparing for the Royal family to fly to. A telegraph, which will cost 1000£ is now erecting at our barracks. Do all these things look as though all danger were over? As to this being a garrison town, it is of no use at all, unless it were fortified, which is not the case with any town in England; and Colchester, as a considerable town, and one so near the coast, must be more likely to attract the enemy, than an obscure out-of -the -way place like Lavenham.
--- January 1804

There were many spy scares and in several places unfortunate men were beaten within an inch of their lives merely because their accents were not familiar to the people of that locale.

Despite the landing of French troops in Ireland in 1798, there were many who doubted that Napoleon would be foolish enough to attack England on its own shores. They  felt vindicated when no invasion occurred.

It is generally agreed, however, that it was Nelson's defeat of the French at Trafalgar  fleet that made an invasion impractical for France. 

Some years later, a French engraving was found which  showed a three prong plan for invasion. In it  France attacked England by air, sea, and by  a tunnel under the  channel.

Though some people laughed at the  idea of being attacked from a tunnel under the channel or from balloons, others took the threats seriously.  Even today, there are those who oppose the chunnel for this very reason.


A Fear of Invasion

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