Possible Locations of the Rogue Male's hideout

In Geoffrey Household’s classic 1939 thriller Rogue Male the unnamed protagonist - who for convenience we will call ‘X’ - is on the run from the police and from agents of an unidentified foreign power whose head-of-state he has apparently attempted to assassinate. After failed attempts by the foreign agents to kill him in London and Dorset, ‘X’ goes to ground in a subterranean lair which he has excavated in an unused sunken lane or ‘holloway’. Although the exact position of ‘X’s hideout is not identified, the text of Rogue Male contains tantalising clues which point to a fairly specific location.

In a short section, ‘X’ cycles at night through ‘a maze of tracks and gorse-bushes’, slipping ‘silently through the sleeping village of Powerstock’ and eventually reaching ‘the ridge of a half-moon of low rabbit-cropped hills, the horns of which rested upon the sea, enclosing between them a small, lush valley. The outer or northern slopes look down upon the Marshwood Vale. Here I passed out of the chalk into the sandstone; the lanes, worn down by the packhorses of a hundred generations plodding up from the sea on to the dry, hard going of the ridges, were fifteen feet or more below the level of the fields.

This, and later sections, place us securely into the area between North Chideock and Symondsbury [Figure 1]. It is reasonable to speculate that after leaving Powerstock ‘X’ followed a short section of the Monarchs Way, the escape route taken by the future Charles II after the Battle of Worcester, towards Axen Farm [SY 434 946] before coming to ‘a lane that dived down into the valley’, this could well be Broadoak Road, leading down into Symondsbury. He ‘followed it down until another lane crossed at a right angle, this led northwards back to the ridge’, if we are correct, this would be Shute’s Lane leading up to the crossing of paths at Quarry Cross [SY 434 938] ‘where it came up to the surface and branched into two farm tracks.

Figure 1: Sketch Map of the Bridport Area

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Broadoak Road and Shute’s Lane [Figure 2] fit Household’s description ‘deep indeed, but dappled with sunlight; it looked to me now a cleft eroded in desert country, for its bottom was only a cart's width and its sides, with the banks, the hedges above them and young oaks leaping up from the hedge, seemed fifty feet of solid blackness.

Figure 2: Shute’s Lane

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Figure 3: Hell Lane

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Paths lead in all directions from Quarry Cross. It has been suggested that Hell Lane [Figure 3], leading downwards to the west, could be the site of ‘X’s hideout. However, Hell Lane, although fulfilling some of Household’s criteria, runs east to west and does not fit his description of having ‘clear view to the north and west’, a field on the east which was ‘rough pasture’ and to the west a ‘forty-acre field of wheat stubble, falling away sharply to a great, grey, prosperous farm with generous barns and a duck-pond.

However, at the branch of the farm tracks ‘X’ states ‘these two tracks appear to be the end and aim of the ancient little high-road, but if you ignore them and walk across an acre of pasture you come to a thick hedge running downhill into the Marshwood Vale.’ If the meeting of the tracks is at Quarry Cross, then he must surely be leading us north-west towards Doctor’s Copse, Jan’s Hill and the Marshwood Vale. About 1,300m NW of Quarry Cross is the small copse of Bell Flower Plot [SY 427 949], lying between North End Farm, with its ‘generous barns’ and ‘duck pond’, to the west and Lower Moorbank Farm to the east. In the 1930s the farm track traversed Bell Flower Plot, but now runs along its eastern edge. There are fields to the west, although much smaller than the forty acres mentioned by Household; to the east is rough pasture leading to Doctor’s Copse and Lower Moorbath Farm.

Could Bell Flower Plot be the site of ‘X’s hideout? It fits Household’s description much better than Hell Lane. The latter descends from 110m to 35m over its 1000m length; Bell Flower Plot starts higher [120m] but drops more steeply, 20m in just 200m. The 1929 County Series 1:2,500 OS Map shows a track bisecting Bell Flower Plot, this track is no longer seen in aerial photographs, but modern maps show a track or footpath on the east side of the hedge.

An alternative site could be at Denhay Cross [SY 424 955], about 600m NNW of Bell Flower Plot, this is at 130m, commanding an excellent view over the Marshwood Vale.

Bell Flower Plot and Denhay Cross are consistent with the terrain described when ‘X’ reconnoitres after spending three days in his hideout and is almost out-manoeuvred by Quive-Smith. 'Behind me was my own lane, and fifty yards to my left the cross hedge in which was another lane running up to the down     . . . . .     At sunset Major Quive-Smith detached himself from a brown-scarred rabbit warren on the hillside     . . . . .     He struck down the hillside into the lane leading to Patachon's farm.' [North End Farm?]     . . . . .     'He had decoyed me into the corner of two hedges, from which there was no escape.     . . . . .     ‘I sprinted along the twenty yards of straight hedge between the gorse and my own bramble patch, wriggled under the blackberry bush and popped into my burrow.'

Tentative Hypothesis

The text of Rogue Male is consistent with a route from Powerstock using a section of Monarchs Way, leading via Broadoak Road and Shute's Lane to Quarry Cross, from there striking NW towards the Marshwood Vale. Of the three possibilities considered above for the location of ‘X’s hideout, Bell Flower Plot appears to be the most likely, followed perhaps by Denhay Cross. Household’s description, if taken literally, effectively rules out Hell Lane. But it must be remembered that Rogue Male is fiction and the that reader can never be entirely sure of what was in the author’s mind. And questions remain. Why, for example, should 'X' make the detour down Broadoak Road to Symondsbury when by continuing along Monarchs Way past Axen Farm he could have reached any of these three locations much more directly?

More research needs to be done - further visits to the area are clearly indicated.

[Quotations are from Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household, Orion, London 2104, ISBN 978-1-4091-5583-6]
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This document and illustrations are © Chris Newall 2017. They are not for sale or general publication.

Author : Chris Newall
Last update : 27th March 2017