World War II pillbox 250m south east of Carn Gwavel Farm, St Mary's
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1016513
Date first listed: 02-Jul-1999
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Isles of Scilly (Unitary Authority)
Parish: St. Mary's
National Grid Reference: SV9120610193
Reasons for Designation
The Isles of Scilly, the westernmost of the granite masses of south west
England, contain a remarkable abundance and variety of archaeological remains
from over 4000 years of human activity. The remote physical setting of the
islands, over 40km beyond the mainland in the approaches to the English
Channel, has lent a distinctive character to those remains, producing many
unusual features important for our broader understanding of the social
development of early communities.
Throughout the human occupation there has been a gradual submergence of the
islands' land area, providing a stimulus to change in the environment and its
exploitation. This process has produced evidence for responses to such change
against an independent time-scale, promoting integrated studies of
archaeological, environmental and linguistic aspects of the islands'
The islands' archaeological remains demonstrate clearly the gradually
expanding size and range of contacts of their communities. By the post-
medieval period (from AD 1540), the islands occupied a nationally strategic
location, resulting in an important concentration of defensive works
reflecting the development of fortification methods and technology from the
mid 16th to the 20th centuries. An important and unusual range of post-
medieval monuments also reflects the islands' position as a formidable hazard
for the nation's shipping in the western approaches.
The exceptional preservation of the archaeological remains on the islands has
long been recognised, producing an unusually full and detailed body of
documentation, including several recent surveys.
World War II pillboxes are built and heavily protected defensive gun positions, mostly for infantry with rifles and machine-guns but larger forms housed light artillery, notably anti-tank guns and light anti-aircraft guns. They are generally grouped around vulnerable or strategically important nodal points, installations and areas, or arranged along linear defensive systems designed to obstruct the enemy's advance across the country. Pillboxes first appeared widely as a defensive element in the relatively static trench warfare of World War I. Gradual development over the following two decades was superceded in early 1940 by design principles born from the practical experience of British troops in France, giving a shell-proof reinforced concrete construction whose hexagonal plan had a gun loophole in each facet giving all-round cover, strongly influencing designs issued from May 1940 by the War Office and by the Chief Engineers of the regional Commands. Nationally, pillbox construction began in late May 1940 as a key part of the rapid programme of anti-invasion defences initiated after the fall of France to German troops. By October 1940, over 14,000 shuttered concrete pillboxes had been built, supplemented by large numbers in other construction techniques and a small number of commercially-produced pillbox designs. Various forms of camouflaged facing were employed and others were hidden within existing structures, depending on local circumstances. By early 1941 however, the tactical concepts underlying pillboxes, especially their deployment to provide linear defensive lines, were becoming criticised as being too inflexible, costly and impracticable as an effective defensive system, with increasing reliance being placed on dug fieldworks around vulnerable points and the use of mobile troop units. This shift in policy culminated in February 1942 in an order requiring no more to be built as they were deemed unsuitable, by which time over 20,000 pillboxes had been completed. World War II defences on the Isles of Scilly were largely directed to the protection of St Mary's, and particularly Hughtown and the Garrison, with only isolated machine-gun posts on some off-islands. Provision of its anti-invasion defences came relatively late, with a system of 27 pillboxes and defended gun positions built around the St Mary's coastline between January and April 1941 by the 14th Battalion Royal Fusiliers under guidance from 231A Fd Coy Royal Engineers. Most were sited around the Garrison and the bays immediately adjacent to Hughtown, with single or small groups of pillboxes overlooking other potential landing beaches. Most adapted standard issued designs, but some were ingeniously masked within existing structures, especially around the Garrison. Of the original 27, nine survive virtually intact, with remains of two others subsided from their former positions. The remainder were demolished, mostly in 1946, though visible traces survive of at least five of those. This latest defensive phase on Scilly complements the well preserved remains from a 400 year sequence of national defensive systems deployed on the islands, providing a rare and valuable resource for studying developments in military technology and strategic thinking over that period. Consequently the nine virtually intact pillboxes still in their original positions are considered worthy of protection. The pillbox at Nowhere survives substantially intact; its position and grouping with the other two pillboxes around Old Town Bay show clearly the tactical thought which underlay the siting of pillboxes. Its role within the overall anti-invasion system on Scilly is amply confirmed by its relationship with the other surviving pillboxes and their remains, and by the detailed documentary sources which bear on both that system and this particular pillbox.
The monument includes a World War II pillbox 250m south east of Carn Gwavel
Farm, at a hamlet called Nowhere, and situated at the rear of a low coastal
embankment behind Old Town Bay on the south coast of St Mary's in the Isles of
Scilly. It is built against the landward side of the embankment, on the edge
of a small field.
The pillbox has an irregular hexagonal plan with a concrete raft floor
supporting walls faced with an outer skin of mortared concrete blocks around a
shuttered concrete core and inner face; vertical steel reinforcing bars behind
the inner face are exposed where surface concrete has cracked away beside the
doorway. A flat shuttered concrete roof is edged by the topmost course of the
walls' outer skin. The pillbox has facets roughly 1.8m across internally but
with a broader rear wall, facing NNW, to contain the doorway. The doorway
opens to a short entrance passage accommodated in a small rectangular
extension built against the rear wall; the end wall of this passage extends
slightly into the interior where it meets the rear wall of the pillbox.
The pillbox is 2m high internally and provided with four rectangular gun
loopholes, one in each of the four wall facets facing ENE, south east, SSE and
south west, giving a field of fire ranging across Old Town Bay and along the
top of the embankment to each side behind the shore. No loophole is provided
in the west-facing facet. The loopholes are 0.25m wide and 0.3m high, with
surrounds chamfered on the inner face, stepped on the outer face. The rear of
the pillbox was covered from two smaller loopholes, one each in the end and
side walls of the entrance passage.
The pillbox is sunken slightly below the level of the field to its rear, its
external walls rising only 1.7m from the present field surface. Its forward
aspects are effectively masked by the coastal embankment passing immediately
south east of the pillbox, leaving only its uppermost 1.4m projecting; the
loopholes are just above the level of ground vegetation.
Contemporary sources record an anti-invasion system of 27 pillboxes and
defended gun positions around the coast of St Mary's, within which this
pillbox is designated `Pillbox No.25'. As a potential landing beach which
would give easy access to Hughtown, the islands' administrative centre and
main population focus, Old Town Bay was identified as especially vulnerable
and provided with three pillboxes, all of which survive largely intact: the
example in this scheduling had a field of fire across the rear of the bay but
its view to the bay's mouth was obstructed on the west by the Carn Leh
outcrop. Another pillbox 140m to the ENE overcame that obstructed view and
gave closer cover to the village of Old Town; the third pillbox is located on
Tolman Point, with a view directly across the mouth of Old Town Bay to the
south west, and the mouth of Porth Minick to the east.
This pillbox was built as part of a wider system of anti-invasion defences
erected around St Mary's between January and April 1941. This particular
pillbox appears in operational instructions issued in July 1941, designed to
counter any enemy landings on St Mary's. In those instructions it was
specified to be manned by the 2nd Platoon of the island's Home Guard, who were
to be armed with Browning guns and automatic rifles.
The post-war fittings within the pillbox and the surface of the path along the
coastal embankment, where it falls within the monument's protective margin,
are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 15530
Legacy System: RSM
Osborne's Scill War Diary 39-45 vol 3 Extracts in Osborne as below, Appendix aj, War Diary of 13 Btn West Yorks Regiment, July 1941, (1941)
Osborne's Scill War Diary 39-45 vol 3, Extracts in Osborne as below, Appendix ak, War Diary of 14 Btn Royal Fusiliers, Jan-May 1941, (1941)
Title: 1:10000 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 91 SW Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: Map of St Mary's pillbox locations and Nos by 14Btn Royal Fusiliers Source Date: 1941 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Osborne's Scill War Diary 39-45 vol 3
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing