World War II pillbox and Civil War battery at Tolman Point, St Mary's


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1016515

Date first listed: 02-Jul-1999


Ordnance survey map of World War II pillbox and Civil War battery at Tolman Point, St Mary's
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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: SV9159709992


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

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' settlement. 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 Tolman Point 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. Although the Civil War battery has suffered damage from the pillbox construction and coastal erosion, its reuse for the pillbox gives a good example of the continuity of some strategically important positions over several centuries of military development. However the considerable disparity between the sites of the complementary Civil War fieldworks and those of the complementary pillboxes demonstrates clearly the differences between the wider defensive strategies considered viable in those periods.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes a World War II pillbox built into the remains of an English Civil War gun battery on Tolman Point, a low narrow headland between Old Town Bay and Porth Minick on the south coast of St Mary's in the Isles of Scilly. The pillbox has a hexagonal plan with a concrete raft floor supporting walls faced externally by mortared concrete blocks around a shuttered concrete core and inner face. A flat shuttered concrete roof is edged by the topmost course of the walls' outer skin; spaced nails along the upper edges of the walls provided securement for camouflage netting. The pillbox has facets roughly 2m across externally but with a broader rear wall, facing south east, to contain the entrance. A short entrance passage is accommodated in a small rectangular extension built against the central part of the rear wall. The pillbox is 2m high internally and is provided with five rectangular gun loopholes, one in each wall facet except the rear, giving a field of fire ranging across the mouth of Old Town Bay to the south west and across the mouth of Porth Minick to the east. These loopholes are roughly 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 was partly masked by its floor level being slightly sunken below ground level, but this was enhanced by its siting within the remains of a 17th century gun battery. The battery is defined by a subrectangular earth and rubble bank with occasional slabs to 0.5m across; the bank is generally 1m-1.5m wide, 0.5m high, and defines an internal area roughly 6m north west- south east by 5m north east-south west though coastal erosion has destroyed much of the bank's north east sector. Most of the interior is occupied by the World War II, built north west of centre in the battery such that the outer face of the pillbox cuts into the inner side of the bank on the west and north west, masking the pillbox walls up to bases of the gun loopholes around the south west, west and north west. On the east and south east, the pillbox wall stops about 0.5m-1m short of the inner scarp of the battery bank, leaving the pillbox loopholes and lower walls largely exposed on those sides and demonstrating that the bank was not simply a feature raised to camouflage the pillbox. A break in the bank on the north east results from coastal erosion while a short gap in the SSW corner may have been cut to give access to the pillbox. Both the Civil War battery and the World War II pillbox form part of wider contemporary systems of defences on St Mary's. The siting of the Civil War battery here reflects the strategic advantage of Tolman Point in giving a field of fire across both Old Town Bay and Porth Minick, as noted above for the pillbox. Within an extensively surviving system of Civil War fieldworks around the coast of St Mary's, this battery was complemented in covering Old Town Bay by a battery 90m to the north west by the Tolman Carns and another on the opposite side of the bay at Carn Leh, and in covering Porth Minick by a breastwork on the opposite side of the Porth and by a battery at Church Point. World War II 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.23'. 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 other two pillboxes are located 140m apart behind the rear of the bay. This pillbox was built, along with the others 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. All post-war fittings, items and debris within the pillbox are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included.

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: 15532

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 90 NW & SV 91 SW Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 1:10000 Ordnance Survey Maps; SV 90 NW & 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

End of official listing