World War II pillbox west of Porth Hellick, 90m north of Drum Rock, St Mary's
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1016516
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: SV9238010622
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'
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 Porth Hellick survives substantially intact; its position relative to the bay and to the other surviving pillboxes around St Mary's shows clearly the tactical thought which underlay the siting of pillboxes. Its role within the overall anti-invasion system on Scilly is amply confirmed by the detailed documentary sources which bear on both that system and this particular pillbox.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
The monument includes a World War II pillbox situated immediately behind
the coastal cliff on the west side of Porth Hellick on the south east coast of
St Mary's in the Isles of Scilly.
The pillbox is built behind the cliff top on a platform artificially levelled
with concrete beneath the pillbox floor on the seaward side. Its walls have a
hexagonal plan measuring overall 4m NNW-SSE by 3.8m ENE-WSW, from which its
concrete raft floor, 0.25m thick, projects a further 0.15m around the edges.
The floor supports walls faced by an outer skin of 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 edge of the walls, some still retaining remnants of metal
straps, formerly secured camouflage netting over and around the pillbox.
Eroding patches of soil and turf on the roof are also considered to be
remnants of the original camouflaging cover. The pillbox has facets roughly 2m
across externally except for the rear wall, facing WSW, which is broader to
contain the doorway. The doorway opens onto a short entrance passage
accommodated in a small rectangular block-built extension built against the
rear wall; where passage end wall meets the rear wall, a short stub of walling
extends into the pillbox interior.
The pillbox is 2m high internally and provided with four rectangular gun
loopholes, one in each of the four wall facets facing NNE, ENE, ESE and SSE,
giving a field of fire ranging across Porth Hellick, its shores and cliffs.
The loopholes are 0.25m wide and 0.3m high, with surrounds chamfered on the
inner face, stepped on the outer face. No loopholes are provided in the
NNW-facing facet of the rear wall as they face into the deep levelling cut
beside the pillbox.
Contemporary sources record an anti-invasion system of 27 pillboxes and
defended gun positions around the coast of St Mary's, in which this pillbox
was designated 'Pillbox No.22', sited to guard the potential landing beach
which Porth Hellick provided. This pillbox was built as part of a wider system
of anti-invasion defences erected on Scilly between January and April 1941 by
14th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers stationed on the islands. This was late
in the national provision of pillboxes and came at a time when the pillbox was
losing favour as an effective defensive structure. This shifting policy and
the distance of Porth Hellick from the main administrative and population
focus of Hughtown, may be reflected in the omission of this pillbox from
operational instructions issued in July 1941 to counter any enemy landings on
St Mary's, although those instructions did provide for the manning of the
three pillboxes behind Old Town Bay.
All stored items and post-war fittings 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: 15533
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