Two groups of World War II pillboxes in the north eastern and north western sectors of the former airfield of RAF Culmhead, Trickey Warren


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Two groups of World War II pillboxes in the north eastern and north western sectors of the former airfield of RAF Culmhead, Trickey Warren
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Taunton Deane (District Authority)
Taunton Deane (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
ST 20360 15874, ST 20368 15804, ST 20439 15776, ST 20990 15684, ST 21041 15766, ST 21067 15672

Reasons for Designation

The importance of defending airfields against attack was realised before the outbreak of World War II and a strategy evolved as the war went on. Initially based on the principle of defence against air attack, anti-aircraft guns, air raid shelters and dispersed layouts, with fighter or `blast' pens to protect dispersed aircraft, are characteristics of this early phase. With time, however, the capture of the airfield became a more significant threat, and it was in this phase that the majority of surviving defence structures were constructed, mostly in the form of pillboxes and other types of machine gun post. The scale of airfield defence depended on the likelihood of attack, with those airfields in south or east England, and those close to navigable rivers, ports and dockyards being more heavily defended. But the types of structure used were fairly standard. For defence against air attack there were anti-aircraft gun positions, either small machine gun posts or more substantial towers for Bofors guns; air raid shelters were common, with many examples on each airfield; and for aircraft, widely dispersed to reduce the potential effects of attack, fighter pens were provided. These were groups together, usually in threes, and took the form of `E' shaped earthworks with shelter for ground crew. Night fighter stations also had sleep shelters where the crew could rest. For defence against capture, pillboxes were provided. These fortified gun positions took many forms, from standard ministry designs used throughout Britain and in all contexts, to designs specifically for airfield defence. Three Picket Hamilton forts were issued to many airfields and located on the flying field itself. Normally level with the ground, these forts were occupied by two persons who entered through the roof before raising the structure by a pneumatic mechanism to bring fire on the invading force. Other types of gun position include the Seagull trench, a complex linear defensive position, and rounded `Mushroom' pillboxes, while fighter pens were often protected by defended walls. Finally, airfield defence was co-ordinated from a Battle Headquarters, a heavily built structure of which under and above ground examples are known. Defences survive on a number of airfields, though few in anything like the original form or configuration, or with their Battle Headquarters. Examples are considered to be of particular importance where the defence provision is near complete, or where a portion of the airfield represents the nature of airfield defence that existed more widely across the site. Surviving structures will often be given coherence and context by surviving lengths of perimeter track and the concrete dispersal pads. In addition, some types of defence structure are rare survivals nationally, and all examples of Picket Hamilton forts, fighter pens and their associated sleep shelters, gun positions and Battle Headquarters closely associated with defence structures, are of national importance.

Five of the six pillboxes providing the defensive ground cover for the north eastern and north western sector of the airfield at Trickey Warren (former RAF Culmhead) survive exceptionally well as standing structures in very good condition, with original fittings such as steel shutters and firing shelves on the machine-gun loops still intact, while their strategically planned triangular formation is still apparent from the six surviving examples. They also represent the only two surviving groups of pillboxes at the site which survive with all three of their constituent pillboxes apparent and, in the case of the north eastern group, with all three standing to their full height. The design of the pillboxes is unusual with the examples at Trickey Warren perhaps representing the only major survival of this design in the country. The pillboxes were constructed at a time when the fear of a German invasion during the early years of World War II was considered a very real possibility and the monument provides a visible reminder of the measures taken on English soil to counter this threat.


The monument, which falls into six separate areas of protection, includes two groups of pillboxes all dating from World War II. There were four clutches, each of three pillboxes, located at strategic defensive positions around the airfield at Trickey Warren of which this monument represents the two groups located in the northern sector of the airfield, either side of the main control tower. The airfield at Trickey Warren was officially opened as an RAF operational fighter station on 1st August 1941. Known originally as RAF Churchstanton, the station was redesignated in 1943 and it is usually referred to by its later name of RAF Culmhead. The two groups of pillboxes within this scheduling provided the defensive cover for the technical buildings, control tower, and the eastern runway, against ground attack. Airfield pillboxes of World War II were usually positioned in a line along a hedgerow or field boundary or in the form of a triangle, and they were often visible one from another. The three pillboxes on the north east sector of the airfield at Trickey Warren are set in a triangular arrangement although the pillbox at the northerly apex of this triangle lies at the base of a north facing slope covering `dead' ground just beyond the airfield perimeter and was partly sunken leaving only about 1.1m of its height visible above ground. This may represent a deliberate attempt to hide the pillbox for camouflage purposes; it was also located in an isolated position and was not visible from the other two pillboxes. The two remaining pillboxes of the group were sited about 78m apart on the flat ground between the end of the eastern runway and the suite of technical buildings which included the control tower. The three pillboxes of the north western group were likewise set in a triangular arrangement although, unlike the other group, all are intervisible. The two pillboxes forming the base of the triangle stand to their full original height and are about 70m apart whilst the third, at the apex of the triangle, lies offset some 110m to the north west and is partly collapsed with its roof supported on its reduced walls. All of the pillboxes of these two groups conform to a constructional design of seven sides set upon a concrete raft with a ground footprint approximately 4.2m square. They were constructed with external half-brick wall shuttering with concrete walls supporting a reinforced concrete roof. The five pillboxes sited on the airfield proper were provided with small loopholes for rifles located in the side walls, with a loophole either side of the single doorway. In addition, one side of each of these pillboxes was provided with a large recessed opening for a heavy machine-gun with steel shuttering to protect this opening against hostile fire. In all cases the machine-gun position is accompanied by a stone firing shelf about 1.3m in length and 0.3m wide set just below the opening in order to take the weight of the machine-gun. The partly sunken pillbox just off the airfield perimeter is unusual in having two machine-gun positions and a doorway set so close to the bank that rifle loopholes were not considered to be necessary or practical in defending it. Internally, the pillboxes of the north eastern sector possess brick-built anti-ricochet walls but this feature is missing from the north western group. The need for the construction of extensive airfield defences was considered a requirement during the earlier part of World War II in the face of the threat of a German invasion of mainland Britain. Part of the strategy for resisting such an invasion, wherever it took place, was the holding up of any German advance at certain key positions, and along stop lines. These positions comprised a line or group of pillboxes and other defensive works. RAF Culmhead was in a vulnerable location to the west of the main Taunton stop line which ran from Burnham-on-Sea on the Bristol Channel down to Seaton on the South Devon coast. It was necessary, in the event of a German invasion force landing in the far South West, to deny the enemy the use of the airfield at Trickey Warren for as long as possible lest it be used to support hostile action against the Taunton stop line and targets beyond. This is a possible factor in accounting for the presence of the considerable defensive cover in the form of pillboxes, gunpits, anti-aircraft positions, and other works found at RAF Culmhead. RAF Culmhead ceased to operate as a fighter station in August 1944 and was thereafter used as a training airfield until July 1945 when it was relegated to Care and Maintenance; it was finally decommissioned in August 1946. A history and condition survey of the fighter station at RAF Culmhead was commissioned by the Blackdown Hills Project, Somerset County Council, and Taunton Deane Borough Council and was undertaken and produced by Paul Francis of Airfield Research Publishing.

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:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Francis, P, RAF Culmhead, (1997), 24
Francis, P, RAF Culmhead, (1997)


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

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