World War II Eastern Command Line at Chappel Viaduct


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1020687

Date first listed: 16-Oct-2002


Ordnance survey map of World War II Eastern Command Line at Chappel Viaduct
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Essex

District: Colchester (District Authority)

Parish: Chappel

County: Essex

District: Colchester (District Authority)

Parish: Wakes Colne

National Grid Reference: TL 89517 28473, TL 89643 28396, TL 89648 28371, TL 89672 28426, TL 89681 28474, TL 89705 28514, TL 89772 28319


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

Reasons for Designation

World War II Stop Line Defence was part of the first plan for the defence of Britain in the event of German forces invading the country from occupied France. The plan was devised in May 1940 by the Home Defence Executive, set up under General Sir Edmund Ironside, Commander-in-Chief of the Home Forces, specifically to deal with all matters of home defence. The plan was seen as the only effective means of defending the country against a cross-channel invasion after the Dunkirk evacuation, when the British Army was ill-equipped to prevent it. A series of successive lines of defence were constructed, starting on the coastline (concentrating on the eastern and southern coasts) with subsequent lines inland, culminating in multiple rings around London. These `Stop Lines' were intended to be capable of halting, or at least delaying, a German advance until the few heavy weapons at the disposal of the British troops could be deployed. The lines were constructed to take advantage of natural barriers such as rivers, woods and marshes. Where this was not possible, deep ditches were dug, up to 7m across, to continue the anti-tank defence. At road and rail crossings, concrete and steel barriers replaced the ditch. Where the line passed through a built-up area, houses could be incorporated as a ready-made obstacle. Along the length of the lines, pillboxes and gun positions were constructed, spaced out at regular intervals. The pillboxes were of different kinds: infantry, artillery and anti-aircraft, together providing an integrated defence against both ground and air attack. Although little of the hundreds of miles of anti-tank ditches have survived, there are stretches where well-preserved concrete defences still stand, well preserved. These can be seen along the Eastern Command Line, the GHQ Line and the outer defensive rings around London. Of particular importance are the stretches of `Stop Line' where all the component parts of its defensive capabilities survive: anti-tank obstacles, artillery, infantry and anti-aircraft pillboxes and gun positions (including spigot mortar emplacements added at a later date). In the event, the effectiveness of the `Stop Lines' was never tested, and they were soon replaced by an alternative strategy of defended focal points; they do, however, survive as testimony to the largest engineering task ever undertaken by the Home Forces.

The defence line at Chappel Viaduct represents the survival in a single grouping of the whole spectrum of defensive structures deployed along the `stop lines' of World War II.

Examples of all four major pillbox types deployed along the `stop lines' are represented and there is also excellent survival of the complementary defence mechanisms of anti-tank cubes and anti-tank cylinders, as well as two spigot mortar gun emplacements. Of the individual elements of the defence line, several represent exceptional survivals: the FW3/28 artillery pillbox is the last of its type to survive on the Eastern Command Line.


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


The monument includes a stretch of the World War II defence or `stop line' known as The Eastern Command Line which was constructed in 1940 as part of a series of lines of defence to counter the threat of a cross-channel invasion by German forces from occupied France. The Eastern Command Line was the longest and most heavily fortified position in East Anglia and ran from Wivenhoe on the Essex coast to The Wash west of King's Lynn. Part of the defensive line runs to the north of the town of Colchester before following the River Colne westwards to Chappel Viaduct at which point it turns to run north along the railway enbankment leading to Bures. The viaduct represents a gap in the natural barrier afforded by the river and the man-made protection of the railway embankment. Consequently it was heavily fortified with pillboxes, gun emplacements and anti-tank barriers. The defences include examples of the four major types of pillbox built along the Eastern Command Line (nodal point, artillery, infantry and anti-aircraft) in addition to lines of anti-tank cubes and cylinders and two spigot mortar emplacements.

The monument is in seven separate areas of protection at and around Chappel viaduct and to the south of the adjacent River Colne. In the first area of protection approximately 150m west of the main defensive line, stands a nodal point pillbox of FW3/22 type located in a strategic position on the south west corner of the Chappel Bridge. The concrete pillbox is of hexagonal design with a maximum width of 4m; it has steel side supports and there are slit-type rifle loopholes either side of the entrance.

In the second area of protection adjacent to and partly underneath the viaduct is a pillbox of FW3/28 design. This was built to face and defend the road approach from the east and to provide cover for the area between the river and Colchester Road (which runs parallel to it on the north). Of concrete construction it is approximately 7 sq m with chamfered corners; it has a low L-shaped entrance on its west side with an anti-ricochet wall facing the opening. The walls have two machine-gun loopholes (in the western and southern walls), two rifle loopholes (in the north eastern and south eastern walls) and a large square gun firing aperture in the east facing wall. The mounting pedestal for the gun, which would have been a six pounder Hotchkiss type, is next to the firing aperture. Also within this area are two rows of anti-tank cubes, one extending to the north east from the pillbox up to Colchester Road, the other running parallel to the viaduct between the road to the north and the river to the south. The row parallel with the viaduct originally consisted of nine cubes, grouped in threes, each group blocking an archway; of these seven are still extant, six to the north and one to the south of the pillbox. The row also includes three concrete anti-tank cylinders lying on the river bank (originally positioned on the river bed to make it impassable). The row converging on the pillbox from the north east has nine surviving cubes out of an original complement of twelve. All of the concrete cubes are 4-5 sq m; the cylinders are approximately 5m long by 1.5m in diameter.

Immediately north of Colchester Road in the third area of protection is an infantry pillbox and its associated anti-tank cubes. The infantry pillbox is a concrete hexagonal structure approximately 6.75m wide with small loopholes and a low entrance on its western side. From its elevated position the pillbox commanded an uninterrupted view along the road to the east and would have supported the artillery pillbox on the south side of the road. The infantry pillbox has associated anti-tank cubes, twelve in all, running for approximately 40m in a line parallel to the viaduct. The cubes are grouped in threes, arranged in chevrons, each group blocking one arch of the viaduct.

Approximately 50m north east of the northernmost anti-tank cube (within the fourth area of protection) is an anti-aircraft pillbox. This concrete pillbox is of hexagonal design, approximately 7m in diameter, with an entrance on the west side. It has a central anti-aircraft machine-gun well complete with mounting pedestal and steel fitting. It measures a maximum of 8.5m wide including its entrance.

Slightly later in date than the pillboxes and anti-tank cubes are two spigot mortar emplacements which lie (in the fifth and sixth areas of protection) to the south of the River Colne. These are located on either side of the viaduct, partly under its arches. Both spigot mortar pedestals are 1.10m in height by 1m in diameter. Spigot mortars were supplied to the Home Guard in 1942. The seventh area, also south of the River Colne, lies approximately 150m south east of the viaduct and contains a hexagonal pillbox. This is 6m in diameter with a low entrance in its south west face and small loopholes typical of the infantry type.

Documentary sources describe Wakes Colne as a `Defended Place Class C', ie. where the object of holding the defended place was to deny use of the roads to the enemy. The 8th Battalion of the Essex Home Guard manned the defences. A later source lists Chappel as a `Class B Defended Place' in the North Essex Sub District, defined as a major centre of road communications and provided with a garrison sufficient to hold its defences (specified as less than 1,000 men but more than two battle platoons of 80 men each).

All modern fencelines, telegraph poles and pavements are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath these features, or into which these features are set, is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 32447

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Dobinson, C S, Twentieth Century Fortifications in England: Anti-invasion defences of WWII, (1996), 71-2
Colour prints, Nash, F, MPP Film 28, (1997)
Colour prints, Tyler, S, MPP Film 28, (1997)
Colour prints, Tyler, S, MPP Film 28, (1997)
Colour prints, Tyler, S, MPP Film 28, (1997)
Defence of Britain Project, Osborne, M, Defence of Britain project: Site record, (1996)
Defence of Britain Project, Osborne, M, Defence of Britain project: Site record, (1996)
Details from field visit 04/05/1996, Osborne, M, Defence of Britain Project: Site Record, (1996)
Details from field visit 04/05/1996, Osborne, M, Defence of Britain Project: Site Record, (1996)
In ECHR, Nash, F, Eastern Command Line Photos, (1997)
Nash, F, Colour photos in Essex SMR, (1997)
Nash, F, Colour photos in Essex SMR, (1997)
Nash, F, Colour photos in Essex SMR, (1997)
Nash, F, Colour prints in Essex SMR, (1997)
Nash, F, World War II Defences in Essex, 1998, Interim report: June 1998
Nash, F, World War Two Defences in Essex, 1998, Interim Report: June 1998
Nash, F, World War Two Defences in Essex, 1998, Interim Report: June 1998
Nash, F, World War Two Defences in Essex, 1998, Interim Report: June 1998
RAF, (1946)

End of official listing