Posted: 14 December 2009 22:17
I've recently been active in the northern sector of East Sussex. It's been a while since I did any 'pillbox-chasing' as I've been absorbed in trenches and roadblocks of late, so I took a wander along the GHQ line at Old Lodge Warren near Crowborough.
Most of the structures I encountered were Type 24 pillboxes but there were a couple of unusual designs too. They stand guard along a valley between a railway embankment and a stream, bolstered by a machine-dug anti-tank ditch.
All the pillboxes below are on public land except the first one. A footpath runs between the railway bridge in Palesgate Lane and the sewage treatment works; it takes about half an hour to walk this stretch normally (it's just under 1.5 miles), so if you're pushed for time, it may be an idea to walk straight to the end and find the pillboxes on the way back. This way you would also view them in numerical order, as most have a serial number painted inside the entrance. As this is a very long page I've listed these numbers below and linked to each. A question mark indicates that the number is not present in the pillbox, but is reasonable to assume from the known sequence that this was its number. It is only the variant pillboxes that have no number, apart from A113 which looks to have lost its number through weathering. This number is assured, as the close proximity and serial numbers of its neighbours make it very unlikely to be anything but A113.
It should be noted that some of these pillboxes are actually quite hard to locate in the undergrowth and you can easily lose track of time!
The graphic below (from a Google Sketchup model I've built) shows part of the internal layout of these Type 24 pillboxes, with the internal anti-ricochet wall omitted. Flanking the entrance is a rifle embrasure with an LMG embrasure designed to take the Bren Gun tripod. The principle is the same as I reported back in 2006, except that this design has channels cut into the wall for the tripod legs, as opposed to the brick piers seen further down the line at Barcombe Mills.
This is in a field that is fenced off with no public access, but visible from the footpath.
This is the first accessible pillbox and can be found to the east of the footpath. This is where the woodland starts, although it has only grown up after the war; aerial photos show the area was covered with low scrub during the war.
This pillbox is at the top of a steep slope that falls away to the right, down to the stream.
A quick inspection of the interior revealed that the general design of embrasure had cutouts in the brick shuttering for the legs of a Bren Gun tripod. This is representative of most of the interiors along this stretch; shabby, damaged brickwork, flooded and in some cases, covered by modern grafitti.
An unusual variant built of brick with concrete embrasure surround, this pillbox is dug into the embankment below the railway line; entry is via a brick-lined passage.
The structure has suffered over the years, with large cracks apparent in the walls and daylight visible at the junction with the roof. The final pillbox in this visit is of similar construction.
This pillbox stands on a thick concrete slab dug into the embankment with a retaining wall at the rear. It appears to be a Type 24 but with the entrance in the north wall, causing the loss of an embrasure. The absence of an internal anti-ricochet wall is also unusual.
A114 shows another unfortunate feature of some of these pillboxes, namely the loss of large areas of brick shuttering. Despite being on high ground overlooking the stream, the interior was flooded to about two inches, the interior walls thick with grafitti and the presence a few metres away of an unattended sleeping bag and rucksack caused me to move swiftly on.
A113 is perhaps the most interesting of this group; from the north it appears very similar to A114 above...
...but walking round and viewing from the south, we find that A113 has experienced a traumatic event at some point. (The photo below has been Photoshopped to remove a tree from the centre of the shot.)
An area of wall spanning just about three embrasures has been breached, exposing a tangled mass of steel reinforcing rods. I'll write a separate piece on this, as this is an interesting example.
Easily missed in the undergrowth a short distance north of A113, A112 has no distinguishing features.
A111 is set halfway down the bank overlooking the stream and a tributary. The main point of interest is the set of brick-lined steps leading down to the entrance.
A110 stands on an outcop beside a disused pumping station; and is in grave danger of being undermined by the action of the stream. It is actually tilting slightly and it might have been an optical illusion, but I did actually feel slightly dizzy by being in a pillbox where the lines were not truly vertical!
A view showing the undercut bank. If there was ever a moment when you didn't want a landslip to occur, taking this photo was that moment!
View through one of the embrasures looking along the stream.
A109's shuttering is of a redder brick than the previous Type 24s, also employing a curious 'interlaced fingers' method on the exterior angles.
By the time you reach this pillbox, you'll be starting to hear the eerie, drawn-out screech of the machinery at the sewage works.
Although not evident in this photograph, A108 also has the 'interlaced fingers' brickwork seen on A109 above. It is in this area that we appear to have a section of machine-cut anti-tank ditch; again, I'll write a separate piece on this at a later date.
The final pillbox in this section is a variant, of similar construction to one we saw earlier. It is buried up to embrasure level, with two embrasures that can sweep along part of the anti-tank ditch. The walls appear to be entirely of brick, with the embrasures cast in concrete.
The photo below was taken from the entrance, showing the inevitable flooding; this pillbox is what is known as not-get-innable.
Looking through the southern embrasure, we can see that part of the brick retaining wall to the entrance passage has collapsed, blocking the entrance which is filling with earth.
An interesting walk and set of pillboxes; it can be done in an afternoon, although I spent several wandering the area to accumulate all of the above information. I still have more to investigate though; namely the damaged pillbox and the anti-tank ditch. I've also been looking at the local roadblocks and some more interesting features have appeared in this regard - watch this space!
Ditch designed to hinder movement of tanks and AFVs. Ditches could be entirely artificial or existing ditches or natural features such as rivers, might be dredged, shaped and revetted to improve their effectiveness.
A loophole or slit that permits observation and/or weapons to be fired through a wall or similar solid construction.
A series of arterial stop lines designed to prevent German forces advancing on London and the industrial Midlands.
Generic term for a hardened field defensive structure usually constructed from concrete and/or masonry. Pillboxes were built in numerous types and variants depending on location and role.
A six-sided (but not a regular hexagon) pillbox. The Type 24 is the most frequently seen pillbox in East Sussex, mostly along stop lines. It can be found in thin wall (30cm) or thick wall (1m) variants.
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Hibbs, Peter Pillboxes at Old Lodge Warren (2017) Available at: http://pillbox.org.uk/blog/216647/ Accessed: 23 November 2017
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