SMHS project: Type 24 Pillbox

26 Oct 2013

Our third pillbox in the Withyham Project was another Type 24.

Although 99% of the pillboxes we'll be working on are Type 24s, each one is an individual. Each has a different setting in the landscape, a different purpose to fill in the defensive network and variation in construction techniques.

Type 24 Pillbox

The tasks we face in cleaning up and recording also vary from structure to structure and this particular pillbox posed a new challenge.

Situated on a slope, tree growth and cattle movement in the area over 70 years has caused the slope to erode downhill and into the pillbox itself. The floor is liberally covered in soil (up to 30cm deep at the door) and other rubbish and tree branches.

One wall of the pillbox is buried above its embrasure, so that earth is entering from two directions.

More common problems such as overgrown vegetation and a covering of moss on the external walls were also present.

Arriving on site, our team had two immediate problems; the driving rain and where to store their kit. Previously we had been able to use the pillbox we were clearing as accommodation, but as this pillbox was half buried, entry into it was quite difficult, either on hands and knees or by the 'mudslide' method.

Fortunately, the next pillbox in the line was only about 30m away down a slope and was clean and dry inside and so this became our base of operations.

Once dry cover had been established, the rain was less of a problem as we launched a three-pronged attack: digging out the entrance, cleaning the walls and clearing the roof.

Type 24 Pillbox

Previous roof clearances had been comparatively swift owing to the entanglement of moss, soil and ivy roots allowing us to simply roll up the matted mass and pull it off the roof.

However, no such matting had occurred here and so every square inch of the roof had to be shovelled and then swept. Even then, mud was still persistently sticking to the surface, despite the frequent rain showers.

In the event, several trips were made to an animal trough 100m away to fetch some water to sluice across the roof. This paid off, as etchings in the concrete from levelling and smoothing during construction became apparent.

Removing the moss from the walls was a painstaking task, requiring careful scraping with a trowel. One wall remains to be done, but the effect of this effort can be seen in the comparison photograph at right; note how the marks left after the removal of the wooden shuttering are now visible.

Digging out the entrance proved to be the most laborious task of the day. Work began from the outset, with the roots of neighbouring trees proving to be problematic. It was actually found that the roots had grown down through the entrance and were spreading out into the pillbox!

Some temporary steps were cut down into the bank to allow easier access into the pillbox. Many bucket-loads of spoil later and the steps into the pillbox had been revealed.

It was found that the spoil was about 30cm deep inside the door and some of this was removed by a chain of buckets.

However, full excavation of the interior was too much for one day's work and so we shall complete this on our next visit.


November 2nd 2013: Our second visit saw the team crack on with excavating the pillbox interior. Our resident metal detectorist was also able to join us - and these two tasks were to compliment each other perfectly as the day progressed.

Some people may question why we go to so much trouble in clearing out these pillboxes, but so far our efforts have always been rewarded with new discoveries and today's two hours of shovelling mud and rubbish into buckets was no exception.

In one corner of the pillbox, we uncovered a metal pipe embedded in the wall at floor level. This was duly confirmed as an additional drainage feature as the metal detector picked up the pipe outside and revealed its extent.

This illustrates perfectly the individuality of each pillbox; this drain was custom-made for this pillbox in this part of the landscape.

Photograph gallery

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