Spuduka's Pillbox log The Sulham Valley

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To give some background you have to go back to 1940 when the UK was at risk from Germany invading after the fall of France. Sir Edmund Ironside was made CO of the Home Guard and embarked on building a series of stop lines. Work started around June 1940 and stopped around August 1940 when Ironside was replaced and General staff thought of a different strategy.

The idea was to protect London and used natural barriers and ditches to deter any chance of the Germans using tanks like they did in France. Between the natural barriers anti-tank ditches were dug and pillboxes built to defend London from attack. When work stopped on the stop lines the pillboxes were left and over 1200 remain today.

How much use the stop lines would have been is open to question as the home defence were short of guns to man them with anyway as a lot of equipment and guns were left behind in France after the fall.

Today we still see the defences around and many of the pillboxes still exist though they are blending into the undergrowth and canít easily be seen. Someone called them the castles of the twentieth century, which in a way they were. Some are in danger of being destroyed, others succumbing to the elements.

I set out at first to record the ones I knew about along the River Thames. This then turned out a never-ending task as I found more and more, including a couple that people did not realise were there. I ended up covering the Thames from Pangbourne to Abingdon using the Defence of Britain (DOB) database I managed to get a download for my Anquet digital mapping. The further afield I went, the more I came across, and now my log ranges from Theale to Duxford. I also used a book called Ironsides line which was a big help in my quest.

This one on the red line has some of the best preserved pillboxes and the biggest concentration is between Theale and Pangbourne (the Sulham Valley), the first half I did on my own one Sunday morning and was from Pangbourne to Tadley. When I got to the end It was if I was like a kid in a sweet shop as I did not know where to turn first. The second half which ran from Sulham itself to Theale really knocked my socks off. I did this with a guy I met up with from Flickr called Tony who had been dogging my footsteps and vice versa, we spent 6 hours looking at pillboxes, tracing the route of the anti-tank ditch and finding roadblocks. The concentration of Type 28 twins is the largest in the country and out of the 23 that were built in the area you can find 19.
If you're in the area I would recommend you have a look at some of them.

My travels can be followed by clicking the link below.
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You can also see them on Google maps in Panoramio
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More info on the types can be seen here
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I will start at Pangbourne and head towards Theale. The first pillbox is near to Pangbourne recreation ground in what is now a smallholding. It is now used to keep animal feed in. It is situated at the base of the main London to Bristol line just past Pangbourne station. There would have been railway blocks along that part of the line though I can't find any trace now. The pillbox is one of the type 28 twins that the Sulham Valley has so many of. One loophole faces the river Thames and the other towards the station. The Thames facing loophole may well have covered another pillbox which was near the river and road bridge that has now been removed.

1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright SU6376 : Type 28 Twin by Bill Nicholls SU6376 : Cones in front by Bill Nicholls
Between this pillbox and the next there was a section post, roadblocks and a weapons pit; again all traces of these have gone.

1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright SU6376 : Looking up the sluice by Bill Nicholls SU6376 : Sluice by the pillbox by Bill Nicholls SU6376 : Front of the pillbox by Bill Nicholls
This is a Type 22 that is near a housing estate which has been built since the war, there would have been an anti-tank ditch here as well.

1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright SU6475 : Crack in the front by Bill Nicholls SU6475 : Sluice in the field by Bill Nicholls SU6475 : Serious damage by Bill Nicholls SU6475 : Loophole looking up by Bill Nicholls
After walking along the footpath and crossing a bridge, which I might add replaced an old one that was there, you should be able to see the next pillbox which was a type 28 twin and has been destroyed. The sluice you see nearby was most likely used to fill the anti-tank ditch with water if needed.

1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright SU6375 : Front and side by Bill Nicholls SU6375 : Side by side by Bill Nicholls SU6375 : Outline in the ground by Bill Nicholls SU6375 : Number in the doorway by Bill Nicholls
The next one along can be seen from the footpath as you cross the pasture near the last one. You will have to cross pasture and a fence to get to it. At first I thought there was only one but when you look you can see the outline of a second beside it. Now if this was built and destroyed I can't say, it way well have been started and not finished as with a couple more further along. From here I was about to walk along the footpath to Tadley when I spotted another in the distance.

1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright SU6475 : A type 28 Twin by Bill Nicholls SU6475 : Entrance to the pillbox by Bill Nicholls SU6475 : Looking in the entrance by Bill Nicholls
This was a trek over a field to get to and it sits in a paddock with some of our equine friends in. I also had to cope with getting over a stream. Once at the pillbox I was rather taken aback when I went inside. It looked like it had been used for target practice. To get to the next pillboxes meant backtracking as the field between had some rather large horned cattle in which I'd rather not upset.

1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright SU6374 : Type 28 twin by Bill Nicholls SU6374 : Pillbox by the path by Bill Nicholls
From the last pillbox it is possible to see one through the trees but it's not this one which is along the footpath from Tadley.

1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright SU6374 : Pillbox in the wood by Bill Nicholls SU6374 : Another in the woods by Bill Nicholls SU6374 : View of the back by Bill Nicholls
This can be seen from the last pillbox though it was not the next I visited.

1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright SU6374 : Two together by Bill Nicholls SU6374 : Back to back by Bill Nicholls
These were the next, a pair of Type 28A, back to back, both showing signs of damage one of which has a small hole right through.

1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright SU6374 : Another wood another pillbox by Bill Nicholls SU6374 : A better view by Bill Nicholls
The next which can be seen across the field, loopholes blocked and some damage to the walls as well. This was the last of the first section I did along the Sulham Valley.

1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright SU6374 : Type 28 under a tree by Bill Nicholls SU6374 : Cylindrical road blocks by Bill Nicholls
The next in line is along the road and one loophole faces the roadblocks.

1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright SU6474 : Square one at the back by Bill Nicholls SU6474 : End of the ditch by Bill Nicholls
Just along the road and on the bend you come across these road blocks and dragons teeth, one of the loopholes from the last pillbox faced in this direction. If you stand with your back to the dragons teeth and face up the field you can just make out the line of the anti-tank ditch.

1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright SU6474 : Two loopholes by Bill Nicholls
This one is next along with its (blocked up) back to Sulham Brook so I think they would have to use a bridge or ramp to get the gun in.

1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright SU6473 : Type 28 across the field by Bill Nicholls SU6473 : Shuttering in the vent by Bill Nicholls SU6474 : Five rails in the block by Bill Nicholls
Just a bit further along is this one which again is totally blocked up, the interesting part is that the vent still has the shuttering in not to mention some furniture and what looked like a sleeping bag inside. A little further along and you will see the rails by Sulham Brook which are in a concrete block which would have marked the end of the anti-tank ditch and stopped the water going in the ditch.

1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright SU6473 : Front view of the pillbox by Bill Nicholls SU6473 : Footpath over the corner by Bill Nicholls
This one is along the footpath that runs down from Nunhide Lane at Sulham with the base of a second further along the footpath at the corner of the field. Not sure if this was not finished or demolished.

1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright SU6473 : Hidden in the copse by Bill Nicholls SU6473 : View over the valley by Bill Nicholls
This one is along Nunhide Lane on a corner and would be easy to walk past if you did not know it was there. No loopholes open on this one as it is almost buried. Only the vent is open so it will be a good home for bats.

1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright SU6473 : Pillbox by the footpath by Bill Nicholls
Walking along Nunhide Lane and off a footpath to the right you will see this one that I suspect covered the footpath that went to Malpas as this would have gone across the anti-tank ditch. There is a unit insignia on the entrance which some kid has painted over.

1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright SU6473 : Pillbox on Nunhide Lane by Bill Nicholls SU6473 : Insignia on the wall by Bill Nicholls
Further along the lane this pillbox with a good unit insignia can be seen.

1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright SU6473 : View of two loopholes by Bill Nicholls SU6473 : Entrance to the pillbox by Bill Nicholls SU6473 : What's left of a vent by Bill Nicholls
To get to this one which is up in the woods off Nunhide Lane you need to take the footpath that is leading up from the one that goes to Malpas. The pillbox is quite beaten up with large holes in the roof and side.

1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright SU6472 : Pillbox behind Nunhide by Bill Nicholls SU6472 : Loophole behind the tree by Bill Nicholls
This Pillbox another type 28 twin is nearer Nunhide Farm and is probably easier to get to by walking along the lane.

1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright SU6472 : Looking down at the pillboxes by Bill Nicholls SU6472 : Pillboxes in the undergrowth by Bill Nicholls
The next two pillboxes are behind Nunhide Farm in a load of brambles. Another pair of Type 28s which are back to back. You can see the brambles from the footpath to Flints Folly (tower) that can be can see from the lane.

1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright SU6472 : Looking from the corner by Bill Nicholls SU6472 : Looking from the road by Bill Nicholls
Just along the lane from Nunhide Farm you will see another base for a type 28 twin. the outline of the main and side chambers is easy to make out.

1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright SU6472 : In the ivy by Bill Nicholls SU6472 : Corner of a Type 28 by Bill Nicholls
This is the first of the two at Pincents Farm, this one is blocked up and used for something as there is a door on the back which is locked

1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright SU6472 : Front from the field by Bill Nicholls SU6472 : Crack in the top by Bill Nicholls SU6472 : Shuttering in the floor by Bill Nicholls
The second at Pincents Farm is another that is quite hidden behind a lot of brambles and one of the few I have come across where the loopholes were not blocked up. One interesting thing we found was the shuttering still in the floor from the casting of the gun steady slots. This is the last pillbox you will see along the Sulham Valley as the others were down towards the old farm along with road blocks that I have not investigated yet but I presume are destroyed.

The last pillbox to be seen is near the M4 entry slip road in SU6571 and if you look at the map you can see a building marked near the slip road, that's it. I still have to pay a visit but I'll try that in the winter. There was another where the M4 is but you can tell what happened to that. Not sure if there are any more before the River Kennet, that is something I have to find out.


KML
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