The Secret Tunnels of South Heighton

Hillside Pillboxes, South.  Before & After 2000.

These pictures show the access to Pillbox 1 as found in 1994, and again in 2005.

I entered this pillbox in 1946 by ascending two wooden stairways to this point, then climbing the 9 ft (3 M) vertical wooden ladder visible in the first picture. By 1994 that ladder had seriously decayed, doubtless aided by the builders disposing much of the hardcore into the shaft and the obstruction of natural ventilation following the destruction of the pillbox c.1972. The residual hardcore and remains of the ladder must have decayed and collapsed before 2005, completely exposing the short access shaft that formerly gave entry into the pillbox. These remnants too have since tumbled down the stairwell, undoubtedly influenced by vehicular vibration from the carriageway above that passes right over this former shaft. This is the only access shaft known to have been capped with concrete; it is also the only one of the four not to show evidence of topsoil at the bottom of the shaft. The 35-degree gradient is difficult to appreciate until you consider the last RSJ is actually vertical.

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These pictures show the access to Pillbox 2 as found in 1994, and again in 2005.

I entered this pillbox in 1946 by ascending two wooden stairways to this point, then climbing the 9 ft (3 M) vertical wooden ladder visible in the first picture. By 1994 that ladder had seriously decayed, doubtless aided by the builders disposing much of the hardcore into the shaft and the obstruction of natural ventilation following the destruction of the pillbox c.1972. However, one enormous piece of hardcore is wedged in the access shaft that gave entry into the pillbox. It is most likely to be wedged by decaying timber, but it is certainly far too dangerous to approach to find out. By 2005 much of the rubble shown in the 1994 picture had hurtled down the incline to join other material but this one large piece (with perhaps more above it?) remains perilously suspended like a Sword of Damocles. This 35-degree gradient is difficult to appreciate until you consider the last RSJ is actually vertical. A disturbing fact though, is the evidence of copious amounts of topsoil now entering through the access shaft. Is some unsuspecting soul about to lose his/her front garden - or even worse? When that ladder gives way the surface above (27" x 29" or 686mm x 737mm) will be totally unsupported and liable to immediate catastrophic collapse with possibly serious consequences. Disturbing thoughts for those who believe the tunnel poses no threats!

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These pillboxes were built in 1941 beneath a swathe of camouflage to avoid detection by enemy aerial reconnaissance. All materials used were transported back and forth on a miner's tramway laid on the public footpath so that tell-tale vehicle tracks would not be impressed upon the grass. These 'trams' were a source of delight to the youngsters in the village. Before the soldiers went off-site for the day they would leave the 'trams' at the top of the hill in front of South View Terrace - but they were seldom there next morning. Somehow they had become de-railed at the end of the track near pillbox 1 where they'd overshot a turntable! (Today, the carriageway outside 34 Glynde Close).

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Twenty years weathering reveals the secrets of the unique HMS Forward pillboxes; and the footpath down which the tram track ran. The hillside was not cultivated in the 1940s, nor were there any buildings or huts seen here on the skyline.

In 1964 when I learned that the hillside was going to be developed, I took pictures of these pillboxes as a reminder of those bygone days. The tunnel had been a feature of my early life and I wanted some mementos. The film was developed, but it was not printed until I decided to research the tunnel 28 years later! I now realise that these hillside pillboxes and the observation post (a.k.a. the hen-house) are unique, and my pictures contain the only tangible evidence of their appearance/construction. More pictures displayed under Pillbox 3.

 

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All illustrations and text on this site are 1941-2017 Geoffrey Ellis, or The Friends of HMS Forward, or Nick Catford.