The Secret Tunnels of South Heighton

The Observation Post.  Before & After 2000.

The Observation Post as it appeared during 1941-6, and stripped of its disguise in 1964.

This is the famous Observation Post-cum-Pillbox uniquely disguised as a hen house. It also incorporated an emergency escape hatch for use in case of catastrophic damage to both east and west tunnel exits. Situated between what today is Glynde Close and Brands Close it afforded a 360-degree view interrupted only by South View Terrace and the Guinness Trust Holiday Home to the north and north-east.  Each wall of the pillbox featured a long embrasure fitted with three 'swing-down steel curtains' that could be independently secured in the 'raised' or 'lowered' position as desired. A braced wooden shelf was fitted just below embrasure-level (see picture below).

The Observation Post was cast inside a wooden shed that was later fitted with instantly detachable nesting boxes and chicken ramps. To complete the illusion, it was surrounded with a wire netting compound in which some two-dozen chicken typically of the Rhode Island Red and Light Sussex White varieties were kept. The illusion was complete, and I don't mind admitting my astonishment when I explored the pillbox in 1946 and realised what I was looking out of!

The pillbox was accessed via a wooden ladder fixed to the north face of a 26 ft (8 M) vertical shaft that was reached by 83 steps in three flights from the Operational Area level. A 4 ft (1.2 M) square by 3 ft (1M) high metal-covered canopy in the centre of the pillbox shielded the shaft against accidents from falling objects (or personnel!) particularly after dark. The emergency escape hatch consisted of an approximately 3 ft (1 M) square thick steel plate, solidly bolted to a metal frame at 4 ins (10 cm) intervals around its periphery, built into the wall beneath the east-facing embrasure (partly visible in the picture below). An enormous box-spanner hung close by.

Looking at the inside of the east embrasure from the outside of the south embrasure; and the bottom of the shaft  in 2004.

Extreme difficulty was experienced in demolishing this pillbox c.1970. Swinging weights proved ineffective, and explosives were inappropriate owing to the proximity of dwellings. It was necessary to resort to 'nibbling' the structure using pneumatic drills. During this process the reason for its resilience was discovered - it was heavily reinforced with railway lines! Most of the rubble produced was tossed down the shaft as is evident in the picture above.

Arcuate sheet numbering on outside (left) and inside (right) of bend.

An acute bend between flights in the stairway to the observation post necessitated many specially-shaped pieces of arcuate sheeting to be prepared off-site prior to installation. Sheets were marked A1, A2, etc for fitting on the outside of the bend, and B1, B2, etc for complementary pieces on the inside of the bend. The Braby cable tray fixed to the wall of the stairway indicates the former presence of communications cables of one kind or another. These would most likely have included aerial (coaxial) feeder cables and a undoubtedly a ready means of communicating between the observation post and the tunnel for use in times of tension.

The two flights of (37+19) stairs leading to this pillbox were concrete, finished to the same standard as those leading from the Operational Area to the Eastern Entrance in the Guinness Trust Holiday Home. The reason for this is unclear but most certainly gives food for thought.


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All illustrations and text on this site are 1941-2021 Geoffrey Ellis, or The Friends of HMS Forward, or Nick Catford.