Beal Farm Pillbox Restorations

Following an appeal for help on the (old) Pillbox Study Group forum from Paul Thompson, four of us met up on August 17th 2008 to clean up 3 pillboxes located at Beal farm on the Northumberland Coast, overlooking the causeway to Holy Island.

The first of these is a rectangular pillbox which has been modified from general infantry use to accommodate a Heavy Machine Gun. Three loopholes were blocked up leaving only two open. One of the blocked loopholes has an inscription in the concrete which, sadly, is almost unreadable except for the date 1941.

This variant type is only found in this area of Northumberland and, so far, only three are known. The others are unmodified.

The restoration work in this pillbox was mainly removing general rubbish that had built up since the end of the war and attempting some basic remedial work on the rotted legs of the unusual wooden MG table. Also clearing the drains although the pillbox was dry inside.

The Second pillbox we worked on is a variant of the Northumberland D type. It’s main variation being that the entrance is on the side as it is built against a wall.

More work was required here as the area around the pillbox had been used for dumping large rocks from the adjacent fields as well as plastic sacks. Inside this pillbox we found what appears to be a ‘shopping list’ written on the wall in pencil by the Kings Own Scottish Borderers. One item reads Blanco the others are harder to decipher.

The third pillbox to receive our attentions is the Double HMG pillbox (as seen on the home page of this site) located on Beal Point. This is a tremendous pillbox which has two compartments angled away from each other to provide enfilading fire up and down the beach.

This was a challenging restoration task as the entrances are down stairs accessed from the ground level above the pillbox. They lead into a passageway which connects the two compartments. This pillbox was flooded to knee level with fresh water from the fields behind. Our first task was to locate and clear the drains so we could work in the dry. We expected the drains to be at the front near the loopholes and wasted some time trying to find them. Eventually we gave up and concentrated on clearing the entrances. During the clearing of the stairways the only ‘find’ was a large caliber machine gun casing recovered from the emergency stairs.

We returned the following weekend with some large pipes to syphon the water out. After much effort this was achieved and the drain was located under a step in the passageway at the rear of the two boxes. Many hours were expended clearing this drain which ran all the way under the pillbox and came out in a soakaway about 10feet in front of the loopholes. The pipe was of a smaller diameter to modern drains and whilst the rubber disk on the drain rods went up OK it wouldn’t come back and we spent at least an hour getting some of it out in bits. The resulting gush of water was quite satisfying though. After that it was simply a case of extending the soakaway and covering our work as it is in a SSSI. There was much mud in the two compartments and this had to come out of the loopholes – we used it to restore the original ground level in front of the boxes as much as possible.

Associated with this pillbox is a concrete sandbag revetted trench system which is really noticeable when you fall into it!

There is also much concrete scatter along the coast from the causeway to the pillbox so there were obviously many other defences along this part of the coast.

Last time the pillbox was checked, some two years after the restoration, it was still dry inside although after the rainfall in 2012 it may not be any longer.

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Defence Structures and sites of all types both above and below ground can be very dangerous. Serious injury or even death can arise from unauthorised entry into such sites and structures. Join a responsible club, group or society who can arrange official visits. The Pillbox Study Group accepts no responsibility for any damages or injuries caused by ignoring this advice. The PSG does not encourage members to undertake the ad hoc clearance of vegetation from pillboxes, as it can expose them to physical damage and inappropriate use, it may also contravene a variety of statutory regulations including, listed buildings and SSSI designations. Vegetation clearance should only ever be undertaken as part of a formal arrangement, having sought and obtained permission from the land owner and other necessary authorities. Damaging a listed or scheduled monument can be considered as a Heritage Crime.

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