Lackham's WW2 Hardened Field Defences
Or, Lackham's "pillboxes"
In northern Wiltshire there are a number of pill boxes to be found, possibly the best known being the defensive line stretching between All Cannings and Devizes. Lackham is unusual in still having 6 of its original 7 pill boxes in existence. These were put in place during the Second World War possibly to defend the River Avon line or to defend the estate when it was home to General Patton, prior to D-Day. The owner of the estate, Major Holt, was paid 10 shillings a year extra compensation for the ground that the pill boxes stood on, as most of these were outside the area requisitioned by the War Department and also, presumably, because it is was unlikely they would be removed once hostilities ceased, as proved to be the case.
No maps from the period have been discovered that show the location of the structures; there is a map showing the land that was requisitioned by the War Office, and this indicates that the military held the drives, the area around the house, the woods and the entire area between the woods and the river, but the structures are not shown.
Number 1: Grid Ref: ST 92996 69999. Picture shows view from the south west, River Avon to the right.
View from the bank of the River Avon looking north east.
No. 1 is a Type 24 structure. This type is an irregular hexagon in plan. The rear wall is the longest at about 14 feet (4.3 m), and has the entrance, with an embrasure on either side. The other walls here are 8 feet (2.5 m), on the longer die for this type which varied between 7-8 feet in length. Each has a single embrasure. Internally there is a Y shaped anti-ricochet wall (the top of the Y nearest the entrance), which helps support the roof. It is located on the top of the bank of the River Avon and is clearly visible. The brickwork is in very poor condition and substantial amounts have fallen off, revealing the concrete construction. Interior access is possible although there is much broken brickwork inside. The floor is very muddy in wet weather.
Number 2: Grid Ref: ST 92925 69946. Picture shows the view from the south east, River Avon to the right.
No. 2 is a Type 24 construction. The brickwork is in even worse condition than No.1. Access to the interior is possible and it is dry and relatively uncluttered.
These first two structures are very close to each other, and were emplaced to guard the Hunting Bridge, which spanned the River Avon approximately midway between the two.
The illustration below is the only known view of the Hunting Bridge, and was taken from the western bank of the Avon just below one of the pill-boxes. The label 1 indicates the location of the Wilts & Berks canal.
All that remains today is the bridge support pier. This is seen in the foreground of the next illustration where it is hidden in the clump of blackberries visible on the other side of the River Avon. Although not clear in the illustration above, it is possible that another pillbox was located in the fold on the land between the river and the canal but it is uncertain if this is the case and nothing can be seen there now.
The objects behind the patch of blackberries on the eastern side of the river are on the Wilts and Berks Canal which runs parallel to the River Avon here.
Number 3: Grid Ref: ST 92382 69702. Picture shows the view from the south.
Pillbox 3 is another type 24 but in much the best condition of any on the estate; the brickwork is sound and none have fallen. When initially surveyed a large beech tree had come down and was lying on top of the structure. There did not appear to be any damage.
Access is possible to the interior and it is dry and tidy. This pillbox was sited to give control of the Rey Mill area of the river, Rey Mill itself if clearly visible through the SW firing slit.
Number 4: Grid Ref: ST 92198 70187
This structure no longer exists, it was removed in the mid 1960’s. It was situated at the junction of the front and back Drives. The type is not known and no records have been found concerning this structure. Evidence of the field-telephone line that ran from the House to this pillbox was discovered recently in the grounds to the west of the House.
Number 5: Grid Ref: ST 91487 70265. Picture shows the view from the south east.
This is a type 21 structure, situated just inside the wooded area west of the fields west of Lackham House, at the top of the slight rise on the Front Drive. It faces across the pasture land towards the House and the Back Drive, and lies directly to the south of the Front Drive. The drive can be seen in the background of the photograph.
Currently the brickwork is in good condition with little damage, but there are substantial trees growing against the northern side and brambles are growing over it, obscuring it from view from the Drive. It is likely that the tree roots will damage the structure in the future if they have not already done so.
Number 6: Grid Ref: ST 91703 70401. Picture shows the view from the high ground to the south.
This is a Type 26 structure, one of those made from pre-fabricated sections. The type 26 was square in plan, each wall being 10 feet (3 m) long. There is a door in one side and embrasures in each of the remaining three with no internal walls. The walls here are constructed to bullet proof standard, about 18 inches (45 cm) thick. It is therefore much smaller than any of the others and is positioned on the northern side of the estate, at the confluence of the River Avon and a small brook that runs in from the west. Much of the structure is above ground. The entrance trench is to the south of the main body of the structure. The panel forming the western side of the entrance trench side has partially collapsed on top of the eastern side, and access is difficult. Inside the structure is sound and dry and cramped.
Number 7: Grid Ref: ST 92890 70336. Picture shows the entrance on the south side.
This is another Type 24 octagonal structure, located at the north eastern end of North Wood, and so upstream of numbers 1 & 2. It is now completely enclosed in the woodland but is situated on a rise immediately south of and above the river bank. The brickwork cover is in excellent condition, one of the best preserved on the estate and the condition inside is good. Little idea of the field of fire can be gained because of the woodland growth but it would have commanded a long reach of the river north and east of the House.
Embrasure on the eastern side. Note the brick skin.
Although still fairly common in southern England these defensive structures are increasingly at risk. At Lackham almost all of the structures are still in place and are part of the continuing history of the estate. It would be unfortunate if they were allowed to disappear through neglect.
Tony Pratt, Lackham historian (2008)