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Second World War anti-aircraft gun emplacements, Beckton

A Scheduled Monument in Custom House, Newham

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.5151 / 51°30'54"N

Longitude: 0.0431 / 0°2'35"E

OS Eastings: 541862.771851

OS Northings: 181550.938549

OS Grid: TQ418815

Mapcode National: GBR MN.9JR

Mapcode Global: VHHNJ.P5NW

Entry Name: Second World War anti-aircraft gun emplacements, Beckton

Scheduled Date: 18 April 1980

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1003473

English Heritage Legacy ID: LO 152

County: Newham

Electoral Ward/Division: Custom House

Built-Up Area: Newham

Traditional County: Essex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London

Church of England Parish: Beckton St Mark(LEP)

Church of England Diocese: Chelmsford

Summary

Second World War Heavy Anti-Aircraft gun site, 193m south-west of Ellen Wilkinson Primary School.

Source: Historic England

Details

This record was the subject of a minor enhancement on 19 March 2015. This record has been generated from an "old county number" (OCN) scheduling record. These are monuments that were not reviewed under the Monuments Protection Programme and are some of our oldest designation records.

The monument includes a Second World War Heavy Anti-Aircraft gun site surviving as buried remains. It is situated on low-lying ground in Becton District Park overlooking the Royal Albert Dock and River Thames to the south.

There are four anti-aircraft (AA) gun emplacements constructed of brick and concrete deployed around a central command post. The emplacements were originally semi-sunken with ammunition lockers, command post and ancillary structures. These have been buried below soil for preservation and are now set within a landscaped park.

It was officially established in August 1939 as a heavy gun site armed with First World War 3 inch 20cwt AA guns. However it may have been manned as early as August or September 1938 during the Munich Crisis. The guns were replaced at the end of 1941 with more modern 3.7 inch AA guns on a static mounting. It was apparently much in use during the Battle of London V1 offensive. At the end of the war, more sophisticated radar and predictor equipment was housed on the site. Ordnance Survey Maps indicate that it would have been of considerable strategic importance during the Second World War with open views to the south and east, protecting the docklands and the huge Gas, Light and Coke Company's Beckton Gas Works.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Although of comparatively recent date, 20th century military sites are increasingly seen as historic survivals representing a defining episode in the history of warfare and of the century in general; as such they merit careful record and, in some cases, preservation. One of the more significant developments in the evolution of warfare during this period was the emergence of strategic bombing in World War II, and this significance was reflected by the resources invested in defence, both in terms of personnel and the sites on which they served. During the war, the number of people in Anti-aircraft Command reached a peak of 274,900 men, additional to the women soldiers of the ATS who served on gunsites from summer 1941, and the Home Guard who manned many sites later in the war. A national survey of England's Anti-aircraft provision, based on archive sources, has produced a detailed record of how many sites there were, where they were and what they looked like. It is also now known from a survey of aerial photographs how many of these survive. Anti-aircraft gunsites divide into three main types: those for heavy guns (HAA), light guns (LAA) and batteries for firing primitive unguided rockets (so called ZAA sites). In addition to gunsites, decoy targets were employed to deceive enemy bombers, while fighter command played a complementary and significant role. Following the end of World War II, 192 HAA sites were selected for post-war use as the Nucleus Force, which was finally closed in 1955.

The HAA sites contained big guns with the function of engaging high flying strategic bombers, hence their location around the south and east coasts, and close to large cities and industrial and military targets. Of all the gunsites, these were the most substantially built. There were three main types: those for static guns (mostly 4.5 and 3.7 inch); those for 3.7 inch mobile guns; and sites accommodating 5.25 inch weapons. These were all distinct in fabric, though they could all occupy the same position at different dates, or simultaneously by accretion. As well as the four or eight gun emplacements, with their holdfast mountings for the guns, components will generally include operational buildings such as a command post, radar structures including the radar platform, on-site magazines for storing reserve ammunition, gun stores and generating huts, usually one of the standard Nissen hut designs. Domestic sites were also a feature of HAA gunsites, with huts, ablutions blocks, offices, stores and amenities drawn from a common pool of approved structures. Sites were often also provided with structures for their close defence; pillboxes are the most common survivals, though earthwork emplacements were also present.

The layout of HAA gunsites was distinctive, but changed over time, for example to accommodate the introduction of radar from December 1940, women soldiers from summer 1941, and eight gun layouts from late 1942.

Nearly 1,000 gunsites were built during World War II, and less than 200 of these have some remains surviving. However, at only around 60 sites are these remains thought sufficient to provide an understanding of their original form and function. This includes 30 of the 192 examples which continued in use until 1955. Surviving examples are therefore sufficiently rare to suggest that all 60 well preserved examples are of national importance.

Although buried below-ground, the Second World War Heavy Anti-Aircraft gun site, 193m south-west of Ellen Wilkinson Primary School, survives well. The soil covering it will have protected the site from later disturbance and damage and it will remain in a good state of preservation with a complete surviving layout. It is thought to be the only surviving site of its type in the London area and is therefore of considerable significance.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Other
Greater London SMR 060212/00/00. NMR TQ48SW23. PastScape 408194.

Source: Historic England

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