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World War II pillbox and Civil War battery at Tolman Point, St Mary's

A Scheduled Monument in St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly

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Latitude: 49.9104 / 49°54'37"N

Longitude: -6.2972 / 6°17'49"W

OS Eastings: 91596.96407

OS Northings: 9992.276822

OS Grid: SV915099

Mapcode National: GBR BXVX.DF3

Mapcode Global: VGYC4.SJS0

Entry Name: World War II pillbox and Civil War battery at Tolman Point, St Mary's

Scheduled Date: 2 July 1999

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1016515

English Heritage Legacy ID: 15532

County: Isles of Scilly

Civil Parish: St. Mary's

Traditional County: Cornwall

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cornwall

Church of England Parish: Isles of Scilly

Church of England Diocese: Truro


The monument includes a World War II pillbox built into the remains of
an English Civil War gun battery on Tolman Point, a low narrow headland
between Old Town Bay and Porth Minick on the south coast of St Mary's in the
Isles of Scilly.
The pillbox has a hexagonal plan with a concrete raft floor supporting walls
faced externally by mortared concrete blocks around a shuttered concrete core
and inner face. A flat shuttered concrete roof is edged by the topmost course
of the walls' outer skin; spaced nails along the upper edges of the walls
provided securement for camouflage netting. The pillbox has facets roughly 2m
across externally but with a broader rear wall, facing south east, to contain
the entrance. A short entrance passage is accommodated in a small rectangular
extension built against the central part of the rear wall. The pillbox is 2m
high internally and is provided with five rectangular gun loopholes, one in
each wall facet except the rear, giving a field of fire ranging across the
mouth of Old Town Bay to the south west and across the mouth of Porth Minick
to the east. These loopholes are roughly 0.25m wide and 0.3m high, with
surrounds chamfered on the inner face, stepped on the outer face. The rear of
the pillbox was covered from two smaller loopholes, one each in the end and
side walls of the entrance passage.
The pillbox was partly masked by its floor level being slightly sunken below
ground level, but this was enhanced by its siting within the remains of a 17th
century gun battery. The battery is defined by a subrectangular earth and
rubble bank with occasional slabs to 0.5m across; the bank is generally
1m-1.5m wide, 0.5m high, and defines an internal area roughly 6m north west-
south east by 5m north east-south west though coastal erosion has destroyed
much of the bank's north east sector. Most of the interior is occupied by the
World War II, built north west of centre in the battery such that the outer
face of the pillbox cuts into the inner side of the bank on the west and north
west, masking the pillbox walls up to bases of the gun loopholes around the
south west, west and north west. On the east and south east, the pillbox wall
stops about 0.5m-1m short of the inner scarp of the battery bank, leaving the
pillbox loopholes and lower walls largely exposed on those sides and
demonstrating that the bank was not simply a feature raised to camouflage the
pillbox. A break in the bank on the north east results from coastal erosion
while a short gap in the SSW corner may have been cut to give access to the
Both the Civil War battery and the World War II pillbox form part of wider
contemporary systems of defences on St Mary's. The siting of the Civil War
battery here reflects the strategic advantage of Tolman Point in giving a
field of fire across both Old Town Bay and Porth Minick, as noted above for
the pillbox. Within an extensively surviving system of Civil War fieldworks
around the coast of St Mary's, this battery was complemented in covering Old
Town Bay by a battery 90m to the north west by the Tolman Carns and another on
the opposite side of the bay at Carn Leh, and in covering Porth Minick by a
breastwork on the opposite side of the Porth and by a battery at Church Point.
World War II sources record an anti-invasion system of 27 pillboxes and
defended gun positions around the coast of St Mary's, within which this
pillbox is designated `Pillbox No.23'. As a potential landing beach which
would give easy access to Hughtown, the islands' administrative centre and
main population focus, Old Town Bay was identified as especially vulnerable
and provided with three pillboxes, all of which survive largely intact: the
other two pillboxes are located 140m apart behind the rear of the bay. This
pillbox was built, along with the others erected around St Mary's, between
January and April 1941. This particular pillbox appears in operational
instructions issued in July 1941, designed to counter any enemy landings on
St Mary's. In those instructions it was specified to be manned by the 2nd
Platoon of the island's Home Guard, who were to be armed with Browning guns
and automatic rifles.
All post-war fittings, items and debris within the pillbox are excluded from
the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

The Isles of Scilly, the westernmost of the granite masses of south west
England, contain a remarkable abundance and variety of archaeological remains
from over 4000 years of human activity. The remote physical setting of the
islands, over 40km beyond the mainland in the approaches to the English
Channel, has lent a distinctive character to those remains, producing many
unusual features important for our broader understanding of the social
development of early communities.
Throughout the human occupation there has been a gradual submergence of the
islands' land area, providing a stimulus to change in the environment and its
exploitation. This process has produced evidence for responses to such change
against an independent time-scale, promoting integrated studies of
archaeological, environmental and linguistic aspects of the islands'
The islands' archaeological remains demonstrate clearly the gradually
expanding size and range of contacts of their communities. By the post-
medieval period (from AD 1540), the islands occupied a nationally strategic
location, resulting in an important concentration of defensive works
reflecting the development of fortification methods and technology from the
mid 16th to the 20th centuries. An important and unusual range of post-
medieval monuments also reflects the islands' position as a formidable hazard
for the nation's shipping in the western approaches.
The exceptional preservation of the archaeological remains on the islands has
long been recognised, producing an unusually full and detailed body of
documentation, including several recent surveys.

World War II pillboxes are built and heavily protected defensive gun
positions, mostly for infantry with rifles and machine-guns but larger forms
housed light artillery, notably anti-tank guns and light anti-aircraft guns.
They are generally grouped around vulnerable or strategically important nodal
points, installations and areas, or arranged along linear defensive systems
designed to obstruct the enemy's advance across the country. Pillboxes first
appeared widely as a defensive element in the relatively static trench warfare
of World War I. Gradual development over the following two decades was
superceded in early 1940 by design principles born from the practical
experience of British troops in France, giving a shell-proof reinforced
concrete construction whose hexagonal plan had a gun loophole in each facet
giving all-round cover, strongly influencing designs issued from May 1940 by
the War Office and by the Chief Engineers of the regional Commands.
Nationally, pillbox construction began in late May 1940 as a key part of the
rapid programme of anti-invasion defences initiated after the fall of France
to German troops. By October 1940, over 14,000 shuttered concrete pillboxes
had been built, supplemented by large numbers in other construction techniques
and a small number of commercially-produced pillbox designs. Various forms of
camouflaged facing were employed and others were hidden within existing
structures, depending on local circumstances. By early 1941 however, the
tactical concepts underlying pillboxes, especially their deployment to provide
linear defensive lines, were becoming criticised as being too inflexible,
costly and impracticable as an effective defensive system, with increasing
reliance being placed on dug fieldworks around vulnerable points and the use
of mobile troop units. This shift in policy culminated in February 1942 in an
order requiring no more to be built as they were deemed unsuitable, by which
time over 20,000 pillboxes had been completed.
World War II defences on the Isles of Scilly were largely directed to the
protection of St Mary's, and particularly Hughtown and the Garrison, with only
isolated machine-gun posts on some off-islands. Provision of its anti-invasion
defences came relatively late, with a system of 27 pillboxes and defended gun
positions built around the St Mary's coastline between January and April 1941
by the 14th Battalion Royal Fusiliers under guidance from 231A Fd Coy Royal
Engineers. Most were sited around the Garrison and the bays immediately
adjacent to Hughtown, with single or small groups of pillboxes overlooking
other potential landing beaches. Most adapted standard issued designs, but
some were ingeniously masked within existing structures, especially around the
Garrison. Of the original 27, nine survive virtually intact, with remains of
two others subsided from their former positions. The remainder were
demolished, mostly in 1946, though visible traces survive of at least five of
those. This latest defensive phase on Scilly complements the well preserved
remains from a 400 year sequence of national defensive systems deployed on the
islands, providing a rare and valuable resource for studying developments in
military technology and strategic thinking over that period. Consequently the
nine virtually intact pillboxes still in their original positions are
considered worthy of protection.
The pillbox at Tolman Point survives substantially intact; its position and
grouping with the other two pillboxes around Old Town Bay show clearly the
tactical thought which underlay the siting of pillboxes. Its role within the
overall anti-invasion system on Scilly is amply confirmed by its relationship
with the other surviving pillboxes and their remains, and by the detailed
documentary sources which bear on both that system and this particular
pillbox. Although the Civil War battery has suffered damage from the pillbox
construction and coastal erosion, its reuse for the pillbox gives a good
example of the continuity of some strategically important positions over
several centuries of military development. However the considerable disparity
between the sites of the complementary Civil War fieldworks and those of the
complementary pillboxes demonstrates clearly the differences between the wider
defensive strategies considered viable in those periods.

Source: Historic England


Osborne's Scill War Diary 39-45 vol 3 Extracts in Osborne as below, Appendix aj, War Diary of 13 Btn West Yorks Regiment, July 1941, (1941)
Osborne's Scill War Diary 39-45 vol 3, Extracts in Osborne as below, Appendix ak, War Diary of 14 Btn Royal Fusiliers, Jan-May 1941, (1941)
Title: 1:10000 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 90 NW & SV 91 SW
Source Date: 1980

Title: 1:10000 Ordnance Survey Maps; SV 90 NW & SV 91 SW
Source Date: 1980

Title: Map of St Mary's pillbox locations and Nos by 14Btn Royal Fusiliers
Source Date: 1941
Osborne's Scill War Diary 39-45 vol 3

Source: Historic England

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