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Two groups of World War II pillboxes in the north eastern and north western sectors of the former airfield of RAF Culmhead, Trickey Warren

A Scheduled Monument in Churchstanton, Somerset

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Coordinates

Latitude: 50.9358 / 50°56'9"N

Longitude: -3.1299 / 3°7'47"W

OS Eastings: 320698.795958

OS Northings: 115762.397063

OS Grid: ST206157

Mapcode National: GBR M0.P6W5

Mapcode Global: FRA 46BM.NG1

Entry Name: Two groups of World War II pillboxes in the north eastern and north western sectors of the former airfield of RAF Culmhead, Trickey Warren

Scheduled Date: 2 October 2001

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1019846

English Heritage Legacy ID: 33030

County: Somerset

Civil Parish: Churchstanton

Built-Up Area: Trickey Warren

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Somerset

Details

The monument, which falls into six separate areas of protection, includes two
groups of pillboxes all dating from World War II. There were four clutches,
each of three pillboxes, located at strategic defensive positions around the
airfield at Trickey Warren of which this monument represents the two groups
located in the northern sector of the airfield, either side of the main
control tower. The airfield at Trickey Warren was officially opened as an RAF
operational fighter station on 1st August 1941. Known originally as RAF
Churchstanton, the station was redesignated in 1943 and it is usually referred
to by its later name of RAF Culmhead.
The two groups of pillboxes within this scheduling provided the defensive
cover for the technical buildings, control tower, and the eastern runway,
against ground attack. Airfield pillboxes of World War II were usually
positioned in a line along a hedgerow or field boundary or in the form of a
triangle, and they were often visible one from another. The three pillboxes on
the north east sector of the airfield at Trickey Warren are set in a
triangular arrangement although the pillbox at the northerly apex of this
triangle lies at the base of a north facing slope covering `dead' ground just
beyond the airfield perimeter and was partly sunken leaving only about 1.1m of
its height visible above ground. This may represent a deliberate attempt to
hide the pillbox for camouflage purposes; it was also located in an isolated
position and was not visible from the other two pillboxes. The two remaining
pillboxes of the group were sited about 78m apart on the flat ground between
the end of the eastern runway and the suite of technical buildings which
included the control tower.
The three pillboxes of the north western group were likewise set in a
triangular arrangement although, unlike the other group, all are intervisible.
The two pillboxes forming the base of the triangle stand to their full
original height and are about 70m apart whilst the third, at the apex of the
triangle, lies offset some 110m to the north west and is partly collapsed with
its roof supported on its reduced walls.
All of the pillboxes of these two groups conform to a constructional design of
seven sides set upon a concrete raft with a ground footprint approximately
4.2m square. They were constructed with external half-brick wall shuttering
with concrete walls supporting a reinforced concrete roof. The five pillboxes
sited on the airfield proper were provided with small loopholes for rifles
located in the side walls, with a loophole either side of the single doorway.
In addition, one side of each of these pillboxes was provided with a large
recessed opening for a heavy machine-gun with steel shuttering to protect this
opening against hostile fire. In all cases the machine-gun position is
accompanied by a stone firing shelf about 1.3m in length and 0.3m wide set
just below the opening in order to take the weight of the machine-gun. The
partly sunken pillbox just off the airfield perimeter is unusual in having two
machine-gun positions and a doorway set so close to the bank that rifle
loopholes were not considered to be necessary or practical in defending it.
Internally, the pillboxes of the north eastern sector possess brick-built
anti-ricochet walls but this feature is missing from the north western group.
The need for the construction of extensive airfield defences was considered a
requirement during the earlier part of World War II in the face of the threat
of a German invasion of mainland Britain. Part of the strategy for resisting
such an invasion, wherever it took place, was the holding up of any German
advance at certain key positions, and along stop lines. These positions
comprised a line or group of pillboxes and other defensive works. RAF Culmhead
was in a vulnerable location to the west of the main Taunton stop line which
ran from Burnham-on-Sea on the Bristol Channel down to Seaton on the South
Devon coast.
It was necessary, in the event of a German invasion force landing in the far
South West, to deny the enemy the use of the airfield at Trickey Warren for as
long as possible lest it be used to support hostile action against the Taunton
stop line and targets beyond. This is a possible factor in accounting for the
presence of the considerable defensive cover in the form of pillboxes,
gunpits, anti-aircraft positions, and other works found at RAF Culmhead.
RAF Culmhead ceased to operate as a fighter station in August 1944 and was
thereafter used as a training airfield until July 1945 when it was relegated
to Care and Maintenance; it was finally decommissioned in August 1946.
A history and condition survey of the fighter station at RAF Culmhead was
commissioned by the Blackdown Hills Project, Somerset County Council, and
Taunton Deane Borough Council and was undertaken and produced by Paul Francis
of Airfield Research Publishing.

MAP EXTRACT
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 importance of defending airfields against attack was realised before the
outbreak of World War II and a strategy evolved as the war went on.
Initially based on the principle of defence against air attack, anti-aircraft
guns, air raid shelters and dispersed layouts, with fighter or `blast' pens to
protect dispersed aircraft, are characteristics of this early phase. With
time, however, the capture of the airfield became a more significant threat,
and it was in this phase that the majority of surviving defence structures
were constructed, mostly in the form of pillboxes and other types of machine
gun post.
The scale of airfield defence depended on the likelihood of attack, with those
airfields in south or east England, and those close to navigable rivers, ports
and dockyards being more heavily defended. But the types of structure used
were fairly standard. For defence against air attack there were anti-aircraft
gun positions, either small machine gun posts or more substantial towers for
Bofors guns; air raid shelters were common, with many examples on each
airfield; and for aircraft, widely dispersed to reduce the potential effects
of attack, fighter pens were provided. These were groups together, usually in
threes, and took the form of `E' shaped earthworks with shelter for ground
crew. Night fighter stations also had sleep shelters where the crew could
rest.
For defence against capture, pillboxes were provided. These fortified gun
positions took many forms, from standard ministry designs used throughout
Britain and in all contexts, to designs specifically for airfield defence.
Three Picket Hamilton forts were issued to many airfields and located on the
flying field itself. Normally level with the ground, these forts were occupied
by two persons who entered through the roof before raising the structure by a
pneumatic mechanism to bring fire on the invading force. Other types of gun
position include the Seagull trench, a complex linear defensive position, and
rounded `Mushroom' pillboxes, while fighter pens were often protected by
defended walls. Finally, airfield defence was co-ordinated from a Battle
Headquarters, a heavily built structure of which under and above ground
examples are known.
Defences survive on a number of airfields, though few in anything like the
original form or configuration, or with their Battle Headquarters. Examples
are considered to be of particular importance where the defence provision is
near complete, or where a portion of the airfield represents the nature of
airfield defence that existed more widely across the site. Surviving
structures will often be given coherence and context by surviving lengths of
perimeter track and the concrete dispersal pads. In addition, some types of
defence structure are rare survivals nationally, and all examples of Picket
Hamilton forts, fighter pens and their associated sleep shelters, gun
positions and Battle Headquarters closely associated with defence structures,
are of national importance.

Five of the six pillboxes providing the defensive ground cover for the north
eastern and north western sector of the airfield at Trickey Warren (former RAF
Culmhead) survive exceptionally well as standing structures in very good
condition, with original fittings such as steel shutters and firing shelves on
the machine-gun loops still intact, while their strategically planned
triangular formation is still apparent from the six surviving examples. They
also represent the only two surviving groups of pillboxes at the site which
survive with all three of their constituent pillboxes apparent and, in the
case of the north eastern group, with all three standing to their full height.
The design of the pillboxes is unusual with the examples at Trickey Warren
perhaps representing the only major survival of this design in the country.
The pillboxes were constructed at a time when the fear of a German invasion
during the early years of World War II was considered a very real possibility
and the monument provides a visible reminder of the measures taken on English
soil to counter this threat.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
Francis, P, RAF Culmhead, (1997), 24
Francis, P, RAF Culmhead, (1997)

Source: Historic England

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