Ancient Monuments

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Ben-fer, pillbox 150m south east of

A Scheduled Monument in Shetland South, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 59.8831 / 59°52'59"N

Longitude: -1.303 / 1°18'10"W

OS Eastings: 439113

OS Northings: 1111097

OS Grid: HU391110

Mapcode National: GBR R24M.1MG

Mapcode Global: XHD4H.FVQ9

Entry Name: Ben-fer, pillbox 150m SE of

Scheduled Date: 27 September 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13007

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: 20th Century Military and Related: Pillbox

Location: Dunrossness

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: Shetland South

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument comprises the remains of a Second World War airfield defence pillbox, of a type known as an Allan Williams Turret. It comprises a rotating, domed, steel turret set over a circular, steel and brick-lined pit, and was used as a gun emplacement. This turret survives in situ, with the dome sitting proud of the ground surface. The turret is located about 10m above sea level at the NNW end of the Sumburgh airfield complex.

Access into the turret was from the north-west via a narrow steel and brick-lined pit which provided defensive protection for the one or possibly two sentries posted here. The steel dome has two firing ports, one in the roof for anti-aircraft defence, and the second via a sliding side hatch for landward defence. The dome measures approximately 2m in diameter (maximum) on plan, while the access extends a further 2m to the north-west.

The area to be scheduled is circular on plan and measures 6m in diameter, centred on the centre of the monument. The area to be scheduled includes the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

The pillbox survives in situ and in good condition, despite some weathering to the exposed steel parts. All elements of the structure are clearly visible, including the dome and its two firing ports (including the air defence hatch cover), a mounting eye, and part of the steel-lined access pit and sentry position.

This turret had a very specific role over a relatively short period of time during World War Two. It was built to a War Office specification by a civilian contractor and abandoned when the defence of Sumburgh airfield was no longer considered necessary.

Contextual characteristics

This is one of many defensive structures built across the UK in the Second World War in order to defend strategic military assets or to protect certain land areas. Unlike the more common types of pillbox, the Allan Willams turrets are unusual in that they were pre-fabricated and made of steel. This example is one of only around 200 that were built. This design was favoured by the Royal Air Force for airfield defence, but not by the Army for general defence. Very few Allan Williams Turrets exist today. In most cases, surviving turrets tend to preserve only the dome, and many of these have been removed from their original positions to securely controlled indoor environments. Originally there were two Allan Williams Turrets in this location, but the other one has been removed and infilled. It is therefore rather exceptional that this example survives not only intact and in situ, but also that its all-round arcs of defensive vision are still visible: to one of the airport runways to the south-east; the coastal approaches to the east; and an adjacent military camp to the north-west.

The turret is an important, visible component of the military infrastructure developed at Sumburgh airfield in the Second World War and an iconic reminder of the war effort in Shetland. As part of the increased defence of Sumburgh, it is a reminder of the strategy, technology and capability of British forces at a local level, and their efforts to combat what was then seen as the likely imminent invasion of the United Kingdom by German forces. In Shetland in 1940, there was the perceived threat of invasion from Norway by German forces as a diversionary tactic for the invasion of mainland Britain or in a bid to control the strategically important harbour of Scapa Flow in Orkney and the main shipping channels.

National Importance

This monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to the understanding of the past, in particular the strategy and methods employed in defence of military complexes in the United Kingdom during World War Two. This is a rare survival of an Allan Williams Turret in good condition and in its original position, with the majority of its structure intact. It is an important component of a wider contemporary landscape, specifically, a Second World War military airfield complex which served to protect Shetland and the northern fringes of the British Isles.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the site as HU31SE 34.01. The Shetland Amenity Trust SMR reference is MSN6810. This site was recommended for designation in a report commissioned by Historic Scotland on the significance of Shetland's military remains.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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