PILLBOXES in need of friends

REDOUBT: “an isolated work forming a complete enclosure of any form, used to defend a prominent point.”

In 1939-1941 Britain was under threat of invasion by German armed forces.  How real that threat was we can never be certain; it didn’t happen, and in 1941 the strategically disastrous decision (from the German point of view) was made to invade the Soviet Union, further reducing the threat to Great Britain.

Nonetheless, in those first years of the war, the likelihood of invasion seemed very real to the people of these islands, and a massive effort was put into building defensive fortifications, including pillboxes.

A pillbox was a small but strong structure of concrete and brick, with ports for its occupants to fire through.  They were sited at important locations – railways, bridges and other vulnerable transport links, and important industrial sites.

There were several in Hitchin: one was near Hitchin station, another near the bridge on the A505 near the Millstream pub (then the Ship); a third was on west corner of the junction of Walsworth Road and Verulam Road; all these are gone.  There may have been others, particularly protecting the railway system.

The pillbox at Redoubt Close, after which the close was named. The undergrowth, though good for wildlife, needs to be cleared before more damage is done. But by whom? (Simon Maddison)

There are however two remaining – one by the river Hiz on Grove Road, near Redoubt Close, and one near the Old Hale Way allotments.  They are both in poor condition and, if they are to survive, they need some work done.

The first photograph (left) shows the pillbox on Grove Road.  Overgrowth surrounds it, and is penetrating its structure.  Built to deflect bullets, it cannot resist the power of nature.

These old fortifications should be preserved, but by whom?  Who owns the land upon which they stand?

It would be a tragedy if they were left to crumble away.  That’s the thing about history – like a supermarket bargain, once it’s gone, it’s gone…

Update: Under the auspices of Hitchin Historical Society, the Pillbox Group – mostly Simon Maddison, Mark Hodgson, with Simon Walker acting as liaison – has made considerable progress.  The owners of the land on which the two pillboxes stand have been very helpful, and most of the damaging plant life has been cleared.  What should happen to them in the future?  We hope that we can provide information plaques for these historic buildings, though funding has yet to be secured.

Clearing undergrowth at the Old Hale Way Pillbox (Simon Maddison)

Update: Under the auspices of Hitchin Historical Society, the Pillbox Group – mostly Simon Maddison, Mark Hodgson, with Simon Walker acting as liaison – have made considerable progress.  The owners of the land on which the two pillboxes stand have been very helpful, and most of the damaging plant life has been cleared.  What should happen to them in the future?  We hope that we can provide information plaques for these historic buildings, though funding has yet to be secured.