Rare First World War pillbox near North Walsham saved from oblivion

First World War pillbox at Bradfield. Militaria expert Ian Clark.
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY First World War pillbox at Bradfield. Militaria expert Ian Clark. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Monday, February 3, 2014
8:00 AM

A rare First World War pillbox, buried deep in rural north Norfolk, is being saved from oblivion to mark the centenary year of the conflict’s outbreak.

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First World War pillbox at Bradfield. 
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLYFirst World War pillbox at Bradfield. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

The round concrete and stone structure stood neglected and completely swamped by thick ivy on a piece of common land in the village of Bradfield, near North Walsham.

But militaria enthusiast Ian Clark and local professional handyman John Fleming are giving their time voluntarily to reclaim the historic structure, with the support of Swafield and Bradfield Parish Council, and the agreement of the Ministry of Defence.

Mr Clark, of Cromer Road, North Walsham, is a member of the Norfolk Military Vehicle Group and supplies Second World War military props and expertise to film and TV companies making documentaries.

He was inspired to undertake the reclamation after reading Christopher Bird’s book Silent Sentinels, the story of Norfolk’s fixed defences during the 20th century.

First World War pillbox at Bradfield. Militaria expert Ian Clark.
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLYFirst World War pillbox at Bradfield. Militaria expert Ian Clark. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

The realisation that better east coast defences were needed in the First World War grew after an unexpected raid on Great Yarmouth in November 1914 when the German navy shelled the town, arousing fears of an invasion.

A 16th-century saying: “He who would Old England win must at Weybourne Hope begin,” reflected Weybourne’s vulnerability as a landing place because of its deep shore water.

So, from 1916, concrete pillboxes were installed in a line, mainly from Weybourne to Sea Palling, largely following the seaward side of the River Ant.

About two dozen of these structures still remain, including the Bradfield pillbox and examples in Weybourne, Stiffkey, Bacton, Stalham, North Walsham, Aylmerton, Thorpe Market, Beeston Regis and Great Yarmouth.

“They are part of our heritage,” said Mr Clark. “It’s good to remember what could have happened and that it could have changed the whole ethos of England.

“They are architectural quirks but I think they should be preserved for future generations.

“I think the Royal Engineers put them up. They are built like an igloo with the roof dropped in place, steel doors and gun ports.”

Mr Clark thinks the pillbox was brought back into use during the Second World War, when it was used by the local Home Guard.

Work on the pillbox had sparked interest from residents and passers-by and one person had told them that it had been the home of a tramp in the inter-war years.

The men’s next task is to replace coping stones and continue digging out the middle of the pillbox, which has filled with earth over the years.

■ Are you commemorating the First World War centenary? Contact: newsdesk@archant.co.uk

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