Tank Traps and Pill Boxes – lots of ’em!

Have you ever walked around Barrow and Walney, and been struck by the proliferation of pill boxes and other WW2 features that almost “litter” the landscape?

Our friends at the Morecambe Bay Partnership have started a small project to record some of the WW1 and WW2 heritage sites at the south end of Walney Island.  This will include the heavy AA battery at Hilpsford Point and the older coastal artillery site just to the east, near the lighthouse at Haws Point.  As part of this, they’ve held a few training days, teaching volunteers how to compile archaeological records for sites.  Yours truly had the chance to attend one of these, and found it to be both very informative and also great fun!

However…  the work at South Walney set me thinking.  Although I am not a local, I have lived in Barrow for over ten years now, and I do keep my eyes open when I walk around.  And, as I used to be the surveyor for the Port of Barrow, I’ve seen lots of old maps and plans.  One thing that always struck me was the sheer preponderance of pill boxes around Barrow.  Masses and masses of them!  A quick look at the post-war 1:1,250 OS sheets (courtesy of my good friend the current port surveyor) revealed more than 60 pill boxes on Walney, Barrow Island and up the east shore of the Scarth Channel.  There may well be more, but he didn’t have OS sheets covering other parts of town.

Now, more than 60 pill-boxes for such a small area as Barrow seems excessive.  Although I am not an expert, I do take a passing interest in all things, and I’ve never heard of anywhere in the UK that has this density of military structures, except for major military posts like Dover, Portsmouth and Plymouth.

So, it was on a lovely sunny Monday that I met up with Louise Martin (the Heritage Officer for MBP) and we set out on our bicycles for me to show her around Barrow, and hopefully point out some of the many, many WW2 military sites remaining.

Starting out in Roose, our first stop was actually a walk, not even a ride!  Walking to the top of the hill just to the south of the old Roose Hospital site, we immediately spotted what appears to be the foundation of a Type 23 Pillbox.  These were rather strange pillboxes, with an enclosed section for infantry, and an open-section which usually contained a light anti-aircraft gun, or occasionally a spigot mortar.  Definitely more investigation needed here.

Poddling back down the hill, we hopped on our bikes for a very short ride to the Roose roundabout.  Here, well hidden in the bushes and trees to the west, is a “Barrow-type” pillbox.  Initially thought to be unique, this pillbox is very similar in design to the one located next to the railway line at Thwaite Flat, to the north of Barrow.  The striking feature of this pillbox is that it is equipped with numerous loopholes, lower down for light machine guns, and higher up for rifles or pistols.

Now a slightly longer ride beckoned, and we made our way along Salthouse Road and under the railway line to arrive at the corner of Cavendish Dock.  Riding up to the sea wall (Long Bank), we spotted the pillbox that overlooks the Long Bank and Cavendish Dock, and then found several more along Long Bank.  These pillboxes overlook Roosecote Sands, and one it is easy to imagine members of the Home Guard shivering away, and peering through the rain and mist for any sign of invasion on a cold, wet and windy Barrow night!

Luckily we had glorious weather for our adventure, so with no delay we moved on from Cavendish Dock and followed the path of the Bay Cycle Way for a short distance onto Barrow Island.  Turning south towards the dock, we stopped briefly at the site of the old Island Road station.  In days gone by, this was the site of two very, very long platforms and trains of up to 14 coaches used to come in from Millom and Lancaster every day bringing workers into the shipyard.

Heading towards the docks from the site of the old station, we quickly arrived at the site of an old junction.  Here the railway arrived from the “mainland”, over a lifting bridge at Buccleuch Passage in the docks, and split towards either Island Road station or the western part of Barrow Docks and Ramsden Dock station.  Overlooking the junction is another Type 23 pillbox (in excellent condition), and what looks to be a separate searchlight or light AA gun base.

From here, we made our way around to the west side of the docks, overlooking the Walney Channel.  To the north, beyond the bridge to Walney Island, this stretch of water dries out at high tide, but next to the docks it is always “wet”.  During WW2 and immediately after, there was a whole string of pillboxes stretching from the southern entrance to Barrow Docks (Ramsden Dock Lock), all the way along the Walney Channel, up to the now defunct northern entrance to Barrow Docks, just next to the site of the current Dock Museum.  Although quite a few of these pillboxes have been demolished, a significant number still remain.  Especially to the north of the old Ramsden Dock Station, and adjacent to the “Deep Water Berth”, several pillboxes of varying type can be seen.  Again, the sheer density of the pillboxes here is striking.

After a break for a well-deserved sandwich in the little park by the Jubilee Bridge (across to Walney), we made our way to the north of Barrow, following the Channelside Walk and then the cycle paths along the A590 towards Roanhead.  Turning down Bank Lane, back towards the Scarth Channel, we made our way on to the foreshore and explored some more!  Here, to the north of the Slag Banks, we found yet another very dense grouping of pillboxes, along with some tank-traps!  Stretching north from the end of the northern-most slag bank, bordering the channel and low-laying countryside behind the coast, six (or seven? it looks as though one has been demolished) pillboxes stand sentry, gazing over the channel towards Walney Island.  Most remain in very good condition, but one at least has fallen somewhat on it’s nose as the results of coastal erosion!

And that was just about the end of our day of exploration.  Hopefully I was able to show Louise some of the areas around Barrow which seem to have been very densely (almost obsessively so) defended!  Although her project is interested in just the southern tip of Walney Island, I think I’ve convinced her that the Barrow WW2 story is much bigger than it seems at first glance.  All we need now is someone to research it all and write it up!


For anyone interested, and wanting to explore more, the table below lists the approximate coordinates of some of the structures that were to be seen around Barrow on the post-war OS 1:1,250 plans.  This list is not exhaustive, and it must be pointed out that (1) some of these sites are on private property, and (2) many of the structures have been subsequently demolished.

UK National Grid WGS84 (GPS) Comments
Easting Northing Latitude Longitude
323215 461930 54°  2′ 51.370291″N  3° 10′ 27.189373″W WW2 Searchlight (South Walney)
322805 461950 54°  2′ 51.796372″N  3° 10′ 49.745136″W WW2 Searchlight (South Walney)
319740 464650 54°  4′ 17.445808″N  3° 13′ 40.803035″W Maybe this is the decoy site on S. Walney
320250 467040 54°  5′ 35.041246″N  3° 13′ 15.024595″W Pillbox
320330 467080 54°  5′ 36.379832″N  3° 13′ 10.660318″W Pillbox
320010 467145 54°  5′ 38.303349″N  3° 13′ 28.331683″W Pillbox
320290 467200 54°  5′ 40.239149″N  3° 13′ 12.975571″W Pillbox
319880 467270 54°  5′ 42.273805″N  3° 13′ 35.605106″W Pillbox
319730 467350 54°  5′ 44.777266″N  3° 13′ 43.936494″W Pillbox
319720 467430 54°  5′ 47.359398″N  3° 13′ 44.563436″W Pillbox
321470 467490 54°  5′ 50.274367″N  3° 12′ 8.310919″W Ruin on Headin Haw (old gunpowder store)
319670 467570 54°  5′ 51.859829″N  3° 13′ 47.449291″W Pillbox
320650 467590 54°  5′ 53.055275″N  3° 12′ 53.533737″W Pillbox
319870 467620 54°  5′ 53.589650″N  3° 13′ 36.489995″W Pillbox
319610 467660 54°  5′ 54.737256″N  3° 13′ 50.837735″W Pillbox
318720 467670 54°  5′ 54.556749″N  3° 14′ 39.829499″W Pillbox
318310 467730 54°  5′ 56.263711″N  3° 15′ 2.452548″W Pillbox
319490 467730 54°  5′ 56.933865″N  3° 13′ 57.509347″W Pillbox
320360 467770 54°  5′ 58.716136″N  3° 13′ 9.664990″W Pillbox
321010 467770 54°  5′ 59.077616″N  3° 12′ 33.890638″W Pillbox
319540 467810 54°  5′ 59.549825″N  3° 13′ 54.834286″W Pillbox
319740 467830 54°  6′ 0.309435″N  3° 13′ 43.845785″W Pillbox
320530 467830 54°  6′ 0.751794″N  3° 13′ 0.365537″W Pillbox
318020 467865 54°  6′ 0.464382″N  3° 15′ 18.545062″W Pillbox
319480 467910 54°  6′ 2.750653″N  3° 13′ 58.232657″W Pillbox
319360 467940 54°  6′ 3.653265″N  3° 14′ 4.866248″W Might be a pillbox
320180 467950 54°  6′ 4.437993″N  3° 13′ 19.743134″W Pillbox
319440 467980 54°  6′ 4.992346″N  3° 14′ 0.501528″W Pillbox
320210 468040 54°  6′ 7.366024″N  3° 13′ 18.177651″W Pillbox
320160 468070 54°  6′ 8.308454″N  3° 13′ 20.958257″W Pillbox
320340 468090 54°  6′ 9.056058″N  3° 13′ 11.069924″W Pillbox
320510 468260 54°  6′ 14.649941″N  3° 13′ 1.874209″W Pillbox
322170 468340 54°  6′ 18.153427″N  3° 11′ 30.576093″W Pillbox
321670 468510 54°  6′ 23.378698″N  3° 11′ 58.257482″W Pillbox
317570 468560 54°  6′ 22.686179″N  3° 15′ 43.995600″W Pillbox
317310 468760 54°  6′ 29.005156″N  3° 15′ 58.504860″W WW2 Searchlight (Fort Walney)
317180 469080 54°  6′ 39.280659″N  3° 16′ 5.977422″W WW2 Searchlight (Fort Walney)
317990 469125 54°  6′ 41.203745″N  3° 15′ 21.429512″W Pillbox
320690 469160 54°  6′ 43.862654″N  3° 12′ 52.818575″W Might be a pillbox
318890 469165 54°  6′ 43.011693″N  3° 14′ 31.920837″W Pillbox
317250 469210 54°  6′ 43.526272″N  3° 16′ 2.252197″W Pillbox
322160 469380 54°  6′ 51.789320″N  3° 11′ 32.093115″W Pillbox
318090 469410 54°  6′ 50.479957″N  3° 15′ 16.202932″W Pillbox
318770 469690 54°  6′ 59.925646″N  3° 14′ 39.036467″W Pillbox
318740 469870 54°  7′ 5.731022″N  3° 14′ 40.862940″W Pillbox
318790 470210 54°  7′ 16.757630″N  3° 14′ 38.439590″W Pillbox
318830 470580 54°  7′ 28.748999″N  3° 14′ 36.595651″W Pillbox
318915 470620 54°  7′ 30.091239″N  3° 14′ 31.953423″W Possible ROC or AA position?
319070 472680 54°  8′ 36.815015″N  3° 14′ 25.410715″W Pillbox
319110 473350 54°  8′ 58.510409″N  3° 14′ 23.855499″W Pillbox

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