Shoebury Batteries and Ranges (Victorian to Mid 20thC)

 

(please note the above video was filmed near the creation of BTP and with low-quality equipment. It struggled with the wind and also our camera skills were limited, so

 

In the morning, we set east over to the Southend district – not Castle Point but without a doubt local stomping ground. Covering the World War Two defences seen here on the seafront – http://beyondthepoint.co.uk/2012/02/12/shoebury-southend-part-1/ – we set off to Shoebury. We were yet to realise that this was our best adventure to be yet, and still is – the trip was carried out in January, us having only got round to writing about it now. We headed to the now a public nature reserve known as ‘Gunner’s Park’ which was almost a history-enthusiast’s Disney Land theme park – I can almost imagine a visitor’s map of the park with the various bunkers jotted around it instead of attractions! The fields and grassland areas themselves were once firing ranges for the troops stationed at Shoebury Battery, living in the Garrison, which has now been refurbished into an expensive housing area now, in which you can have an air-raid shelter in your garden. In this post we will cover the western area of the site, being the ranges, along with a supplies jetty. The best is yet to come, so keep an eye out over the next few weeks.

We entered the site along the road leading into it. In the old fence was a War Department Ordnance Survey sign featuring the British military crows foot emblem. Although the site was also strongly active in the Victorian and Cold War era, most of the buildings seen in these following posts originate from the Second World War.

A War Department Ordnance Survey marker used in WW2

When we walked inside, we used a Google Map satellite printout to locate the first sight to see. When we came to it in the bushes, we found it to be a large circular concrete base with a road leading off it, maybe a road area or building base? We then saw the closed off area which was a major firing-range for small arms, with a massive mud mound built up to stop bullets venturing astray.

The range mound

The road area

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We then came across a sand-bag water pit, which we weren’t sure as to whether it was contemporary or not, caused by the concrete sandbags. The truth is that it was the old sluice for the ‘camp’, with the cement-filled sandbags solidifying when in contact with water. We also found an old metal object on the upcoming jetty. In the bag it went until we saw the following sign:

Don’t risk it!

The sluice lined with cement sandbags

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The jetty was only short, yet still of considerable size. It was made of concrete, although it appeared another wooden one would have stood East of it, being indicated by some wooden posts coming out of the beach. A flock of birds took sanctuary on the beach below, all facing the same direction, with their heads tucked into their wings.

Ahh – the BTP Boy’s softspot

A View From The Jetty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The jetty featured metal rails running down it, embedded in the concrete. These tell us that it must have been used to cart supplies to the battery from boats and ships. It also had a partially sealed off hole leading to steps to go underneath the top of the jetty, possibly for maintenance.

These steps only say two words – no thanks!

Abide with sea

The end of the jetty

A great shot of the rails

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After visiting the jetty, we then followed the seawall along to the next part of Gunner’s Park, which featured the actual concrete constructions. The first was this gun battery building located ‘on’ the wall. Although most of these bunkers were shuttered with metal recently when the park was developed, this one had a small hole in it’s metal mesh which we are lucky to fit through due to our age! No matter what befalls this building as time goes on, it will be soon inaccessible for us, as it certainly was a tight squeeze! Assuming the gun would have perched on the roof, as a sea defence, a metal circular runner was visible inside, perhaps to mount/control the gun. On our way out we were surprised to find a host of pigeons nesting above the entrance, watching us the whole time.

The gap

The First Battery

Peekaboo!

Inside

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continuing on around Gunner’s Park (part one can be seen here http://beyondthepoint.co.uk/2012/04/21/shoebury-batterygarrison-visit-part-1-the-ranges-jetty-and-gunners-park/) we came across yet another smaller gun mount building. This one appeared to be newer than the others, although I belive it was just used more through the second half of the 20th Century, although was of WW2 origin, being built over an older building.

This shows the whole building – to the left the old probably Victorian part, with steps used to get ontop. The WW2 part is right.

Filming!The actual gun would have been most likely mounted ontop of the building, which featured a flat concrete circular surface, referencing to the possibility. Inside it featured an old electrical light and the three-pronged light switch. It also had a large semi-circular recession probably to angle the gun ontop.

The gun mount ontop

An interesting shot inside

Two possible shelf holders inside

So we opened up the cover and woh, and hairy surprise lurks whithin 😉

An old strip light label, dated 1963 if I can remember rightly

The boys are at home! Inside the building

We then carried on walking and managed to find a gap in a fence to climb down into a gun ‘pit’-style mount – I had to have a hand getting up again though! It would have held a 9.2″ breech loading gun (it shot bullets which were 9.2″ wide and were loaded directly into the barrel at its base).

A nice view from the top focused on a crisp stick

Me taking a photo of the pit. These chain links may have held the gun in, and the square compartments could have held empty or new shells.

We should have been able to just walk into it but water flooding covered part of the floor near the entrance.

After this, we then walked abit of a way to the bunker to rule them all, so big in fact that it resembled a medieval castle! It was a WW2 construction, known as the Heavy Quick Firing Battery, and would have housed a gun in each of the three circular mounts ontop which project down the buildings face. It featured mechanical lifts inside to hoist the shells in a continuous magazine to the top.

A cracking image of a wartime pose – it has hardly changed

A frontal shot of the building today

A great beast in the distance

A closeup

The rear

Note one of the doorways has ‘store’ intactly engraved into it

Back a few years ago, before the park was developed into a public area, there was no shuttering on the building and access was as simple as stroll in. We could clearly not get inside, but here is an image courtesy of The Coalhouse Fort Project before it was sealed off of the shell lifts which still remain inside:

Keep an eye out next time for more bunkers and a Victorian treat!

 

So, after visiting the huge quick-firing heavy battery (http://beyondthepoint.co.uk/2012/05/05/shoebury-batterygarrison-visit-part-2-big-bunkers/), we proceeded to a pair of Victorian Gunpowder mills, tucked behind a building-type temporary metal fence. Luckily the area was clear, and the fence could be easily slipped out of the rubber base, joining the fences together, so we could quickly slip inside. There was a large possibly victorian outdoor building amongst a building material storage site, which was too fenced off. This is probably why the mills fell within the fence too, yet were still a distance off. It was all probably part of renovation for the garrison. One building was sealed, yet another’s door was open. It consisted of a doorway room with a cupboard, an the main room. In slight lighting from a mobile phone, it became a cosy place. It was immaculate in quality, and featured perspex over some sort of gunpowder funnel coming out of the wall. Along with the other building having lead covering part of its roof, we could tell that some sort of failed renovation project had been carried out on these buildings. The paint inside was immaculate, and all the little pegs existed on the walls for various items.
With a nice warm dim lamp, I could have lived inside there! A few cobwebs did cover the corners however.

The two mills happened to stand on what I only recently found out to be a Viking rampart/some kind of earthen wall to defend a Viking base. This was a nice thing to know, but a little too late to be able to embrace whilst we were there. The Vikings were essentially travelling raiders by boat, and with Scandinavia opposite the Thames, you can see why they might have ended up having a look around this area.

The possibly Victorian out-building

The two mills with earthen Viking rampart behind

The inaccessible mill with signs of later redevelopment attempts

Da boys in da house

The accessible one

The door-room looking into the main room

Various internal shots:

Some later reinforced device probably for gunpowder linked between the two rooms

 

 

 

So the long tiring day trip continued, this time going further north-west from the ‘point’ which Shoebury forms on the map.  Along the beach, nearest the battery, were two search-light castemates – one nearest had graffiti all over, whilst the further one along had little and featured the searchlight runner-rails intact (a metal circular strip in which the searchlight could be swiveled around on). These searchlights would have been used to spot invaders in the sea at night, and to mark where the nearby batteries should target.

Searchlight post 1 (also at start of article)

The view the searchlights would have taken advantage of

Searchlight post 2

The rail for the searchlight

We then came across a pillbox built into the seawall – probably the older one as it wasn’t level with the current seawall. It was blocked of at the back by a concrete block shoved in the doorway (come on at least be courteous to these bunkers!).

The pillbox top

The pillbox front with loophole

And finally we saw a boathouse used to store a boat which was part of the defence in some manner.

The roof

The inside

For our images of the whole trip go here for Mine:

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.334559163232954.78255.238743826147822&type=3

And here for BTP Joe’s:

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.334429693245901.78232.238743826147822&type=3

 

Churchill Visits the Battery

 

For a few years now I have seen the below photograph of Sir Winston Churchill test-firing the ‘Machine Carbine, Sten’, which is most commonly known as the Sten sub-machine gun. A sub-machine gun is a fairly small machine gun which fires pistol-sized bullets (pretty much any fairly small machine gun which is smaller than a rifle), and the Sten was Britian’s own which served through World War Two up until the 1960s. It was an answer to avoid having to import expensive Thompson sub-machine guns (a.k.a. ‘Tommy Guns’) from America, although it was cheap and not very sturdy. Despite this, it had a slower rate of fire and greater accuracy than the Tommy gun, meaning it could be utilized at greater distances effectively. It was Brtian’s own SMG, and was issued to non-front-line troops (as a self-defense weapon for artillery firers e.t.c.), to officers, and to the Home Guard, as well as Commandos who favored stealthy combat, and Paratroopers who needed a lightweight and compact weapon when they jumped. Others were given Lee-Enfield rifles.

Little did I know that this photograph of Churchill with the Sten was taken at the experimental battery in Shoebury (see more on the remains/history of the place on this site), now ‘Gunner’s Park’ – a nature reserve holding numerous battery constructions. It was taken in 1941, and it’s owner – the Imperial War Museum, states

Caption Winston Churchill took aim with a Sten gun during a visit to the Royal Artillery experimental station at Shoeburyness in Essex, England, United Kingdom, 13 Jun 1941
Photographer Horton

 

person_churchill2

A Sten Mk.II – This was the most common type of Sten used in WW2

 

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