WE’VE come under attack from pillboxes! Memories 478 featured some curious concrete relics from the Second World War, notably the battle headquarters bunkers which still guard the airfields of Croft, Scorton and Middleton St George, and we asked for other examples.

The outskirts of Newton Aycliffe seem a good place to start. The newtown, of course, only exists because during the Second World War a munitions factory, staffed by up to 17,000 “Aycliffe Angels”, was built on the low ground beside a railway line.

Once complete, the munitions were stored at the south of the site, near to Heighington station. The B6444 Heighington Lane was effectively the southern perimeter of the factory, and so it was lined by a high fence and protected by a line of pillboxes.

The Northern Echo: A pillbox at AycliffeA pillbox at Aycliffe

Some sources say that there were up to 40 of these guard boxes around the factory, but now only four remain, hidden in trees at that southern Hitachi boundary.

The Northern Echo: A pillbox at Aycliffe. Picture: Craig WhitingA pillbox at Aycliffe. Picture: Craig Whiting

They are of a unique design, with very wide gun slits, or embrasures. They are made of shuttered concrete, meaning the wet concrete was poured into a rough timber mould, and when it set the timber left an impression on it.

Craig Whiting and Lesley Hislop were among those who drew them to our attention.

The Northern Echo: Coxhoe pill box. Picture courtesy of the Coxhoe Local History SocietyCoxhoe pill box. Picture courtesy of the Coxhoe Local History Society

IAN SANDERSON and Coxhoe Local History Society alert us to the presence of a brick-built pillbox in a field near the A177, just south-west of Coxhoe.

This is a Grade II listed pillbox, and it is of a classic lozenge shape which is only to be found in the North-East. In its centre is an anti-ricochet wall so that if a bullet penetrated the box, it would not take out every living thing inside.

The Northern Echo: One of a pair of pillboxes which appear to guard Blackwell Bridge, to the south of DarlingtonOne of a pair of pillboxes which appear to guard Blackwell Bridge, to the south of Darlington

There are three possible reasons why the box exists. Firstly, it was close to Coxhoe Bridge Station on the Clarence Railway, which would have handled important materials from the local quarries. Secondly, in the early years of the war, there was a fear that the Germans were going to launch an imminent seaborne invasion, and so boxes were built almost willy-nilly to see off intruders.

And thirdly, the local Home Guard – cruelly known as Dad’s Army – might just have fancied a box to hang out in and practise thwarting an invasion.

IN an even more rural location is the pillbox on Whitworth Lane near Brancepeth, as pointed out by Mike Thornton.

This quiet country lane leads from the lost mining community of Page Bank, on the north bank of the Wear, to Brancepeth, and in today’s landscape, the box seems to be guarding nothing more important than a tree.

The Northern Echo: Training camp with the DLI at BrancepethTraining camp with the DLI at Brancepeth

However, in 1939, Brancepeth Castle became the regimental headquarters of the Durham Light Infantry, which erected 100 huts in the castle grounds. Thousands of soldiers passed through the camp during the war.

Nothing now remains of the camp (we think) – except this pillbox, which guarded its southern flank.

THE east coast was considered very vulnerable to invasion at the start of the war, and so all along our cliffs and beaches can be found the remains of pillboxes and anti-tank cubes.

Gavin Englebrecht kindly sends in a machine gun box that still looks out to sea on Blast Beach at Seaham. It was presumably located to protect the coalmines.

The box survived the war, and the dumping of 2.5m tonnes of colliery waste a year on the beach – this dumping seems to be how the beach got its name, because locals nicknamed it “the Blast”.

There are remnants of anti-tank cubes all along the east coast, where the sandy beaches could have provided an invader with a useful bridgehead.

The cubes of concrete formed long lines which were designed to prevent enemy tanks from leaving the beach once they had managed to land. Subsequent generations of children have found them excellent to jump along.

The Northern Echo: Beale anti-tank trapBeale anti-tank trap

Perhaps the best preserved lines are at Beale in Northumberland on the mainland side of the Holy Island causeway.

Hartlepool, by the way, has so many pillbox remains, we’d need a separate supplement to record them all. Fortunately, someone else has done all the legwork: on the Tees Archaeology website, there are two booklets available about the town’s defences and the leftovers still visible on Teesside as a whole. They only cost £2.50 each plus 60p postage (teesarchaeology.com)

“You can download the Hartlepool booklet for free from the website as well as a template from which you can make a Second World War Type 23 pillbox,” says Martin Cook. “That is something for people to do in lockdown!”

The Northern Echo: Pillbox at Marske-by-the-Sea, courtesy of Google StreetViewPillbox at Marske-by-the-Sea, courtesy of Google StreetView

MARSKE-BY-THE-SEA boasts the only pair of pillboxes on Teesside, as Russell Hutton points out.

Flying had been pioneered at Marske since 1910, using the beach as an early runway. In the First World War, the fliers moved onto the flat land alongside the beach, and Marske became an important flying school for the first military aviators – Captain WE Johns, the creator of Biggles, was an instructor there.

During the Second World War, the RAF had an interest in the aerodrome, but probably only as an emergency landing strip. Still, though, it needed protecting by a pair of boxes.

They were built in 1940 on either side of Black’s Bridge, which is a road bridge over the Redcar to Saltburn railway, and included a machine gun emplacement. Rather than being a Dad’s Army position, they were manned by soldiers stationed at Kirkleatham Hall, initially from the Argyle and Sutherland Regiment, then the 12th Green Howards and finally the South Staffordshire Regiment.

In 2001, when a £360,000 footbridge was added to Black’s Bridge, the boxes were given a spruce up.

Single pillboxes can be found on Teesside at Warrenby and Coatham Sands.

The Northern Echo: Hutton Henry Second World War shelter. Picture by Paul CarterHutton Henry Second World War shelter. Picture by Paul Carter

PAUL CARTER takes us to Hutton Henry, which is to the west of the A19, near Hartlepool. In a field to the south of the village is an air raid shelter which Paul believes was built so that local schoolchildren could take cover should in the event of an attack. The shelter doesn’t appear to be a listed structure – although steps are being taken to get it recognised.

So, are there any other pillboxes that you know of? And what about underground air raid shelters? Are there many of them still in existence?

Many thanks for all your correspondence. Please send any thoughts on any of today’s topics to chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk