Spigot Mortar Emplacement, West of Moulsham Mill, Chelmsford

Back West of Moulsham Mill, Chelmsford

Contemporary records state, “Spigot Mortar. Moulsham Mill House. Map ref. 261247, 260247” (Mil. Ed.). However, both of the map references have been crossed through and the single MGR “161248” has been substituted. This latter reference is, in fact, the correct Military Grid Reference for Moulsham Mill referring to not one, but two, spigot mortar emplacements in the grounds of the mill, less than 100 yards (90 m) apart. This example lies extant in the grass to the W of the main building, its partner is to the East.

Contemporary records state, “Spigot Mortar. Moulsham Mill House. Map ref. 261247, 260247” (Mil. Ed.). However, both of the map references have been crossed through and the single MGR “161248” has been substituted. This latter reference is, in fact, the correct Military Grid Reference for Moulsham Mill referring to not one, but two, spigot mortar emplacements in the grounds of the mill, less than 100 yards  (90 m) apart. This example lies extant in the grass to the W of the main building, its partner is to the East.

During the Second World War, the Army and Navy roundabout was heavily defended, with road barriers across all the access roads. Each road was covered by fire from 29 mm spigot mortars, a Home Guard weapon with limited range but packing a powerful punch. Each mortar was mounted on a concrete pedestal in a purpose-designed octagonal pit, usually with ammunition alcoves and a connecting L-shaped trench.

At first glance the site appears from the half-sunken brick walls to be the foundations of a building, particularly as at the time of the site visit it was largely covered with garden waste. In fact, as far as can be seen, the emplacement is a good example of a typical, standard 29 mm spigot mortar pit. It has the central pedestal made from an upended sewage pipe, topped with the mortar mounting pintle. Unusually, this is made of steel, which has rusted somewhat, rather than the far more common stainless steel. Around the pedestal, the octagonal walls of the pit are constructed of brick with four ammunition alcoves equally spaced around the perimeter. Off one of the sides leads the L-shaped trench, similarly built of brick. At the time of the site visit the covering of garden waste made it difficult to see inside the pit and thus the condition of the pedestal or alcoves could not be determined. However, that which could be seen appeared to be in good surviving condition.

Normally such emplacements were built fully-sunken into the ground, the top of the pedestal being level, or a few inches above, the surrounding terrain. In this case, the engineers who oversaw the construction either considered this made the pit susceptible to flooding or that it gave an insufficient view of Chelmer Road, which it was sited to cover. They therefore decided to build the entire emplacement semi-sunken, rather than fully-sunken, to provide a more elevated field of fire. The outside walls would then have been banked up with earth. Over the years, this earth has been dispersed, leaving the upstanding walls, similar to building foundations.

From the initial visit this site appears to be a good example of a Home Guard 29 mm spigot mortar emplacement. Chelmsford was ringed by defences during World War Two and this emplacement, part of the history and heritage of the town, could very well be the best survivor of its type.

Photo of pedestal prior to clearance

Photo of pedestal prior to clearance

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