Hartford End Trail

Back Hartford End, Essex

This trail includes thirteen pillboxes over a distance of around five miles (8 km). There are three different types including an artillery version which was designed to house a six-pounder (2.7 kg) gun from the First World War! In the winter months there may be a distant view of two spigot mortar or anti-tank gun emplacements. A pair of binoculars might be handy here. There is no fixed route; the public footpaths along which the pillboxes stand provide a variety of walking choices. At the easternmost point, Littley Green and the village pub may offer a convenient stopping off place.

In June 1940, following the evacuations of the British Army from the beaches of Dunkirk, an invasion was expected at any time.  Essex, with its relatively easy routes to both London and the industrial Midlands was particularly vulnerable.  Once ashore, fast moving armour, closely supported by ground attack aircraft, could prove to be equally as devastating as it had been on the continent.  If the German panzer divisions broke out from the invasion beaches into open countryside they would be difficult, if not impossible, to stop.

 Thus was born the ‘stop line’ concept.  This was a series of lines of defence paralleling the coast; lines based on rivers, marshes and woods, in fact any terrain which could act as an anti-tank barrier to slow up the enemy armour until our limited amount of heavy weaponry could be brought up to the danger area.  Where there was no natural obstacle, a deep anti-tank ditch would be dug.

 In the following months, hundreds of miles of these stop lines were built throughout Britain, each one protected by concrete pillboxes, machine-gun emplacements, rifle pits and anti-tank blocks.  Where there were rivers they were dug wider and deeper, trees were torn down to clear fields of fire, bridges were mined to be blown up at the last moment.

 The most formidable of the stop lines was the GHQ (General HeadQuarters) Line, a line which came into Essex from Cambridge, south along the River Cam, and then down the River Chelmer through Ford End and Hartford End, to continue around Chelmsford on its way to the Thames at Canvey Island.  If an invasion came, the quiet meadows and peaceful villages around this spot were very likely to have been the scene of fighting on an unimaginable scale.  If the GHQ Line was breached, there would have been little hope for Britain. 

 Looking around the area now, it is almost impossible to visualise this scenario.  However, such is the durability of pillboxes that some, in fact a great many, still survive, dotting the west bank of the Chelmer and the fields behind.

This trail includes thirteen pillboxes over a distance of around five miles (8 km).  There are three different types including an artillery version which was designed to house a six-pounder (2.7 kg) gun from the First World War! In the winter months there may be a distant view of two spigot mortar or anti-tank gun emplacements.  A pair of binoculars might be handy here.  There is no fixed route; the public footpaths along which the pillboxes stand provide a variety of walking choices.  At the easternmost point, Littley Green and the village pub may offer a convenient stopping off place.

Pillbox by the river Chelmer

Pillbox by the river Chelmer

Metal shuttering for pouring concrete to make pillbox

Metal shuttering for pouring concrete to make pillbox

Anti-tank pillbox

Anti-tank pillbox

Opening for gun in anti-tank pillbox

Opening for gun in anti-tank pillbox

Wartime photo showing soldiers manning a gun in a similar pillbox

Wartime photo showing soldiers manning a gun in a similar pillbox

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