Minefield Control Tower, SE of Holliwell Farm

Back North of seawall SE of Holiwell Farm, Burnham-on-Crouch, CM0 8NG

Unusual, 22' (6.7 m) high x 20' (6 m) wide observation post built as a two-storey hexagonal tower surmounted by a concrete cupola. Constructed of 2' (0.6 m) thick concrete, the lower level is a pillbox/strong point with a total of 17 machine gun apertures at two heights giving a 360 degree defence.

Totally unusual, 22' (6.7 m) high x 20' (6 m) wide observation post built as a two-storey hexagonal tower surmounted by a concrete cupola. Constructed of 2' thick concrete, the lower level is a pillbox/strong point with a total of 17 machine gun apertures at two heights giving a 360 degree defence. The upper floor is reached by an open hatchway (no ladder). This is a 16' (4.9 m) wide room with a high pyramidal ceiling at the apex of which is the 6' (1.8 m) wide cupola containing a firing slot with steel flap in each of its six sides. The dominant feature of the upper room is a concrete platform above which is a 6' (1.8 m) wide by 16' (4.9 m) high look-out slot set in the S wall. From this position one can see above the sea wall, some 50 yards (46 m) distant, and across the mouth of the River Crouch. The building, striking for its size, unfamiliar shape and wealth of loopholes, totally dominates the wide landscape. In contemporary records it is listed as 'O.P.'. 'Fortifications of East Anglia'  shows a sketch and states, 'The Crouch was defended by a minefield controlled from this tower on the north bank'.  Seven photos of the site in ECC SMR.

April 2004: The minefield control tower (SMR10004) and pillbox (SMR10005) were Scheduled 15/04/04. The following is an extract from the Schedule:

ASSESSMENT OF IMPORTANCE 

In the years prior to the outbreak of World War II Burnham-on-Crouch was of little significance to the Royal Navy, although a small minefield had been laid in the estuary during World War I. However, after the German occupation of France, this comparatively small yachting centre suddenly aquired a greater significance, representing a possible landing point for enemy forces seeking a short and undefended route to London. In 1940 the British Army had already constructed a series of pillboxes along the sea wall as part of its coastal defence scheme (which also included measures such as anti-aircraft gunsites and bombing decoys). The Royal Navy sought to make the River Crouch inaccessible to enemy invasion craft (at that time the river would have admitted vessels of up to 22 feet(6.7m) draught) and constructed a floating boom defence of wire ropes and buoys. The next step was to lay mines in the estuary at the gateway to the boom defence. The two wartime structures at Holliwell Point give testimony to this particular and most important aspect of the defensive scheme.

Built in 1940 the pillbox predates the minefield control tower. Originally one of a series of manned defensive pillboxes along the coast, it undertook a more specialised role in housing the firing equipment for the original two warheads deployed at Holliwell Point. With the expansion of the minefield in 1941 the impressive control tower was purpose-built. This is a highly unusual structure, unique in England. The only other surviving example of a purpose-built minefield control tower in the British Isles overlooks the Sound of Kerrera, 4.8km south of Oban in Scotland.

The minefield control tower survives in particularly good condition and provides a unique record of the architecture and design of this type of combined observation/control post. The pillbox is its improvised forerunner and has an important role to play in illustrating the evolution of the full complement of defensive schemes employed here. Together the two structures provide a graphic illustration of the threat, acutely felt at the time, of the impending German invasion.

December 2008: A report on Naval Control at Southend and the Thames, written in July 1945, includes a chapter on Burnham-on-Crouch. Regarding minefields and the minefield control tower, it states:

‘Warhead Mines
During July approval was given for warheads, connected to electrical firing, to be laid as mines, pending the supply of a more permanent minefield. With the assistance of Commander (T) Harwich, one pair was laid at the gateway to the Boom defence connected by cables to two of the military pill boxes at Holliwell Point; the firing keys and batteries being placed therein. Transit firing marks were also set up and the tests remained satisfactory. A further pair of warheads was laid 30 feet out from Wallasea Pier and connected to the central point in a private garden (Miss Jacob) on the north bank of the river. Both pairs of warheads remained in full operation for nearly two years.

Mining Defence
At a conference held at Admiralty House, Chatham on the 9th August 1940, it was decided to lay eleven groups of three mines each to supplement the warheads laid at Holliwell Point and a further single group to supplement those off Wallasea Pier.

A Control Tower was built at Holliwell, together with the quarters for a complement of two R.N.V.R. Officers, six wiremen and sixteen Royal Marines as guards. The gear took a long time in assembling and it was not until June 13th 1941 that the operation of laying commenced, being completed as O.M. 52 on June 18th.

‘U.P.’ Rockets
As an additional defence to the river, two ‘U.P.’ 2” Rocket Mountings were provided and sited at O.M. 52 Mining Station at Holliwell Point; these projectiles, when fired as a salvo of ten, covered the whole width of the river and would have been a very unpleasant surprise for the enemy. Final test being on 1st August 1941.’

<1> unknown, 1968, War Time Contraventions 1968 (LIST)

<2> Kent, P, 1988, Fortifications of East Anglia (DESC TEXT)

<3> Nash, Fred, 1993, SMR (Photograph)

<4> Strachan, David, 1999, BW/99/25/1 (AP)

<5> Rogers, P, 1993, 748-3, 4 (AP)

<6> unknown, 1983 ?, TR09-010 (Photograph)

<7> Dane, CR, 1945, Southend and Thames Naval Control in War, 1939-1945, C.R. Dane, R.N. Captain (DESC TEXT)

Aerial Photo showing minefield control tower and adjacent pillbox

Aerial Photo showing minefield control tower and adjacent pillbox

Front view of minefield control tower

Front view of minefield control tower

Rear view of minefield control tower

Rear view of minefield control tower

Armoured shutter of minefield control tower

Armoured shutter of minefield control tower

Interior of minefield control tower

Interior of minefield control tower

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