Battle starts to preserve history after pillbox find

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A CAMPAIGN has been launched to preserve a precious piece of Chorley’s wartime past.

A Second World War pillbox in a Whittle-le-Woods field has just undergone an archaeological survey.

More than 70 years old, the construction is right in the middle of new housing development set for the area.

Now historians, and other townsfolk, who are determined to save such memorable monuments, want to get the site listed.

The pillbox – a standard type 23 – is in the field off Lucas Lane where developer Redrow is to construct more than 130 new houses.

It seems likely it was a defence against the former Royal Ordnance Factory at Euxton which was officially opened by King George VI on
March 31, 1939.

The archaeological survey has been carried out for Redrow by supervisor Aaron Goode, 38, and his colleague Scott Vance, who work for
Pre-Construction Archaeology.

New Zealander Aaron said: “You’ve got your main pillbox with three apertures for light machine guns, probably, or rifles.

“There’s a blast wall in there as well – if for some reason a hand grenade gets in, you have half a chance of surviving.”

He said a square slot would have had a concrete plinth which may have had a machine gun or where the range finder stood.

He added: “It’s unusual, this one, because it’s made of brick, most are made of concrete.

“They just used what material they had at hand, they just threw them up. Most of these pillboxes, they were in a hurry to get them completed.”

Next to the pillbox is a gun placement.

Aaron added: “It was probably for a Bofors anti-aircraft gun, and four recesses, probably ammo stores and where you would have had a generator for turning the gun.”

“I think this will have been manned most of the time, especially with the ammunition factory over there. They would have been keen to protect that.”

He reckoned the construction was built about 1940.

He added: “Someone in London doing research has got some paperwork or letter of complaint from the contractor who built it who never got paid,” he said.

Asked whether he thought it deserved listed status, he said: “I don’t know, that’s not for us to say, we just record it. English Heritage do the scheduling.”

However he said: “This is one of the best pillboxes I have seen.

“Others I’ve done have been type 23 but not with the gun emplacement attached.”

Whittle-le-Woods councillor Eric Bell, said: “We used to play on it when I was a boy, we used it as a den.

“I can remember seeing Germans planes coming over when we were kids. As far as I know the Home Guard used it.

“I just think it’s something worth preserving, it’s something special.

“I don’t know if there’s any record of any other in Chorley borough.”

He said it brought back memories: “It’s like being back in the war again, isn’t it?”

Boyd Harris, of Chorley Historical and Archaeological Society, said: “As far as I’m aware, there is only one other pillbox in the Chorley area.

“It was originally part of the ROF complex at Euxton but is now on the edge of the Buckshaw development.”

Coun Dennis Edgerley, who is responsible for planning and conservation at Chorley Council, said: “As the pillbox is situated on private land, Chorley Council is currently working with the developer to look at how this historic site can be safeguarded.

“Discussions are taking place at the moment but we think it’s important that this piece of local and national history is preserved for future generations.”

A spokesman for Redrow said: “We appointed specialist archaeological consultants Hyder Consulting to assess the pillbox and gun mounting at our Lucas Lane site and during their investigations it became apparent that the structure was far more significant than first envisaged.

“In fact the county council team have commented on the unexpected extent of the structure and the excellent standard of preservation.

“Although the planning authority has said that the pillbox may be removed, we plan to retain this important historical local feature within the proposed housing development, rather than demolish it.

“And we are currently working in conjunction with the local planning authority and the Lancashire County Council Archaeological Unit to amend the detail estate layout plans accordingly.

“This will ensure the structure will be retained and visible for generations to come.”