If you walk along the riverside near Woolwich, you might spy a concrete box covered in graffiti — it’s a relic from WW2. Nicknamed pillboxes, these were part of the last line of defence for London should the UK have been invaded.

Following the fall of Dunkirk, the government decided to build a number of defensive lines across the UK in case of invasion. They were a mix of dug trenches, enhancing natural barriers such as rivers, and these concrete boxes placed often near railways (there’s one next to Putney Bridge tube station) and roads, which could be used to spy on enemy movements, and fire at them from inside.

London was ringed by a three defensive lines, called unsurprisingly, Inner, Central and Outer.

Work on them didn’t get far though, as a change in tactics saw a preference towards more mobile defenses, but a lot of pillboxes were still constructed, and thanks more to their formidable construction than anything else, they can still be seen.

This one next to the Thames and a riverside walkway is one of the more obvious examples to be found in London, and it’s placement here is in part thanks to the Woolwich Arsenal being just up the river, a key munitions factory for the war effort.

There were a number of types of design of pill boxes used around the country, and this one looks like a bit of a hybrid variant of the Essex Lozenge which were used along the sea wall.

Today the concrete bunker like structure is still relatively intact – and the graffiti kids are now barred from climbing inside with two gates.

It’s taken a number of trips to get photos of the box empty, as the upper concrete lid seems to be a popular spot for sunbathers, or exercising. So it might not have serviced its original purpose, but it’s still serving a useful one today.

Nearest railway stations

  1. Gallions Reach DLR
  2. Cyprus DLR
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6 comments on “The Woolwich WW2 pillbox
  1. Lauren says:

    This is actually nearer Thamesmead than Woolwich (I grew up there and played in this pillbox on many an occasion)
    There are some similar on the marshes up the road in slade green.
    I wonder if you know Ian, if the similar shaped things on the ridgeway between Plumstead and Crossness were also pillboxes? I’ve heard they were…Thanks

  2. Philip Mernick says:

    There is a pill box on The Greenway where it crosses the River Lea.

  3. bernard crocker says:

    Question:

    Soon after leaving Victoria Station the railway lines pass over the main line from Waterloo top Clapham Junction.
    On that viaduct on the right side, there appears to be a number of what look like small pillboxes with the apertures facing south.
    Does anybody know if these are in fact pillboxes from WW2, or platelayers’ huts

  4. bernard crocker says:

    Question:

    Soon after leaving Victoria Station the railway lines pass over the main line from Waterloo top Clapham Junction.
    On that viaduct on the right side, there appears to be a number of what look like small pillboxes with the apertures facing south.
    Does anybody know if these are in fact pillboxes from WW2, or platelayers’ huts

  5. David Fletcher says:

    Enjoyable article, thank you.
    The one you mention is a minewatcher’s post. There’s a 3D model of it here:
    https://sketchfab.com/models/381f06affbcc4358b4c6ebe5d67727ac

    There’s a pillbox slightly west of it and harder to find. 3D model of that one here:
    https://sketchfab.com/models/7b1b5d015e234a8fbedb67c264e85ca1

    The pillbox mentioned in the comment previously on the Greeway can be seen in 3D here:
    https://sketchfab.com/models/44c5481094de4f43a40909b244dd6942

    Dave

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