Finding an old WW2 pillbox on the Thames

A few weeks ago I was out in East London towards the Thames Estuary doing some research for my book when I realised I was going to be close on an old WW2 bunker that I had been wanting to see for a few years but it being on the other side of the city and then a mile or two walk from the nearest station always meant that I never had got round to seeing it until now.

This defence work is a remnant of the vast series of river defences built along the Thames during World War II and would have been a final observation post before any river-borne enemy reached the vital Woolwich Armoury.

The emplacement looks out over what what have been docks on the far side of the river and was placed infant of the vast areas around Woolwich Arsenal.

I thought I might go and have a look inside as I do like exploring a good ruin, especially WW2 ones and I visit some on my WW2 London Blitz Tour but sadly I was visiting after a recent heavy downpour of rain and the entrance wasn’t really accessible and I hadn’t quite got over being stuck underground with some Roman ruins a few months earlier.

I did have a peek over the wall with my iPad and there were two metal gates with nominal access created by generations of no doubt young boys wanting to hang out somewhere cool.

The corner of the concrete base you can just see is actually several feet up.

So instead I decided to do something a bit stupid and get my way over the river to take a look through the shooting slit instead. It was very steep and with quite a drop over the edge to the river below. The waters here are infamously dangerous which is why I was nearby to see a spot where people had drowned and unrelatedly, further towards the middle of the river at this exact spot was the site of the biggest peace-time loss of life on water which saw hundreds die in a Victorian era disaster.

At first I left my iPad on the roof of the bunker as whilst I didn’t mind drowning in the river myself (I can’t swim), I couldn’t really afford to get a new iPad. But then having gingerly found my way round, I reached up to retrieve it so I could take some photos.

A great spot to observe invasions and to use machine guns to defend against them. It is like a much larger gun was on top of the bunker in the area I couldn’t get to due to water but this has been removed.

If you like stuff like me then it is fascinating, but please don’t do this on my account as it is dangerous and I’ve been getting into mischief for years!

My curiosity sated, I made my way back to dry land. Just as I clambered onto the footpath, a jogger passed by looking somewhat surprised by being confronted by someone from the river but a few moments later another person neared and took my photo.

They were the only two people I saw the hour or more I was around this very isolated spot.

Standing outside a Thamesmead Pillbox from WW2.

I put together a short video below on one of my YouTube.

About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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