Naval watchtower near Tollesbury


A six-sided, brick-built tower stands by the former route of the railway line to Tollesbury Pier and the River Blackwater approximately half a mile (0.8 km) to the S.E. "Survey of Pillboxes and WW2 Defence Sites in Tollesbury, Essex," 1995, records that it was built in 1940 and was a Naval Watchtower used as a control centre for mines in the River Blackwater and its environs.

2009: No documentary records have been discovered relating specifically to this tower but it is apparent that one of its main purposes was as a control tower for a minefield laid across the River Blackwater. It would, therefore, have fulfilled the same function as the purpose-designed tower, now a Scheduled Monument, which looked out across the River Crouch. However, there is another tower of this type, or very similar, extant at Beacon Hill Fort, Harwich. This is described in a RCHME, 1997, report as a Type 287 Radio Direction Finding tower built in 1940-1. 

June 2010: The tower was visited in June 2010. it stands on open ground with fine views in every direction, particularly across the River Blackwater to the South and a long stretch of coastline to the East. Externally , the brickwork is in good condition although the flat roof is understood to now be in need of renovation. The ground floor contains the entrance and windows in at least three faces, outside plant growth covered the lower part of some of the faces at the time of the site visit. At least one of the steel shutters is still in situ. On the first floor at least five of the six faces have wire-covered windows, one of them is bricked up. On the second floor three windows have been added into what was effectively a windowless storey, although at the very top of the walls there are two small contemporary windows presumably to allow some light into this storey.
It is believed that the tower was built to have maritime Radio Direction Finding equipment, later called radar. This would monitor the approaches to the estuary for enemy shipping. The RDF set may have been a Type 284 or 287. The aerial was on the third storey, turned originally by hand.
A secondary usage of the tower may have been as a minefield control post overlooking a minefield across the River Blackwater.
Inside, a narrow staircase originally ran up the inside walls, with a lift shaft providing a means of lifting the equipment to the second storey. Now, wooden stairs have been added through the lift shaft allowing easier upper access. One of the ground floor rooms contains concrete bedding and bolts for mounting a diesel engine and generator. The first floor has a central area in which there is a 6 and a half inch (165 mm) hole in the ceiling.The top, second floor, is one wide high room 25' 6" (7.8 m) across with each of the six walls 14' 9"  (14.5) long. The lift / stair well comes up through the floor and the three added windows give impressive panoramic views far across the coastal expanse. In the centre of the floor is the 6 and a half inch (165 mm)  hole seen in the ceiling of the first storey. In operation, the radar aerial was mounted on a ring of studs, 6 of them, 5' (1.5 m) across. A turning handle descended through the floor and the aerial was turned by hand by men on the first floor. It is understood that this was later changed to power-operation. Now, the walls and ceiling of the large room on the second floor have been covered with plywood, covering the two small, high windows which originally allowed in light. Around the tower there are a number of head-high brick walls, abutting the tower, giving open enclosures. These may have been for housing fuel or stores.

In July 2010 the Beacon Hill tower (in Harwich) was revisited, allowing a direct comparison and clarification of a number of points. It is clear that both towers have been altered in a number of ways, either during or after World War Two. Only a detailed analysis of each could determine the original forms, the purpose or dating of these changes.

At Tilbury stands a third tower, similar to the other two, hexagonal, three-storey, on an estuary, but not the same pattern. Each is variously stated as anti-shipping, Radar Direction Finding or Radar Site, probably built in 1940 / 41, manned by Royal Navy personnel, with a Type 284 or 287 RDF set.

External view of naval watch tower

External view of naval watch tower

Turn on JavaScript to display the map

Show slideshow