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Lancashire At

Exploring the hidden history of War sites in Lancashire

Walney Island

Walney Island, near Barrow, pre-1974 was in Lancashire. In that time it had been used by the military pre-WW1, during WW1, WW2 and The Cold War.


It is littered with WW2 sites: pillboxes, searchlight enplacements, a control tower, a decoy site, Heavy Anti Aircraft guns, firing ranges, a military airfield etc. As well as possible World War One features and a Cold War ROC bunker.


In 2016 it is all being catalogued by volunteers - and you could get involved if you wish.


This page is just a taster of some of the sites to be recorded - there are many more that are not shown here.

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CLICK on a photo to make it larger. ABOVE: The Tower. BELOW: Views from the tower

"The site of Fort Walney, a coastal battery built between 1905-1914. It was armed with two 6-inch breech-loading Mk. VII guns. In the Second World War it was manned by 299 Battery of 562 Coast Regiment until 1943 when it was transferred to the Home Guard. The guns were put into care and maintenance in 1944, however the battery continued in use to be part of the early Cold War defences. The battery observation post remains extant and is currently used by the Coastguard." This information is from:

BELOW: Two WW2 Searchlight enplacements - one vandalised, the other bricked up.

This pillbox (RIGHT) is on the golf course on Walney Island. According to Mike Osborne's book 'Pillboxes of Britain and Ireland' this type of pillbox is unique to the area:

"An unusual design with five lmg-loops and four rifle-loops in the angles and at a higher level, peculiar to the Barrow defences."


There is also a concrete wall which appears contemporary with the pillbox (with later additions). This was possibly to protect (from seaward attack) the entrance which has been hidden by soil making up the tee.

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ABOVE: The base for a Spigot Mortar (aka a Blacker Bombard) emplacement. This was the main weapon given to the Home Guard. It is close to the Observation Post - which was under Home Guard control later in the war.

BELOW: Three parts of the firing ranges surviving despite gravel extraction.

ABOVE LEFT: The rear of the Back Wall of the firing range - "the bit that caught all the bullets".

ABOVE CENTRE: The wall that once housed the machinery for the targets. The targets would be manually raised by the lucky operatives as shots were fired over their heads.

ABOVE RIGHT: all that remains of a rare RAF firing range - for the training of the gunners in Bomber Command. So that they could practice shooting at moving targets, dummy planes were "flown" on a railtrack for them to fire at. The wall in the foreground has fallen down. The sea is just behind the photographer and this site is particularly at risk of coastal erosion and flooding. The gravel extraction has left a strange landscape which is now a nature reserve and is open to walkers.

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One of the many mysteries on Walney Island are the practice trenches to the North, thought to date from World War One. They are unlike others seen elsewhere in the UK and their role is unknown. No record of them has yet been found. ABOVE LEFT they can be seen quite clearly thanks to Google Earth, but on the ground, ABOVE RIGHT, they are much more difficult to make out.

The above two photos are courtesy of the Morecambe Bay Partnership and show some of the sites being recorded. It is an exciting project that anyone can get involved in. They can even turn your photos of a structure into a 3D image - get involved to find out how.

If you have some local knowledge of the sites, perhaps some family history or even know of a lost site, the project would love to hear from you. Contact details & Links below.

Follow the progress on Twitter:

@_MBay and @H2H_tweets

As part of the Heritage Lottery Funded Headlands to Headspace Scheme a project has been undertaking some initial archaeological research and recording of the 20th century military landscape of Walney Island. They now want to start looking at how it all fits together. If you would like to help please get in touch.

These pages, all text and photographs, unless stated, are the copyright of The Brothers B. No reproduction is allowed in any form without prior written permission

The only visible remains of Fort Walney is the former Battery Observation Post.

Soon to be a private residence, the new owners kindly let us look round it.


The views from the top were tremendous - the offshore wind farm, the golf course and Barrow's shipyards - with their long history of military shipbuilding.


Next to the tower, is a Royal Observer Corps (ROC) station - a Cold War bunker (RIGHT).

Again, thank you to the new owners for opening it up for us.


See more ROC posts HERE

BELOW: The Control Building from a WW2 "Starfish" Decoy site. One of five Naval QF/QL sites for Barrow, this is the only one extant and the only one on Walney Island. They were most likely built to protect Barrow docks from enemy bombing. Unusually the building has been adapted - with a later blast wall having been added to the entrance (to the left on the photos). Was it used for a later military purpose?


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