In the summer of 1940, Britain stood alone, facing a Europe dominated by the forces of Nazi Germany. The prospect of invasion was real, so a massive construction programme was started to create the necessary defences to repulse this threat. Coastal defences and lines of inland pillboxes were constructed.
Locally, pillboxes were built on the south side of the Aln, between Denwick Bridge and Peter’s Mill.
At the same time, defences were built to control the main road connections so restricting the movement of any invading force.
In Alnwick, many of us are familiar with the loopholes in the cemetery wall, which would have provided some defence for the South Road entrance to the town. Other loopholes can be seen high in the wall of a building, overlooking the Lion Bridge, and also in a wall near the Abbey, protecting the road from Eglingham. There were, however, other layers to the town’s defences.
Roadblocks were built on all roads which led to the town centre. While most of these have disappeared, some traces remain. A common design of roadblock consisted of a series of sockets which were dug about four feet into the ground, normally fitted with wooden covers. In times of high risk, these covers were removed and lengths of steel – RSJs or railway track – inserted into the sockets, protruding about three feet above ground level, so creating a strong barrier. Usually consisting of three parallel, offset holes, these sockets have often proved resistant to subsequent decades of resurfacing. So where are these to be found? There is a clear roadblock outside St Michael’s church, with another on Percy Street, near the Mechanic’s Institute. Other fainter ones can be seen on the north end of Bridge Street, on Grey Place, at the junction between Prudhoe Street and Dovecote Lane, at the entrance to the tunnel next to Turnbull’s the butchers, and at the entrance to Hulne Park.
There may well be others. Two were seen during the major road repairs which were carried out on South Road in 2007; one near the entrance to Barter Books, with another towards Belvedere Terrace. Others have been reported on the Denwick Bridge, and on Clayport Bank.