Wessex Archaeology has been working with Terramond Ltd and Historic England since 2011 to research, record and develop a strategy for consolidating and presenting a World War II Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery at Smoke Lane, Rockingham, Avonmouth in Bristol. At that point in time the site had been become very overgrown with brambles, trees and the invasive Japanese knotweed. It was also used by fly tippers and was put on the ‘At Risk’ register due to its overall declining condition.
The Smoke Lane battery is a Scheduled Monument (SM; National Heritage List for England entry no. 1021291). Scheduled Monument Consent (SMC) was granted in response to an application for works for its long-term preservation and the enhancement of public awareness.
Documentary research was undertaken alongside condition surveys of the surviving structures. This was followed by geophysical survey and targeted trial trenching in the environs, in order to assess how much of the surrounding military camp survived. The Japanese knotweed was treated, scrub and bramble were cleared and over the ensuing years the site slowly emerged once again from the undergrowth.
In 2019 the final phase of works commenced with the removal of later dumped material, which was used to consolidate three of the gun emplacements. New paths were created enabling easier access for visitors and further detailed building recording was undertaken during remedial and consolidation work on the historic structures.
Gun emplacement (left), details of the Predictor Station being revealed (right)
During the Second World War the City of Bristol and its port were a principal target for enemy bombs, along with other large cities across Britain. The Luftwaffe focused on Bristol due to the Avonmouth docks and the Bristol Aeroplane Company Factory in Filton.
During the summer of 1940-1941 Bristol was the fourth most bombed City in Britain, and in 1941 it was subjected to prolonged bombing raids – one of which lasted for 12 hours – leaving the City with heavy civilian casualties. Over the course of the war around 89,000 houses and buildings were destroyed, alongside major damage to industrial sites.
About the Rockingham Gun Battery
Until 1941, Heavy Anti-Aircraft Bristol 3 Battery at Smoke Lane was part of a network of Anti-Aircraft (AA) defences sites which were established around Bristol throughout the war. The City was eventually protected by about twenty HAA batteries which included Portbury, Lodge Farm, Easton-in-Gordano, St. Georges, Cribbs, Westbury, Rockingham, Pilning, Almondsbury, Earthcott, Brickfields, Henfield, Purdown, Rodway, Hanham, Keynsham, Whitchurch, Chew Reservoir and Backwell. Smoke Lane is one of the last survivors of this major wartime building programme.
The Rockingham site is a well-preserved example of an early to mid-war heavy anti-aircraft gun battery retaining the functional core components of the station; the command post, a semi-circle of four octagonal gun emplacements and a magazine which can all be seen on the ground today.
It was located to protect the northern end of Avonmouth docks with the guns firing out across the Bristol Channel. The battery itself was part of a once larger complex, which originally included a radar station to the east, and a hutted camp.
Although mobile guns were sited here in 1939, in 1940 the site became fully operational with static guns manned by the 98th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, but in the run-up to D-Day the site was progressively reduced and was finally decommissioned in 1945.
A new Heritage Interpretation panel at the Smoke Lane Battery
Today new paths and a display-panel can guide visitors around the site which has just been taken off Historic England’s ‘At Risk’ register. This represents a major achievement for all involved.