What is it?
Remains of World War II anti-aircraft gun placements at Hill Top, north-west Birmingham.
Landranger - Map 139
Explorer - Map 220
Grid reference 03365 91301
Sat Nav - Nearby postcode – B21 8HH (Oxhill Road) or B71 3SZ (Forge Mill Farm)
Parking - There is a car park at Forge Mill farm 2km north of the site. Or park on the road near to the bus terminus in Oxhill Road 500m to the south.
Public transport – There are regular bus services from Birmingham City Centre through to Oxhill Road / The Leveretts (terminus). For bus times and numbers see http://www.networkwestmidlands.com/
Access - The site is in public open space.
PLEASE NOTE THAT AS A RESULT OF FLOOD ALLEVIATION WORKS ACCESS TO THE SITE ALONG THE RIVERSIDE FOOTPATH FROM FORGE MILL FARM WILL NOT BE POSSIBLE UNTIL SPRING 2020. ACCESS TO THE GUN PLACEMENTS IS STILL POSSIBLE FROM THE LEVERETTS (OXHILL ROAD BUS TERMINUS) TO THE SOUTH OF THE SITE. ACCESS TO SANDWELL PRIORY IS ALSO UNAFFECTED BY THE WORKS. There is a footpath / bridleway leading from Forge Mill Farm and from near the Oxhill Road bus terminus. Some of the paths are across rough ground and can be muddy in wet weather. There are a river and lakes near Forge Mill Farm. Keep to the paths where they are close to neighbouring golf courses. Sandwell Valley Trails free leaflet, toilets and limited refreshments available from Forge Mill Farm shop. A copy of the walking trails map showing the location of the gun placements and footpaths can be downloaded at http://www.sandwell.gov.uk/info/200248/parks_and_green_spaces/790/walking_in_sandwell_valle y
What you can see
An interesting and relatively well preserved group of structures dating from the Second World War (1939-45) consisting of two anti-aircraft gun placements and a command post located on high ground overlooking north Birmingham.
From Forge Mill Farm it is a pleasant 2km walk along well marked paths.
Take the footpath from the carpark past a panel with a map and head towards the river.
Don’t cross the river but continue ahead along a wide path then bear left along a gravel path on the south side of the river.
After about 600m, when you can see the RSPB Nature Centre building in the distance to your left, look out for a bridleway leading off into woodland to the right.
Cross a boardwalk and continue along a path that twists through woodland on the edge of the golf course until you reach a wide gravel path that leads off to the right.
In a short while you reach an access road leading to the golf clubhouse where you will see a fingerpost. Cross the road and continue in the direction of Handsworth.
Follow the path uphill until you reach another fingerpost and turn to the left. In a short while you will come to another fingerpost indicating the way to the anti-aircraft placements.
The concrete paths here are part of this World War II installation built in 1941 but already empty by late in 1942. Follow the paths to find all of the features of interest.
This was a Heavy Anti-Aircraft gun battery.
There are two gun placements each octagonal in shape built of reinforced concrete surrounded by earth banks. There may have originally been 4 as this was the usual arrangement although in this case it is possible that only the two were actually built.
At the centre of each the position of the gun is marked by metal sockets in the ground to house the holdfast bolts that secured it in place.
Each placement would probably have housed a standard 3.7 inch AA gun and the holdfasts were built to a standard pattern so that guns could be moved from site to site according to need.
Each placement had six ammunition lockers the remains of which can be clearly seen
One of the placements has a shelter built into the side.
Follow the concrete paths until you locate the command or observation post consisting of two small concrete structures surrounded by a high earth bank. It is possible to scramble up the bank and look down on these structures but they are rather overgrown and it isn’t safe to enter them.
Close to the path where you first entered the site from the north you may be able to locate, in the undergrowth, foundations of a brick building which may have provided accommodation for some of the soldiers who manned the guns. It is likely there were other buildings in the area providing facilities for the soldiers but there is no visible evidence on site.
Nearby can also be found what appears to be demolition rubble including heavy slabs of reinforced concrete which may have been the site of the magazine where ammunition was kept.
The site needs more research but is well worth a visit being located on a hill with spectacular views over the city in the distance.
Approaching the site from the bus terminus continue along the Oxhill Road, past The Leveretts, until you reach the gates to the allotments and a white vehicle barrier. To your right a grass path leads uphill towards the gun placements at the top of a steep hill.
From the Oxhill Road bus terminus it is also possible to visit the remains of Sandwell Priory located just under 1km walk to the west in Sandwell Metropolitan Borough. Near the allotments gates take the path going straight ahead, keeping the allotments fence on your left. Cross Park Lane, a busy road, with care and carry on about 200m and you will see the priory ruins to the right side of the footpath.
Forge Mill is one of a series of mills along the River Tame and started life in the late 16th century as a finery forge in which pig iron was re-melted, so that the carbon and silicon content could be burnt out of it (fining) and the resultant mass of iron drawn out under a water powered hammer into bar iron (wrought iron). In 1669 it made 146 tons of iron. The forge closed in the 1820s and was replaced by a corn mill, whose buildings survive. This closed in 1914. You can still see the remains of the mounting for the wheel in the far side of the building.
Hodder, M, Birmingham: the Hidden History. (2004 /2011)
Lowry, B, 20th Century defences in Britain (1995/1998)
Jones, C; Lowry, B & Wilkes, M, 20th century defences in Britain: The West Midlands area (2008)