Defence of Britain Archive

Council for British Archaeology, 2002 (updated 2006)

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Council for British Archaeology (2006) Defence of Britain Archive [data-set]. York: Archaeology Data Service [distributor]


Nearly 600 volunteer recorders carried out the field work, making a total of some 17,000 field visits to sites throughout England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Other information on sites now destroyed was gathered from published works and primary archival sources, as well as through oral testimony. From September 1998, the records for data entry purposes were divided between 'Anti-Invasion' (the defence works built primarily in the period 1940-41 against threatened German invasion) and 'Non Anti-Invasion' (effectively, all the many other categories of 20th century military sites).

The CBA's Defence Areas Project, which followed the conclusion of the Defence of Britain Project, looked in detail at a number of specific 'defence areas' across England (with funding from English Heritage). This created a revised version of the original project's Anti-invasion Database, with some additional records and considerable revision and updating of many other records. The Anti-Invasion Database now contains records of 14,691 individual sites (up from 13,777 in the original Defence of Britain Project dataset), and the Non Anti-Invasion 5778, making a total of 20,469. The original Defence of Britain Project Anti-Invasion Database is available to download .

The Defence Areas Project was published by the CBA (with funding from English Heritage) in a series of reports, which included 'Beaches, Fields, Streets, and Hills: The Anti-Invasion Landscapes of England, 1940' (no. 144 in the CBA's series of research reports)

The Anti-Invasion Database invariably provides the full text of the information submitted by the recorder, although many records include photographs, plans, drawings and other information which have not been digitised: the database record indicates where this is the case. Some 2000 photographs, in fact, have been scanned into the site records to which they relate, but an estimated further 6,500 remain with the original paper records.

With the Non Anti-Invasion Database no attempt (other than for keywords) has been made to reproduce the recorders' textual descriptions, and the database will serve as an index to the paper archive to which it relates. Details of site type, grid reference, and place are given on the database, together with an indication of the extent of the record.

A handful of records of miscellaneous site types, which should more correctly be indexed on the Non Anti-Invasion Database, have received full database entry and are included with the Anti-Invasion Database.

The paper archive of the Defence of Britain Project, including the individual site records, has been deposited with the National Monuments Records of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Each NMR will eventually be able to make available for public consultation the original records of its own country [see below for information on how the records are referenced].


It is anticipated that the principal criteria for searching The Defence of Britain Project databases will be 'Site Type' and 'Place'. In addition, the full site data on a defence component listed in 'Beaches, Fields, Streets, and Hills' (the research report of the Defence Areas Project) can be obtained by entering its unique numerical reference into the relevant search field.

For the Anti-Invasion Database a precise thesaurus has been developed, which can be obtained by a drop-down menu (some terms additional to anti-invasion defences are included in this thesaurus). The thesaurus also provides information on the site type, and often a representative image.

The term 'Pillbox' has been used when the precise type of pillbox is unknown. 'Pillbox (Variant)' is used to denote a pillbox that does not conform to one of the standard referenced types and is likely to have been built especially for its site. Pillboxes which have variant features but are otherwise principally of a particular type are included under that type, and the differences noted in the site description.

For the Non Anti-Invasion Database, the site term drop-down menu is much more of a word list than a precise thesaurus. The searcher may need to use several terms relating to a particular subject to locate all the relevant site records.

When searching by Place, the enquirer using the Anti-Invasion Database will be able to locate all place names within the location description of the site, for example a farm name as well as that of a village or town. To try to avoid duplicated or part names, it is best to include the county in the relevant search field as well.

With the Anti-Invasion database, the majority of sites have been accorded the 'strategic group' into which they fall, e.g. a pillbox on the Taunton Stop Line has been assigned to 'Southern Command: Taunton Stop Line', a pillbox protecting RAF Biggin Hill to 'RAF Biggin Hill defences', a roadblock in Worcester to 'Worcester anti-tank island', or a coastal battery on the coast of Fife to 'Fife coast defences'. A description of each Group provides further information. It is possible to enter key words in the 'Group' search field, e.g. 'GHQ' will find all the different sections by which the GHQ Line has been divided.

Of the Condition terms used, 'Unknown' means that it is not known whether the site survives or not: this is most commonly used for sites identified from documentary sources where field work has not been possible. 'Extant but condition unknown' means that the site definitely survives but that its precise condition has not been ascertained.

Please Note: Many of the sites in the database are on private land. The fact that a site appears here does not obviate the need to obtain permission before entering on private land.

Location of full paper record

Enquirers wishing to consult the original record from which the database entry was made will need to do so at the relevant National Monuments Record for the country in question [see above]. The paper records are filed by county/unitary authority in numeric sequence of three separate series,

  • TDB - where there is a number after 'original reference' in the database record (Anti-Invasion).
  • UORN - ID number commencing with S (Anti-Invasion).
  • NAI - ID number only.

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