Welsh and English trig pillars completion

Today is the 83rd anniversary of the first use of an Ordnance Survey trig pillar, so the perfect time to catch up with Britain’s top trig-bagger, Rob Woodall, on his latest achievement. 

I bagged my final Welsh trig pillar in 2008 – sort of. At that time, I counted 660 trig pillars still surviving in Wales, and Red Hill, S6561, east of Builth Wells was my last, on a blustery August day. We celebrated with a Balvenie single malt (somehow not a Penderyn).

Red Hill (Photo: Rob Woodall)

But had I really finished? The OS originally built 684 pillars in Wales – what about the others? At that time, I was focused on extant pillars, trying to get around as many trigs as I could before they were lost to housing developments, road construction, farming operations and the like.  I’d visited all the remaining English, Isle of Man and Scottish pillars by 2016, so it was time to think about visiting the remaining vacant trig sites. Some were simply in-situ replacements, the pillars being rebuilt on the same site, with the same flush bracket or occasionally a new one.  Sites that used to have a trig pillar, aren’t inherently as interesting to the bagger as those where there’s something to look for, but the scenery is still there (if it hasn’t been built on), and in some cases, the pillars weren’t quite as dead as we thought:

Wick, northwest of Llantwit Major – was re-found in 2016 by Jon Glew – only 100m from its original location but covered in ivy and brambles. According to OS records it was destroyed in 1972, its triangulation duties apparently transferred to a buried block. As is often the case, its metalwork was missing – the Flush Bracket (S2392) and Spider presumably returned to OS HQ.

Croes Cadarn, at the north edge of Cardiff – was re-found in 2017 by me – dumped under a tree at the edge of its field and mostly buried. It too has lost its Spider (presumably also the flush bracket – S4804 – unless it’s buried) and had been replaced in November 1966 by a buried block. But there it was, 51 years later.

Croes Cadarn (Photo: Ted Richards)

My final Welsh ex-trig-site trip featured a few sites, and a few is-it-or-isn’t-it questions

  • Fairwater was lost to housing in 1963 and replaced by Ty-Bronna, 50m further west, just outside the housing development. Its remains were doubtless carted away by the developers
  • Kenfig Burrows was destroyed in 1949 – together with its sand dune summit – that must have been quite a storm
  • Towyn Burrows was destroyed in 1955 – apparently 25 years after the forest was planted – I wonder what caused its demise
  • Llangain was replaced in-situ in 1939. However … there seems to be an old concrete base incorporated into the newer platform, the base of the original pillar I suspect. I’m awaiting others’ opinions before adding it to my list
  • Talsarn was replaced in-situ in 1937. However, there are a few likely looking chunks of concrete embedded around the replacement pillar, again inconclusive

Anyway, Welsh trig pillars done (as far as I know…), 6 Jan 2019, over a decade since my final extant Welsh pillar S6561 Red Hill, so it was about time. The full set took me less than 100 days in total – they could be done in a year – any takers?

England’s trig pillars

England has (or had) some 3,500 pillars. In the run up to the Triggers Spring meet, I turned my attention to my remaining English pillar sites. Most of them were clusters lost to urbanisation – half a dozen around Tyneside; 4 around Manchester; 20 around the OS’s Southampton heartland.

With a few other re-finds and reclassifications (how to define an OS trig pillar, is less clear than you might think!), my tally of surviving trig pillars now stands at 6,204. The first find of the year was Stock Furlongs, in the Lincolnshire Wolds, found in a farmyard stunningly intact including its metalwork, by Ian Snell – coincidentally on 6 Jan – the date I finished Wales. The most recent re-find was Brown Wardle – just a few fragments of concrete in the large summit cairn, but bearing the unmistakable imprint of the circular centre tube.

Forensic trigging on Brown Wardle (Photo: Rob Woodall)

Our 2019 Triggers meet, in Devon this year, failed to produce any pillar refinds, but East Withy Farm near Taunton was a pleasant spot to finish, on the last day of March – albeit 66 years too late to find it intact!

Catch up on more information on the trig pillar from our 80th anniversary celebrations. 

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1 Response


    Dear Gemma,

    In the time OS was changing from triangulation to GPS, I visited a meeting in UK and there the OS director told the beautiful story that OS planned to remove the pillars because they were out of use and considered them as pollution of the landscape. Society however thought differently and OS got hundreds of protest letters. One letter was from people that spread the ashes of their cremated grandfather at a pillar in remembrence of all the sundays they walked up the hill with him. Do you know whether there is any article written on this subject?

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