Ramsgate Air Raid Tunnels - Cannon Road Section
Note original signs on the walls
Tunnel blog: March 1992 - Section 2 - (Cannon Road)
After the disappointment of discovering we could get no further (within section 1 - Wind tunnels network), we decided there had to be another way into the Air-raid tunnel network. This was when I heard that the fire brigade still use part of the tunnel system for training in, and that they get in through a manhole cover in the Cannon Road entrance!
After visiting the car-park, I found a large rectangle of tarmac that was a different colour to the rest, and it was in the exact point where the original entrance should have been, according to the plan. Right in the middle there was a large manhole cover.
New (secure) manhole cover, May 2006. The entrance is now also protected by a locked gate beneath the cover
Using a chain, we were able to lift the cover up. Below was a large dark cavity, with an 8ft drop to the original stairs below! There was an iron ladder attached to the wall beneath the manhole cover, leading down about 8 feet to the original concrete steps.
After climbing down the ladder, the manhole cover slammed shut above us, plunging us into darkness. The area around us was filled with rubble. We climbed down six large flights of steps descending steeply into the tunnels. They were in fact larger than the previous section we had explored. Still the tunnel sloped down steeply, we were about 80 feet underground. This was the deepest part of the whole tunnel network.
After about a hundred metres we came to a junction. One tunnel double-backed on itself and seemed to go back beneath the carpark, and the other tunnel just carried straight on.
We chose to take the tunnel that double-backed on itself. This carried on for about fifty metres, and then came to a T-junction. This was where we first saw the sewer pipe, it ran both ways across the junction. There was only about 2 feet clearance between the pipe and the roof of the tunnel. We were also able to squeeze along the side of it. The pipe had been laid sometime during the decades since the tunnels had been sealed up in 1945, utilising the existing tunnels as a quick and easy way of saving costs.
At first we decided to take the left turning. heading down Thomson's Passage towards Vale Square. We managed to squeeze our way along the pipe for about 10 metres, and then the tunnel turned at a right angle, and the pipe with it. At this point it got too small and tight to carry on in that direction, so we had no choice but to turn back, and head the other way towards Ellington Road.
After a while of shuffling along the edge of the pipe, we came to a large room off to the right, which had sink fittings, so was probably an underground kitchen or medical room. There was another shaft beside it, leading up to a manhole cover in Ellington Road. This would have surfaced in a manhole cover opposite number 4 (who wrote numerous letters of complaint about the noise during the construction of the shaft in 1938). A strange feature was that the windows in this shaft room had bars on them. There was also a water pipe running down the length of the ventilation shaft, ending in a tap.
Back inside the room, there was a deep sludge on the floor, and two entrances back out to the main tunnel. While studying the floor, we could make out the outline of a metal hatch. Eventually we managed to lift the hatch, and below there was an empty cavity about 4 feet square, and 4 feet deep.
It was not possible to proceed further down the main tunnel in the Ellington Road direction due to the space between the wall, ceiling and pipe becoming very small indeed, so we then decided to retrace our steps into the original tunnel and return back to the first junction and then take the main tunnel proceeding in the other direction, which led to the Chatham House entrance. So we retraced our steps to this junction and took the second tunnel. Thankfully there was no pipe down these tunnels, and it carried on broad and straight for about 50 metres, and we passed beneath Shaft No.4.
Usual brick room at the bottom of most ventilation shafts
Looking up the ventilation shaft
The tunnel then turned at right angles, and then turned again, down Eagle Hill. On the left hand wall, there was a crude sign saying 'Eagle Hill' and an arrow pointing in that direction. There were also various wartime carvings on the wall, of names and dates - i.e. 'Peter Bennet, 3-4-42'. There were various other relics from the past in this part of the tunnel network, such as gas mask boxes, satchels, scales and sandals.
The tunnel then made a right turn through Chatham Place, and then a left turn. The tunnels were completely silent.
The floor was covered with rotted wood, from the original wooden benches that lined the wall. The oak beams were still intact, and a few of the electric and wireless cables were still in place.
We passed Shaft No.5 and continued for another hundred metres. We then reached another junction, with a spur tunnel leading to Townley Street, the Chatham House exit. At this point there was a carving on the wall, saying 'Jonathon Greenfield, R.I.P. 1944' and a notice saying 'Stairway to Heaven'. Looking upwards underneath this exit, daylight shone between the concrete slabs that covered it from above. We then turned back down the spur tunnel.
Chatham house entrance from the surface
After returning back to the main tunnel, we walked along a very long stretch of tunnel for about 300 metres until we came across another spur tunnel. This was perhaps one of the longer spurs, and this section was reinforced with concrete.
The end of this spur tunnel was filled with rubble, and it would have surfaced in the carpark of what was St. Georges school. After returning back along this spur tunnel, we then carried on along the main tunnel for a short distance. There were small mounds of earth on the floor, getting bigger and bigger, until the tunnel was totally blocked. After consulting the map, we suddenly realised we were actually on the other side of the blockage from section 1 (Wind tunnels)! Beyond it was the tunnel section we had already explored, which would connect with the old railway tunnel.
Earth mound (perhaps caused by a cave in) blocking the way, and forming the divider between section 1 (wind tunnels) and section 2 (cannon rd) of the air raid tunnel system
By this time we had travelled about a mile and we were panting heavily. We were running out of air, fast! We quickly realised that the air quality in this part of the tunnel network, the furthest and the deepest, was very poor indeed. We began to feel very faint, so we ran back along the tunnel towards the exit at Cannon Road. It took fifteen minutes.
We also passed a sign saying CAFE, which we had not noticed before. There was an arrow pointing, which we followed, and then came to a domed room, with what looked like a chimney at the top of the dome. The floor was covered inches deep in thick rotted wood, probably from wooden tables and chairs that once stood in this makeshift cafe. We then noticed rows of metal chairs and an old wooden table, with a rotted packet of cards!
We then returned up the original six flights of stairs to the surface, and left through the same manhole cover in which we had entered this large underground world, and surfaced blinking into the bright daylight of the carpark above.
Tunnel entrance as it was in 1993
We decided to enter the network again a week later and explore the tunnel that led up to Ellington Road, which was apparently the dormitory section. There was also (according to local folklore and original eye-witness accounts) supposed to be a room full of Home Guard and ARP equipment down that tunnel somewhere. However, we never did get to see that section of the air-raid tunnels, as the next time we went down, we nearly got "rescued" by the fire brigade (a well meaning / nosy neighbour had seen us enter the tunnels and decided to contact them). We then had a dressing down by the local council man. After we had got "caught" in this way, they put a new manhole cover on the entrance, that we cannot get open (yet)!
We had now explored almost two thirds of the network, but there was still about two miles of the tunnel system still to explore, so we had to find another way in...
Official 1939 plan of this section:
Post-Script: Mon 18th Sept, 2006
A recent twist to the tale happened recently when a work colleague was renovating his house when he discovered a local newspaper from 1981, which he kindly gave to me. Below is a copy of an interesting letter that was printed in that edition, which relates to a possible entrance to the 'ellington road' section of air raid tunnel, which thus far has been completely inaccessible. It would be very interesting to locate the current owners of the house and see if this entrance tunnel was still there from their basement!
Below is a map of the full system from 1938, showing the additional spur tunnels mentioned by the anonymous poster below, including the spur from Southwood sports ground and the Ashburnham Jam Factory. This is the only plan I have seen that shows these additional sections, as well as other shelters in the vicinity, such as the Granville caves etc.
I can only apologise for the poor quality of the photocopy!