Monday, May 29, 2006

Ramsgate Air Raid Tunnels - Railway Tunnel Section

Tunnel Blog: 1992

These were probably the first tunnels that we explored. I first found out about them from the local library archives office, and obtained a map. After searching fruitlessly for the entrances from above, we found nothing. Then some time later, I heard that the old railway tunnel (also known locally as the Wind Tunnels or underground railway) was still accessible, and that one of the air raid tunnel entrances adjoined this railway tunnel about two hundred metres in from the Ramsgate "Pleasurama" entrance...

Complete map of the Ramsgate Air Raid tunnel system, including the already existing spur tunnels (running from Southwood Rd to Newington) which do not show on many official plans of the system

Tunnel background:

Sketch plan of the old Railway tunnel. (click to expand) The Air Raid tunnel network connects with this tunnel about halfway along, as shown on the plan

In the spring of 1938, the borough engineer, Mr. R.D.Brimell put the plan of digging out large shelters in the chalk beneath Ramsgate before the Home Office.
They were completed by September 1939, and extended for some 4 miles beneath the town! They had the capacity to shelter 60,000 people, and were dug at an average depth of 67 feet (to floor). They proved to be a huge success. They were lit by electricity and were well ventilated.
First aid posts were constructed throughout the tunnel system. 22 entrances were constructued leading to them.
After the war, this labyrinth of tunnels were just sealed off and allowed to fall into disrepair.
So for 45 years, these tunnels were just forgotten about. Then in 1989, a scheme was launched in which to open them up as a possible tourist attraction, but then promptly abandoned as 'unfeasible', because the council 'hit a snag'.

Although not mentioned in these newspaper articles, on exploration of the tunnels ourselves, 'the snag' is actually a sewer pipe running down the length of most of the network, rendering a lot of the system unusable. I was personally surprised to find no mention of this in any correspondance or reports on the current state of the tunnels, as I am sure there would have been an outcry by some of the local population to find that much of Ramsgate's deep tunnel shelter system had been turned into sewers, and so could no longer protect the citizens of Ramsgate in the advent of future hostilities.


After discovering that the old railway tunnel entrance was still open, we entered it through a small door in the cliff of the pleasurama carpark entrance. Inside it was cool and dark. The roof was about 15 feet high, and was arched. The floor of the tunnel was covered in gravel and debris.

Remains of the old 'Tunnel Railway' sign - propped against the tunnel wall

About ten metres in from the entrance there was a crude barrier constructed from railings and other rubbish and debris, in an attempt to stop people from progressing any further.

After climbing over the barrier, we progressed along this tunnel for about another two hundred metres, using a map to pinpoint the location at which the air raid tunnels intersected it.
Sure enough, there it was - an archway in the wall, about 7 feet high, with a long straight tunnel leading off beyond it, at right angles to the railway tunnel, hewn out of the chalk. Perhaps this was the one entrance that the council had overlooked, and forgotten to block off.

It was a lot warmer in these tunnels, and did not have a steady flow of air running through them as the railway tunnels had. It was a strange feeling actually being in these famous tunnels after all these years, 70 ft underground, which had seen so much history. The tunnel continued straight for about a hundred metres and then turned slightly (see map). Approximately every 10 feet there were alcoves dug out of the walls, which originally were meant for toilets, and to protect people from the draft.

After about a five minute walk, we came to a long spur tunnel leading off at right angles. At this junction there were two brightly painted oil drums, with the word 'BIN' stencilled on them, and also an old rusty bicycle.

Then in front of us we saw a broad flight of stairs leading up into the darkness. There was also a handrail running up the middle.

It was a weird feeling, seeing these stairs leading up to the surface, and it was not difficult to imagine the clamours of people flocking down these stairs during the raids, but now there was nothing but silence...

In the distance we could hear the sound of water dripping. One by one we climbed the stairs. After the first flight we came to a landing, and the tunnel turned, and we then climbed another two flights. There was the occasional rubble on the stairs. The tunnel turned yet again, and there were even more flights of stairs, showing just how deep we were underground.

Steps leading up to the Arklow Square entrance

Eventually we climbed the stairs and reached a brick wall.

There was a large square hole knocked out of this wall, and we could see the original entrance beyond this, and we could also see how it had been blocked, with large concrete slabs covering it, and turf laid over the top, rendering it invisible from the surface. We were now below the Arklow Square entrance. It is actually possible to see this entrance from the surface during the height of summer, as the rectangular shaped outline can be seen as dead grass when it dries out.

We then descended the stairs and continued on our journey. The air raid tunnels were supposed to be six feet wide, but at the moment they were about 4 feet wide. Our torches reflected off the chalk walls illuminating the passages before us.
After another hundred metres, the chalk walls turned to concrete, we had entered the reinforced section. After a while we came to another spur tunnel going off, also reinforced with concrete. There was also another shorter tunnel leading off which was almost blocked by a mound of dirt.

After climbing over this we came to a small brick room, with a small metal folding chair within it. There was a pale disc of light on the floor. Looking up, we saw a huge shaft, about half a metre in diameter, and extending straight upwards for 60 ft until it broke the surface. It was covered from the top with a circular manhole cover, with a cross allowing light to shine through.

Continuing along this spur tunnel, we then came to a brick wall. It also had a large hole knocked in the wall, which we climbed through, and we then came to some more stairs leading up to the surface. This was at St. Luke's recreation ground. As the tunnels mainly stay level, at this point they were very near the surface, as they were at the lowest point of Ramsgate. This was probably why this section of the tunnels were heavily reinforced with concrete. There was only one flight of stairs leading to the surface this time.

Stairs leading up to the St.Lukes entrance

The same concrete slabs were there, with roots and even some daylight filtering through. Water was also dripping through and it was very damp.

The sealed up St. Luke's air raid tunnel entrance shown from the surface

We then turned back and carried on down the tunnel for a short distance until we were met with a large blockage. It appeared to be a giant roof fall, but the collapse had blocked the entire tunnel!

To the left was a large tank, about 7ft by 5ft, and appeared to be a water reservoir.
By this time we were below Boundary Road, and according to the plan were heading towards the Chatham House entrance, but we could get no further. We had explored about one third of the entire air raid tunnel system.

We were disappointed that we did not get all the way, but our torch batteries were low so we turned back.

The only way was to find another entrance to the network, but as they say, that was to be another adventure...

Official 1939 plan of this tunnel section:

Old Scenes from the Railway tunnel shelter from WW2

A typical scene from the Railway tunnel section of Ramsgate's deep shelters, showing beds and a child's cot. The narrow gauge railway track is still clearly visible. This has long since been removed

The remains of one of these beds now, after being left for decades down the tunnel!

Safe Underground - A family party safe from air raiders in the old railway tunnel under Ramsgate.


In order to sleep in the tunnels overnight, a special ticket was required, in order to have a bunk, or 'private' cubicle.

It was signed by the 'senior sanitary inspector'. This particular ticket belonged to a Beatrice Pryor of Guildford Lawn.

A cheese and wine party being held in 1993! This gathering was held in the extremities of this section of the air raid tunnels, sitting at the base of the Chatham House School area where a collapse has blocked the passage totally

Labels: , ,


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was living in Ramsgate when WW2 broke out a child at 3Sept 1939.
Rehearsal for Air raids took us (Mother and I)down the steps of a tunnel with a mob of scared people behind us,half way down, Mum changed her mind and we fought our way back up.I think it wasa because that Tunnel went under the sea!

6:50 am  
Anonymous chav dressed as punk said...

Good stuff,i know the tunnels very well,me and my mates recorded 3 or 5 albums of industrial music in these tunnels,particuarly in the first railing tunnel?doesn't it lead to arklow sq??.

2:17 am  
Anonymous Jay said...

That’s a great site. I remember doing the wind tunnels when I was a kid, and Pegwell too. We also discovered a group of service tunnel underneath the old hospital at the top of Northdown road in Cliftonville, also the seven sisters at Kingsgate. How weird I’ve only just noticed that you created that site.

5:33 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi there. i am very intrested in the ramsgate tunnels. and wood lick to c them for my self but i donot no ho to contacet. to get acses .if you can tell me i wood b gratfull. my email is. i wood lick to go were you didnot. lol. if eny meny thanks .j.r.haigh. ash house 18 hereson rd ramsgate ct11 7dp.

5:55 pm  
Anonymous Tim R said...

It's crazy looking back at those photos with all the debris and pits etc and to think you could just walk in through a hole behind Pleasurama!!! I don't think the HSE would be very happy with that now! Great photos Vince, although I still have nightmares about when you all used to turn the torches off and leave me down there!

5:24 pm  
Blogger Simon said...

I remember doing the tunnels a few times with mates in about 1980. There was one air raid tunnel we went down and ended up coming out in someones back yard! Another had some of the "Keep Mum" type posters painted on the walls. My abiding memory being how dark it was down there with the torches off! Brings back a lot of memories.

10:10 pm  
Anonymous Mick G. said...

I went down the Railway spur tunnel in 1977 twice. We gained access by climbing over the bridge in Detling Ave. Three of us went all the way to the Pleasurama exit. We went up various side passages and steps. One came out in someone's greenhouse in their back garden, one came up in a Pub cellar (The Honeysuckle??) I think, one was a bona fide entrance, Hereson Rd at a guess? and one I seem to remember ended in a manhole cover in the road! We lifted it and popped our heads up. Don't know where that is though. The second time I went down, we found a stash of stolen soft toys. I believe they were stolen from a kiosk on Ramsgate sea front. Naughty grammar school boys being what we were, we set light to them all! Oops... I can't believe we missed the spur off the main tunnel near Pleasurama into the Air Raid system! Twice! I will regret that for ever. This last time I ws down there, I was 14 years old. On exiting the tunnel we were chased away by workmen who were carrying out fairly extensive ground work in the vicinity of the tunnel entrance from what I remember. Earlier car park?

8:05 pm  
Anonymous Mick G said...

I know of two other possible tunnels that I know nothing whatsoever about except location. The first was shown to me by a friend in his cellar at 127 Nash Court Gardens Margate about 30 years ago, and the other runs from the basement flat at 21 Thanet Rd Margate where my Grandmother lived in 1975. Both were pretty much collapsed and I don't even know if they went anywhere or were in fact tunnels at all. 127 did go somewhere, I'm pretty sure.

8:09 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are very simlar caverns in the railway tunnels in walton on the hill liverpool under rice lane flyover could these be air raid shelters? lenny

7:21 pm  
Anonymous richard s said...

My family grew up it what was packers lane in close proximetry t o the town also lost during the war my gran parents name howell were in some of these tunnels during the war and there house was destoyed now not with us i wish I new more about the tunnels then I played as a child myself in the st larence tunnels and ramsgate old tunnels that run from dumpton park to ramsgate harbour.r.stevenson

10:22 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went down the tunnels in 1977 with the MOD fire service based at Manston
It was used as a training exercise for breathing apparatus I remember crawling along a tunnel off to left of the main railway tunnel which we had entered by the door near the pleasurama area, we had no light it was pitch black and we eventually came up a square through a hatch of some sort

1:02 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

is there any way to this day of geting in any of them now especialy the main tunnel from dumpton to the seafront as i went in them when iwas at scool bk in the nineties great fun but didnt apreciate them as much as i do now being young hope theres a chance of stil geting in there for 1 more look if any body nows any way to get in there please let me now thank u

3:22 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a youngster I lived in Poplar Road, just around the corner from the Cannon Road entrance. One of my friends lived at 18,Ellington Road and at the end of his back yard was a small brick 'shed' type arrangemnt. One of the interior walls was breeze block, whilst the remaing 3 sides were brick. Being inquisitive, we knocked through the breeze block to find a void and a slope behind. We eventually made a hole large enough to climb through and fashioning candles for light, as we could not afford torches, climbed through. The slope continued with about 3 or 4 right angled turns, eventually coming to an area containig four brick built bays, two opposite each other. There were no artifacts of any kind to be found, Continuing through these bays the tunnel once again took a couple of turns before sloping upwards. We did not venture up this final slope as there had been a chalk fall. I believe these bays to be part of the Cannon Road tunnels but have never seen the Ellington Road entrance marked on any of the tunnel maps.

9:12 pm  
Blogger Brian said...

Fascinating stuff. Thank you.
These tunnels saved my mother's life in WW11. There had been no air raid warning and bombs were being dropped by some tip and run raider. My mother was running for a tunnel entrance while her friend decided to shelter in a butcher's shop. My mother just made it to the tunnels as a bomb exploded behind her. When the all clear sounded, my mother discovered that the butcher's shop had suffered a direct hit. Had she made the wrong decision that day, I wouldn't be writing this now!!
As a boy in the late fifties/early sixties I explored the tunnels finding gaps in the entrances at various points.
Since then I have written a children's book partly set in the Ramsgate tunnels, although I changed the name of the town. The book is called 'Python' and it is available from Amazon or from my website - - news section. Whilst researching for the book I was invited to go on an inspection of the tunnels with the Ramsgate fire brigade and achieved two ambitions on the one day - to travel in a fire engine and to be down the tunnels legally!

6:54 pm  
Blogger ivor said...

yep amazing i went down th etunnels years ago over a bridge and through th emain entrance which now are blocked, at the pleasurama entrance i rememeber there being lots of old fashioned dodgems pilled up, tunnels with lots of stairs leading up great stuff going to come back to ramsgate this summer and go back down there

1:21 pm  
Blogger ivor said...

yep i remember going over a bridge and throughth emain entrance then ending up at the rear of the old pleasurama after climibing over a load of old fachined dodgems

1:23 pm  
Blogger ivor said...

yep amazing i went down th etunnels years ago over a bridge and through th emain entrance which now are blocked, at the pleasurama entrance i rememeber there being lots of old fashioned dodgems pilled up, tunnels with lots of stairs leading up great stuff going to come back to ramsgate this summer and go back down there

1:24 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

where are the entrances now???????

1:30 pm  
Blogger ?????????????/ said...

a chatham house part of the tunnel caved in and two 20 ton lorryloads of earth were poured down it and i think that will be your pile of earth u siad u got to

11:07 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

went there in 1977-78 with friends. we saw quite a few artifacts down there including a large gun shell about the size of a thermos flask and i think was brass.

3:51 pm  
Blogger Dan Palmer said...

@chav dressed as punk: i was also in an industrial music group who recorded in the wind tunnel, around 1983 or 84. though i still have a number of tapes from that time, i don't think any of the wind tunnel recordings survive, sadly. i'd be very interested to hear your own recordings if you still have them? it's amusing to imagine rival groups of army-surplus clad youths roaming the tunnels looking for likely bits of scrap metal to bash away on for an afternoon. thresholdtapes[@]yahoo[dot]co[dot]uk

4:50 am  

Post a Comment

<< Home