Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Eastcliff Caverns

On the opposite side of Ramsgate to St, Augustines caves, on the Eastcliff, beneath King George VI Park, is another extensive network of chalk passages, known as the Granville Caves / Eastcliff Caverns. These too were used as public shelters during both world wars.

These were originally constructed hundreds of years ago, and their origin remains a mystery.

A description in a Victorian newspaper of the nineteenth century describes them thus:

"The caverns at East Cliff deserve particular notice: they are formed by an excavation at the distance of thirty feet from the cliff, and parallel with it, descending gradually to the level of the shore. This subterraneous passage receives its light from arches of such large capacity as to resemble rooms, which are cut at right angles through the chalky cliffs opening to the sea and these arches being in summer carpeted with turf, and covered with shrubs and flowers, appear very picturesque. The lowest arch terminates in a passage leading directly to the beach."
Walking along the Eastern undercliff, you can still clearly see blocked up entrances to these tunnels in the cliff face. Higher up in the cliff, tantalisingly out of reach, some of these entrances still remain open. They are still carpeted with turf, as described in the old account above, over a hundred years ago.
A section of the cliff face beneath King George park, showing some of the entrances

How could we get in there and explore them?
Pictures and information of this tunnel system are very rare, with the old picture below being the only one I've seen from inside

Old photo of the Eastcliff Caverns. The daylight can clearly be seen shining into this main shaft from the many cliff face entrances

All we had to go on was the old photo above, and the Victorian account of them. There was no choice - we had to get in there and see what they were like now.

But How? Entrances into this system were rumoured to be from within the cellars of the Granville Hotel, the Pavilion in Winterstoke Gardens, and beneath the bandstand in Wellington Crescent. However, it seemed they had all long been sealed up. So what about the cliff face? Ladders would not reach that high, so the only solution was abseiling down the cliff of course!

One of the intrepid gang disappearing over the cliff edge at King George Park

Once in King George VI Park, we scaled the cliff railings and entered the heavy undergrowth on the edge of the cliff. The concrete promenade below seemed a long way down! After securing the ropes, the descent began. It was very scary, and the ground looked a long way down!

After descending about 40ft down the cliff face, getting off the pitch at the tunnel entrance was quite easy - a pendulum movement to swing into the entrance and then off!

After battling with seagulls and pigeons that had taken up residence in the entrance, we proceeded inside. The passage was cold and dark (see plan below) and was about 7 ft high. It went in about 30 feet, then turned right angles for about 60 feet before re-emerging at the cliff face, in a kind of U shape.

Section of cliff showing the entrance and exit for the first section of tunnel

On emerging from the exit, it looked like there had originally been a wooden platform that would have then joined up with the second section of cavern. However it had long since rotted away, so there was no choice but to abseil the remainder of the cliff face to the ground.

Entrance and exit to the second section high in the cliff beneath the park

A week or so later, we then abseiled down into the second section of tunnel further along the cliff face to the right. This passage was also open at both ends, and involved a low crawl over a lot of sandbags (left over from the war?). After a long slow crawl, we emerged half way up an old well shaft! Using a second rope, we were able to abseil down 8ft to the base of the well shaft. This also had an exit out into the cliff face at the base of the well! Using "abseil speak", it was our first split pitch!

Looking up from the bottom of the well shaft! The tunnel comes out halfway up the well shaft

Point of entry after 40ft abseil. Tunnel curves to the left. (note pigeon iguano!)

The third section of the caverns also went in a U shape, with the exit also blocked (see picture below). This exit would have come out at the bottom of the cliff, which has been breeze blocked up. These caverns fitted the old Victorian description exactly!

Blocked up beach level entrance

Looking back from the blocked exit towards the open entrance!

Looking at the original B+W photo, and from the early description of this sytstem, it seems that at one point all three sections of the caverns were joined, but may have become seperated by roof falls.

Eastcliff caverns tunnel plan (click to expand)

At the far end of the cliff face, where the promenade ends, is the last section of this system, referred to as the "Rifle Range tunnel".

The passage ran from the beach entrance straight up through the cliff, and emerged in undergrowth at the far end of the rifle range, within King George VI park (hence it's name!)

The exit has now been blown with explosives and is just a pile of rubble. The beach entrance at the bottom of the cliff has also been completely sealed up, but appears to have been quite wide.

Blocked up tunnel entrance

At one point the existing rifle range wanted to expand into this tunnel, and an excerpt from a 1994 planning notice said:


A 50 yard 0.22 rifle range at the disused Montefiore tunnel in King George VI Memorial Park. (Planning permission - Broadstairs Council)

Disused tunnel entrance, which is on the Northerly side of the park. To prevent access by the public, the Southerly side of the site would need to be fenced for a distance of 100 yards by 5 foot linking wire fencing... erection of a range hut for storage at the Westerly end of the tunnel entrance..."

Tunnel exit surfaces at the far end of this rifle range

Old Victorian map showing Eastcliff Lodge, on the Montefiore land prior to it becoming a park.

Note the tunnel entrances are clearly marked on this plan!

An old picture of Eastcliff Lodge

Now demolished I believe. Looking at the plan above, perhaps the tunnels originally connected with this house.

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Blogger adem said...

I absolutely love your expeditions discovering the tunnels around Thanet. Brilliant!

9:27 pm  
Blogger Eastcliff Richard said...

So do I. I was walking along this part of the cliff only the other day, and, looking at the holes, it struck me there must have been a tunnel going up to the top, bits of which could now be seen following rock falls etc, so it's fascinating to see what you've found. Fantastic stuff. Bravo! (Don't fall off any cliffs, though!)

10:55 pm  
Blogger said...

Those were the days :)

Notice the seagull below the intrepid explorer? She was brave being the first one down (or was it the unlucky one to be nominated).

I will send you a couple more picture and a Victorian map showing the entrances......

Incidentally, I spoke to local historian (Bill Lapthorne I think a couple of years before he died) and he was a member of the shooting club and they unofficially blew up the entrance in the cutting only for some explorer to appear though the partly demolished tunnel to see what was going on !!!

12:08 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember when i was young, over the fence at the park over looking the cliff, there use to be a small hole in the ground that went down to one of theses tunnels, you had to crawl down and as a child it was very tight, but i do remember it well.

9:50 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doug RAF manston museum.
Rifle Range tunnel.
Top of tunnel removed to form rifle range, tunnel built during Napolinic war for Royal navy fleet commander to gain access to beach, landing stage where rowboat would take him to fleet.Tunnel came out on beach close to flint bank,tunnel entrance in back of cave with brick entrance to tunnel, as kids we could get under the wall into the tunnel.
Site in Margate might be worth looking at, the green by the Caprice night club, has according to rumour some tunnels under.Southern Water are to dig on this site Cheers keep digginn

7:21 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ref green outside caprice club,could old hades nightclub be under here?beleave it was a dene hole like nearby margate caves,maybe southern wter have filled it in?

9:18 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

remember hades underground club as being a large cavern,down steep steps,there was a metal balcony in the roof looking down on the dance floor.a tunnel connected to a smaller room that was the resturant! the entrance door is still half way down slope in lido. large vent. pipes had dragons heads,maybe still there! can,t have been built over so must be under caprice green.

12:39 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ramsgate was my home from the age of 4 yrs to about 11 years of age (Dad played football for Ramsgate), we eventually moved to Canada and later to California. When I was approximately 8 or 9 years of age, there was a chain link fence in King George park to keep people from getting too close to the cliff edge. Somewhere near the western edge of the park, the fence was down and there was an old wrought iron gate with a path going down to a tunnel entrance. Upon exploring the tunnel, I found it bricked up at the far end, with a small opening at the bottom left edge of the bricks. After climbing through the hole, I found myself on a ledge halfway up the cliff face. I assume that the tunnel originally went down to the beach, but the cliff collapse had truncated it's travel. That was about 54 years ago and I imagine that the cliff has continued to collapse in the intervening years. This may explain the present day configuration of the tunnels as described in your web postings.

John Browne
Davis, California

5:35 pm  
Anonymous John Browne said...

It's me again(John Browne). I just thought I would sign in, rather than do the quick anonymous method.

1:17 am  
Anonymous Mrs Greene said...

Hi, sorry hadn't found this bit before I commented on the other page. Yes the tunnels did connect to the old house, they were originally smugglers tunnels which various armies took over when needed. The house no longer remains, but steps can be seen in the grounds of the park, and the earth is full of ridges and dips where walls would have been. The openings at the cliff were used as lookout postings, and to haul up goods arriving by sea. A lantern would have been lit somewhere in the house to communicate to others around town that goods had arrived etc. I read all of this when I worked at the Tourist Info, and also I had contact with an old man who was a soldier based here during the war. I wish I had kept the letter he wrote it was a long time ago and I can hardly remember it all accurately. I am interested in smugglers and when I find the correct book references I will add them.

11:07 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

like one guy said i remember crawling down a small man hole in the top off the cliffs in the undergrowth, it was a tight sqeeze but it brought you out to the top of a large hole. when i took my dogs up there about 10 years ago i had a look and found the hole and it was still there and a kid many of us walked the wind tunnel from one end to the other and remember the corrigated wall half way down.

12:39 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

have also got into these from behind concrete railing in king george park 20 years ago.

7:56 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Love your site.
I think the rifle tunnel was a carriage drive for the owner to access the beach.

9:14 am  
Blogger wevsky said...

i didnt read all the posts but in reference to the second set of entrances under king george park which the people who got into them "absailed"well the particular cave with the domed roof to a well i think she mentioned was accessable from within the park its i teenager in the 80's we used to walk in the main entrance to the park just past the granville..walked about 40 meters along the fence then climbed over to what looked like an old manhole cover with concrete supports either side,as i chilsd i used to drop down the 8 foot drop to the floor level to open cliff exit and use an old section of tree stump left there to climb back up..havnt been able to find this entrance since i must admit blocked in and lost for ever i assume!!

1:08 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

East Cliff Lodge was built in 1794 and designed by a Mr Bocey from Margate for Benjamin Hopkins. In 1804 it was bought by George Elphinstone, 1st Viscount Keith, who from 1803 to 1807 was Commander-in-Chief of the North Sea fleet (and was largely concerned with the threat of French Invasion at this time) and from 1812 C-in-C of the Channel Fleet. As he was 60 in 1804 it seems reasonable to assume that he spent most of his time ashore - especially after 1808 when he married a woman some 20 years his junior. It was Lord Keith who had the tunnels and galleries constructed to the sea as well as a private jetty for himself. It was also Lord Keith who constructed the Italianate Conservatory in 1805. East Cliff Lodge was subsequently owned by Moses Montefiori and ultimately by Ramsgate Borough Council who, true to form, discharged their responisibities by demolishing it in 1954.

4:12 pm  

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