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."
How could we get in there and explore them?
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.
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!
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:
"PLAN FOR RIFLE RANGE IN DISUSED TUNNEL:
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.