Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Wishing Towers Tunnel, Margate

This tunnel explore dates back to 1992 when we first explored this site, and that is when these pictures were taken.

The tunnel is believed to be an old smuggling tunnel, leading from (what was) the Wishing Towers Residential Care Home, on the Eastern Esplanade down to the Beach at Cliftonville.

Plan of the Wishing Towers smuggling tunnel (click to expand)

During the Spring of 1991, the Wishing Towers Hotel was being converted to a residential care home. During this conversion, squeeking floorboards were removed to reveal a deep drop below which was the remains of an old cellar. Within the cellar, an old brick wall had been knocked through to reveal a flight of steep stairs, going down into what appeared to be a smuggling tunnel hewn out of the chalk. A rope had been put in to allow easier access down the staircase, as the narrow steps had almost completely eroded away over the decades and possibly centuries

The tunnel was possibly used later as an air raid shelter during the two world wars

The well worn steps from the entrance beneath the hotel

Descending the steps!

Alongside the steps were regular holes in the chalk wall which seemed to indicate that a handrail at one time had been attached. Parts of this could be seen rusting away within the tunnel. This could indicate that at some point the tunnel had been adapted from it's early smuggling origins to a more recent air raid shelter, or perhaps to provide a convenient access from the Hotel to Cliftonville beach, in the days before Health and Safety and Fire Regulations! Near the entrance to the tunnel were my arch-enemies: Cave Spiders!!

At the bottom of the steps, the tunnel curiously continued in an exact northerly direction for about 16 metres, where it was then blocked by rubble resulting from a roof fall. It is likely that this was caused by the construction of a pool in the garden.

The blockage at the end of the North bound stretch of tunnel. A wooden beam is in front of a rusty pipe, which was dry

Most of the tunnel system was about 2 metres high, providing an easy walk, but was quite narrow in width, less than a metre wide. It had been hewn out of the chalk with a pickaxe, as the pick marks could be clearly seen. This had all the classic hall-marks of a late eighteenth century smuggling tunnel

The main shaft. The rotted remains of a wooden pick-axe can still be seen leaning against a wall in this photo

About halfway along this main tunnel were two passages branching off on the left, which joined up to form a semi-circular crescent shape. This gave the illusion of a large chamber, with a big chalk support pillar in the middle (see plan).

At the centre of this crescent shape tunnel was yet another tunnel, heading off at right angles to the main passage, in an exact westerly direction. After a few metres along this, we had the choice of either a left or right turn. We turned left, and shortly after turning right again, came to an underground room, about 2 metres square. The floor was covered in deep sand, and it is likely this room was originally used to store contraband which had been smuggled up from the beach all those years ago!

Taking measurements in the underground room

We went back to the junction, and turning to the right this time, the tunnel twisted and turned, and after about another 10 metres, came to another blockage which had been backfilled. It is not possible to know how much farther this tunnel continues beyound the blockage, but the section we had seen so far was certainly very extensive! This blocked section of tunnel was known to head in the direction of the Lido and Margate Caves, both of which are known to have numerous passages and tunnels running from them, all with smuggling connections. It could at some point have joined up with these.

The second blockage. The rubble appeared to extend back for 5 metres

Another view of the blocked tunnel, showing the cramped dimensions!

To the right of this blocked passage was a circular chamber, partly filled with rubble, likely from the blockage next to it. The chamber was about 1 metre in diameter, and had what was left of an old iron grill in front of it, which was now very corroded! It almost had the appearance of an old cell! In the roof of this chamber was a large shell, which had either been put there for decoration, or uncovered during the excavation. It looked very out of place in the roof of that strange chamber!

Remains of a large shell embedded in the roof of the circular room

The owner of the Hotel at the time told us that during his first explore of this tunnel, he had found a victorian bucket and spade as well as two old glass drinks syphons in this chamber.

On the beach, which lies 100 metres from the Hotel, an old brick wall can be seen in the cliff face

On looking through a small hole at the bottom, a chalk passage can be seen behind it, which turns at right angles after a few metres. It was the same dimensions as the tunnel system we had just explored. This could run south and join to the blocked passage which we had explored beneath the Hotel, running North. This, coupled with the old bucket and spade which had been found in the tunnel strengthens the idea that at one time the Hotel tunnel joined to the beach.

This picture was taken through the hole in the bottom of the brick wall on the beach, showing the passage behind it

The tunnel exit from the beach. The High Water mark can be seen on the cliff, showing that this entrance would have been easily accessible from a boat at high tide. A lot of the brick wall is exposed, showing how much the cliff face has eroded around it, over the years

This was certainly one of the most extensive smuggling tunnels we have visited, and are grateful to the Hotel owner for allowing us to explore it!


Thanks to Paul for arranging the visit and Angie for the photos, survey and input

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Anonymous Suzannah said...

You have brought some excellent memories back of going in this tunnel as a kid, before it was blocked up.

4:48 pm  
Blogger alanfromnorfolk said...

Great account. I wonder how many people passed through these tunnels in the past.

8:28 am  

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