Thursday, October 04, 2007

Ramsgate Library Tunnels

Ramsgate library was a grand building constructed in 1904 by the architect Stanley Adshead. Sadly it was all but destroyed by an arson attack in 2004, a few months short of it's 100th anniversary.



Ever since I was a child, I had heard rumours of some tunnels beneath (what was) Ramsgate Public Library, which linked up to the Fire Station in nearby Effingham St, and other civic buildings in the area. Some of the rumours included an underground control room, complete with generators, dials, levers and other machinery beneath the fire station, which would be used as a central command and control post if key parts of the town were destroyed during heavy bombing.

About 20 years ago (back in my youth!), I spoke to a librarian at the library, who confirmed they had a locked door in the cellar of the library which led to some tunnels, but that no one had been down there in a long time, nor were they allowed to.

Many years later, just a few weeks ago in fact, someone in the fire brigade mentioned to me they'd found what looked like a blocked tunnel entrance in the yard behind the fire station, which immediately I knew to be one of the entrances into this rumoured system, but it was backfilled, and they were trying to dig it out.

Confirming the existence of this tunnel system was proving very difficult and elusive. I already knew from previous explorations of most of the Air Raid Tunnel network under Ramsgate that they did not form part of this WW2 tunnel system, and that their construction was probably much earlier, perhaps during the first world war as a means of connecting local goverment and civic buildings in the event of heavy bombing or shelling, and to provide an underground command and control centre, should it be needed.

Like so many of the other chalk tunnels in the area, they may have even been adapted from existing smuggling tunnels under the town, for a more modern use as air raid shelters.

A few days ago, 'top local researcher' Chris (aka widgetwhite) contacted me out of the blue with some links to the first real evidence these tunnels exist - a mention in a recent architectural report on the design of the new Ramsgate Library, and also a recent survey carried out by the
Meon Partnership, commissioned prior to the construction of a new library on the same site.

The architectural report made a passing reference to the tunnels in the appendix, confirming their existence. It said:

2.07: There is one unusual historical alteration that does not effect the appearance of the building. At the beginning of World War II a network of tunnels were dug through the chalk in this part of Ramsgate to connect the library and a control centre in the town to an entrance lobby in a shed which still exists at the back of the fire station yard.

2.8: From the basement of the library, a steep flight of stairs goes down to the branches of this network, one of which leads, as far as can be ascertained to a shed in the firemen's yard, and another to a building nearby, presently used as a warehouse for second hand furniture.

2.9: As far as can be ascertained, these tunnels have not had any deleterious affect on the condition of the building, but the branch leading towards the fire station may have relevance to the new foundations and this is currently being investigated.

I then contacted the survey company, who kindly provided me with some further information on their recent visit, as follows...

Tunnel Plan showing the two branches leading from the library

Copyright: Meon Survey Partnership

The tunnels are accessed through a large inspection cover in the basement of the library. From the cover there is a flight of steep stairs down.

Old entrance in the basement of the library

Looking up the staircase towards the entrance

At the bottom of the stairs there are two tunnels.

One tunnel goes under the furniture warehouse on Effingham Street and it is possible to get right up to the underside of the floorboards (it is thought this was the site of the original command centre during WW2).

One of the exits surfacing beneath the furniture store in Effingham St.

The other tunnel is much longer, but in a much poorer condition, having partially collapsed in a few areas. It doglegs around a corner and there is the remains of an old doorway and then a few yards on the tunnel is completely blocked by a rockfall.

Remains of an old doorway

The tunnels are in a dangerous condition, as part of them are in a severely deteriorated state and there is also elevated levels of CO2 due to groundwater permeating through the chalk.

As far as we understand, this tunnel from the library is supposed to run to an outbuilding in the yard of the fire station, although when we talked to the fire brigade (and they even came down the tunnels for a look) they said they tried knocking down a wall to find the exit, but to no avail.

As to other tunnels in the area, we spoke whilst on site to a gentleman living in a house on the corner of Guildford Lawn, opposite the mail library entrance who also apparently has a tunnel leading from his basement.

Access to these tunnels is no longer possible, as sadly they have been completely filled with concrete in preparation for sinking the new foundations for the library.

More pictures from within the tunnels:

Steps leading up to the Effingham Street exit beneath the furniture store

Thanks to Chris White and Andy Jaworski

PLEASE NOTE: Access to these tunnels is no longer possible - they have been completely back filled with 10 tons of concrete in preparation for sinking the new foundation piles for the library!

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Anonymous chris said...

This is for andrew and keith at meon partnership,

Thanks guys for forwarding me and vince the details via email *and* CD .

It truely was appreciated.


11:52 pm  
Blogger wyla said...

It appears that there are 4 entrances to this network in the grounds of clarendon house school, they are sealed with concrete lintels much like the ones in st. lukes rec.

9:24 pm  
Blogger Eastcliff Richard said...

Another great piece of research. Fascinating stuff. Shame they've had to concrete them in.

You mention they might have been smugglers' tunnels originally. A reminder that people had to do whatever to make ends meet in this part of the world. They still do. Most Thanetians I've met seem to have a number of little earners on the go!

2:15 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doug RAF Manston Museum.
Ramsgate Library tunnels.
The furniture store building was part of aux fire service,rumour has it the tunnels went round to Clarendon house school, the school was used as the council offices during ww2

7:34 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I used to work for the Thanet Furniture Recycling Project, and whilst there one day, I noticed that something strange under my feet, but due to there being loads of furniture couldnt lift up the boards, when I asked, the manager mentioned the old tunnel system under the building and the entrance from the building into it, he said that is used to be possible to access it

12:28 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

there are indeed tunnels under the school in ramsagate and untill around a month ago they were accessable, if you would like to contact me at i have some pictures you can add to the site...

unfortunatly the entrances are now all sealed and concreated shut and access is no longer possible after a group of school kids got down there one lunch time.

2:40 pm  
Blogger Clairy said...

oh my god -- how many orbs?!

10:10 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

did you know that there are tunnels all over Ramsgate and that there are entrances under Hereson road that go out under the reck behind it.I used to live in one of these and in the place under the road were doors that lead off.My nan also told me about all of these that have been there since the Nepolionic wars.
Thses were often used by the towmsfolk as a highway and a storage system.
So dig a little deeper and get some more information,as there is plenty to investigate.
In the reck to the entrance by the busy road there was a concreted over entrance that had steps down to the tunnels as well in the 1950's.

2:14 pm  
Anonymous Tally said...

I used to live in a flat above the furniture store over the tunnel system in Effingham Street. It was a hairdresser's then (1984) and before that it had been a freezer centre. My boyfriend and I went exploring down there one night but we only got as far as the burger bar across the other side of the street. The tunnel was very well built, brick-vaulted and about 5' wide. The two businesses were owned by a horrible gangster (yes, the ruthless landlord!) who, rumour has it, tried to escape death at the hands of even more horrible London gangsters by moving his operations to the seaside. Personally I wouldn't think twice about attributing most of Ramsgate's major arson attacks of the past 20 years to him and his cohorts! I wrote a novel which incorporated the tunnel system and, funny enough, revenge on gangsters I'd fallen foul of during that timeframe, but I never did get it published. I'm thinking about it now and doing the research to write about the tunnels from an informed rather than hearsay viewpoint, so your information has been a very valuable resource to me. Thanks a million for going further than I could muster the courage to :-).

4:37 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just around the corner no lie in old police station right at bottom i think it was in the safe a tunnal going in the way of the old court house witch was being used by a school i think now nothing but big hole the tunnal any way did go for a bit but havein no touches and it was so dark didnt make it that far and never returned could that be of same network or?? iv never seen anything on it but it was there

3:30 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can clearly recall back in the 1950s that these very tunnels were used by the local criminal underground for transporting a variety of contraband, such as stolen horse shoes, football shirts and what at the time would have been very advanced television sets.
I wonder if some of the loot is still down there?

11:06 am  
Blogger Phil said...

Most of the tunnels around Effingham Street and under Ramsgate were built during the war period by miners from the local coal mines.

As well as the visible entrance to the air raid shelter system at Boundary Road Recreation ground, there's another one visible in the car park for Chatham House School at the junction of Boundary Road and Chatham Place.

There are also some tunnels under Chatham House School playing fields which I've been down during Fire Brigade training.

There is also a tunnel in the rear garden of a house in Honeysuckle Road, Ramsgate. It's one of the houses in a terrace behind nos. 4 & 6, the old flint cottages.

There's another short tunnel which runs from the empty site in front of the flint cottages through to the chalk pit site off Hereson Road when Fordit spares are located.

I also recall there being a tunnel (air raid shelter) at Southwood Football Ground in Prices Avenue. From memory it was to the left just after you enter the ground.

And think there was also one in Nethercourt Park close to Nethercourt Hill, and another on the site of St Laurence Junior School in Newington Road.

Great site, thanks.

1:49 pm  
Blogger BRIAN said...

At the beginning of the war i lived in Church road, i was 6 at the time and i can remember going down into the tunnel system with my parents when the air raid siren sounded and we had to go down via the nearest entrance and that was in the playground of the original St Georges school and then we would walk through the tunnel system and could get right through to the railway tunnel.
Ican also remember travelling on the underground trains which i enjoyed very much as a young lad, the trains started running in 1936 when i was 3 years of age, i can also remember that at that time there used to be sets of models and railway layouts at the end of the tunnel about 2 hundred yards or so in from the seafront station.

10:24 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is so intresting what amazing job you have! x

7:32 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We used to live in Thanet Road Ramsgate. In our cellar was a bricked up wall in the shape of an archway, I removed some bricks to find out what lay behind it, it turned out to be a very long tunnel so I removed all the bricks at the entrance it was very well made about 5 feet high 4 feet wide, my wife and I walked along it for over an hour and never did find out where it went to before we had to turn back because the batteries in the torch were running out. We had it briced up before we sold the house.

9:16 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, I remember travelling on the Ramsgate underground between Dumpton and Ramsgate Marina area. Interesting experience, as the wagons had no doors. Does anyone else remember that? It closed after an accident. The train was overcrowded after a fireworks display at the dog track one November 5th (1960?)

11:37 am  
Blogger Zec Richardson said...

I remember during training as a firefighter at RAF Manston, we were taken to a car park, a manhole cover was lifted and we did some breathing apparatus training using guide lines.
The ladder led down to a large concrete set of steps and then down into the chalk tunnels, that went on for ages and small rooms had been carved off the side of the tunnel, apparently used as shelter during air raids.

It was a fascinating place and I would love to go back.

7:55 pm  
Blogger Wesley Olsen said...

Zec do you remember what car park it was

1:53 pm  
Blogger Vince R said...

From Christine Palmer:
Nice 2 c people scratching the much 2 know about thanet.anyone want 2 comment on westover gardens secret underground tram shed being commandeered and used as manstons main depot and the sounds of wagons being shunted there at night according to the residents.or the 350 or so of small trams draughted in from all over the country to aid the war effort in thanet, leaving us with a glorious scenic railway which wove in and out the cliffs from peg well station to margate Sands and on to Westgate underground and beyond, decorated throughout by the locals? The locals being the residents of hms fervent where the decor, engineers,and description match, yet when u google scenic railway in thanet,all u get is the short passage from here son Rd to the seafront and two sorry looking trams,1 yellow,1 red.nice 2 c people talking about margate to ramsgate underground line again, I walked it as a boy and came out under the storage containers currently in dreamland car point is, there is so much to explore under carefully though, some still have caretakers

8:39 pm  

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