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!