Monday, 22 February 2010

Pictures of inside the Ramsgate Tunnels.

A great many people have an interest in underground tunnels and here in Ramsgate we have more of them than most places, you could say it is our greatest wasted tourist attraction.

In Kent we have a long history chalk of tunnelling. The earliest written record of the chalk caves in this area, that I can find, is in Leland’s Itinerary, he visited East Kent in the early 1500s. ‘There is a Cave wher Men have sowt and digged for Treasure. I saw yt by Candel withyn and there were Conys. Yt was so straite that I had no mynd to crepe far yn.’

The photographs taken recently are of the inside of the mainline railway and public air raid tunnel system, this is the largest tunnel system in Ramsgate and extends under much of the town.

Click on the link to look at them

This tunnel system was started in 1863 when the London Chatham and Dover Railway Company extended its line from Margate via Dumpton through a tunnel to a station on Ramsgate seafront.

This tunnel was closed in 1926 when the station was abandoned, the new station that we have now was built and the line was joined to the Southeastern Railway line that comes to Ramsgate via Canterbury.

The tunnel was next used in 1936 when a spur was built to Hearson Road near to Dumpton Park Station and a narrow gauge railway opened between there and the main sands.

Before the outbreak of WW2 the town’s borough engineer and Dick Brimmell and the town’s mayor A B C Kempe conceived a plan to extend this tunnel system into a system of public air raid tunnels extending throughout the town.
Interestingly enough the delegation comprising of The Town Clerk, The Chief Constable, The Mayor and Alderman Huddlestone had considerable difficulty persuading the bureaucrats at he Home Office to approve the scheme.

Margate wanted a similar scheme that was turned down.

The first section from Queen Street to the harbour was opened by HRH The Duke of Kent, they even managed to lay on a small Diesel train with truck with plush seats for the occasion.

Winston Churchill visited the tunnels during the war, when the mayor told him that he wasn’t allowed to smoke in the tunnels he threw his cigar away and in the resultant commotion for a souvenir some people managed to get a piece of it.

By the outbreak of war the tunnel system was nearly complete, Ramsgate was heavily bombed during the war and after one series of raids that began before the air raid sirens sounded some people became reluctant to leave the tunnel system at all, so a rule was imposed that people couldn’t take up permanent residence in the tunnels.

To give you some idea of the scale of the thing the whole system including the railway tunnels was about 5 miles in length, there was seating for 35,000 people although it could accommodate many more than that.

After the war many of the entrances remained open for years and the people of the town used the system as a convenient way of getting around on wet days.
The narrow gauge railway from Hereson Road to the main sands reopened in 1946.

One unusual aspect of this railway was that the walls of the tunnel had scenes from different parts of the world on them, these were illuminated by lights on the trains, I have never managed to find any pictures of these scenes and would appreciate any if someone has them.
In 1957 there were two major cliff collapses near to the tunnel entrance at the main sands, click on the links for information and pictures.
Sources for my ramblings are:

and “The Ramsgate underground” 1936 to 1965 by Terry Wheeler price £2.25 from my bookshop available by post from our ebay shop for £3 inc p&p

I will ramble on about this if any of you want, when I get more time.


  1. i understand TDC don't maintain the vents anymore and the tunnels are deteriorating, good old tdc strikes again.

  2. Thank you for posting such fascinating photos.

  3. I dont know if you have ever visited this Underground Kent - Ramsgate Tunnels

  4. or:

  5. One important thing to know about the narrow guage railway was never to eat candyfloss whilst facing the direction of travel. The carriages were open and by the time we reached Hereson Road I was covered!

  6. The idea for the tunnels was to utilise them for deep level sewers once hostilities were over, and this what they have done from Ellington Park to the Westcliff.

    I don't think any council tax payer would want to pay to maintain them!! They were only a temporary measure and are slowly collapsing especially at the end of King Street. The less said about an area on the West of the town the better !!


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