October 5 – A Visit to the Second World War Ramsgate Tunnels

Another Visit to Pugin's Church of St. Augustine, Ramsgate

Hello from 1066 – A Medieval Mosaic

I have been looking through things to do in Ramsgate and found the Tunnel Tour so that is what we will do first today. We drove down to the waterfront and initially found a car park that only had camper vans in it. We were going to park there but it was £4 an hour which is very steep. There we kids and dogs all over the place and people set up for a long stay. We later found out that they were “travellers”. We drove along further to another car park closer to the tunnel entrance. I went into the tunnel office to see if we could join the 12 pm tour which was due to start in 15 minutes time. That was fine so I enquired if there was somewhere cheaper to park. He replied that when we paid the entry fee of £5 each we could get two hours parking for £1 which sounded much more reasonable.

The tour started with a short film about the tunnels and the wartime. The Tunnel Railway was a 2 ft (610 mm) narrow-gauge underground railway. In 1926 the railway lines were restructured and the line between Broadstairs and Ramsgate Harbour was abandoned. In 1936 the railway line reopened to connect tourist attractions and shops near Ramsgate harbour with the new railway main line at Dumpton Park.

After WW2 loomed it seemed very likely that Ramsgate might become a target due to its large port and its proximity to RAF Manston. The town’s borough engineer and surveyor T.D. Brimmell devised a network of tunnels beneath the town to serve as a vast deep level air-raid shelter including the railway line and tunnel. A 5.2 km semi-circular network of tunnels was dug and opened in June 1939, just three months before the outbreak of war. The deepest part of the tunnels was 90 ft deep. Ramsgate was built on beds of upper chalk so tunnelling proved an easy and cheap task requiring no propping. The network was capable of sheltering 60,000 people thought the civilian population of the town was just over half of that. During the war, some 300 people lived permanently in the tunnels although that had not been the intention as food and smoking were not allowed. Also, no pets or prams were allowed. There were toilets placed in recesses fitted with curtains at 75-foot intervals through the entire network and every day they were emptied. The council also provided 200 hurricane lights and a system of loudspeakers to relay wireless programmes and announcements. There were ten ventilation shafts throughout the system with manhole covers which are still visible. There were 11 entrances, 10 for the general public and one for the hospital.

After the war, the railway line reopened for the 1946 summer season, as a tourist attraction bringing people to Ramsgate and the beach. However, after two accidents due to the steepness of the tunnel, the train line was closed in 1965 after the summer season. In 2014 the lower section of the tunnel was reopened to the public after three years of renovation and each year volunteers take the tours and more plans for exhibitions are made and carried out. The examples of Morrison shelters and other wartime memorabilia in the museum were very interesting.

We have been to St Augustine’s church before but we only saw the shrine and chapel as the church itself was undergoing renovation. I had been following their progress on Facebook so I knew that the church has reopened and we keen to return. The same gentleman was there and he took us through to the church to tell us a few things. He remembered us too. The church is wonderful with amazing tilework and stone carving. The font is fantastic with wonderful scenes carved around it including the story of Adama and Eve. The various altars and reredos, processional banners, monumental brasses and stone statues are breathtaking. The whole church was designed and built by Pugin who lived in the house next door and the place is a testament to him. The stained glass windows are especially beautiful with their vibrant colours especially the reds.

St. Laurence is the oldest church in Ramsgate being established in 1062. The building is from different medieval periods with a large central tower space. The early parts of this Church were built of Caen stone, as was Canterbury Cathedral. Later additions are in Flint, the local stone. The original church consisted of the present nave and a tower. The side aisles and the chancel were later additions in the 12th and 13th Centuries. The tower was later severely damaged in a storm in 1439 when it was struck by lightening. It was extensively repaired and heightened at the same time. It was a rather a strange thing to do as it had already been hit by lightning! We looked for the geocache here as we understood the hint but we could not find it. This road is super busy but we were still able to have a good look. Finding a car park was the most difficult part and when we got to the church there was a funeral just finishing complete with a horse and cart hearse. We waited for ages as we had to walk through the mourners to get back to the car. Eventually, we had to do just that as they were not moving away. We also looked for a geocache at St Mark’s but it was in a very exposed spot being right beside some traffic lights. We had a good look around and found a good spot but no cache.

On the way back to Deal we went to through Sandwich as I particularly wanted to find Paradise Row where my great-grandmother on my mother’s fathers side was born there in 1878. I do not know which number the house was, so we took photographs from both ends.

We found a geocache at the Horse Pond Sluice gate which was used to control the water flow around Sandwich town. The sluice is an open conduit and this was recognised as a problem as early as 1300, as for more than 800 years the townspeople not only drank the water but bathed in it, used it for industries such as tanning, even allowing their animals to wallow in it. It was only in the 19th-century that authorities recognised that the waters of the Delf must have contributed to the many epidemics which had swept through the town in previous generations. In 1894 that the first waterworks was built in Sandwich. This find filled in a spot on our “finds for each day of the year” table. We have been trying to fill in this one for years. Only ten more to go.

We tried to complete the multi-cache at St Peter’s in Sandwich on 20/5/17 so we went back for another try. We collected the numbers again and as we walked towards the final. As we approached I could visualise the place and the hint. I knew it was there as I had read the log saying the CO had placed a new log. This time I found the cache which we quickly signed on a clean log and replaced.

Another lovely day and some interesting places to visit.