the ramsgate tunnels
The Ramsgate tunnels extend over 5 km under the maritime port town, and comprise 3 main sections:
The Victorian railway tunnel was built under the Ramsgate cliffs in 1863. This housed a railway connecting the town to the London-Margate line. In its heyday, the railway brought thousands of visitors to the beachside station each day.
The shorter scenic tunnel was constructed in 1936. This was a tourist attraction, featuring carriages with spotlights that illuminated scenes from the British Empire.
The air raid precaution tunnels were constructed in 1938-1939. As rearmament got underway and war became more likely, these shelter tunnels were designed to protect the town’s population in an air raid. Modeled on similar structures used in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War, the tunnel network was 5 km long and built in just 9 months.
The wartime tunnel network connected to the old railway tunnel and to air raid entrances around the town, and was capable of housing 60,000 people. During the war, around 1,000 people lived with a permanent address in the tunnels, housed in makeshift dwellings.
After the war, the shelter tunnels were closed and the railway reopened, though ongoing safety problems led to its final closure in 1965. The entire complex remained closed for 50 years, though it was unofficially visited by numerous explorers and young party-goers during this time.
Following a Heritage Lottery investment, a 2 km stretch of the tunnels was made safe and reopened to the public in 2015.
The tunnels are a rich source of local folklore. Stories from the wartime era, related by tour guides to visitors, include those about:
the ‘tunnel rats’, children who were born and lived in the tunnels
Winston Churchill being asked to stub out his cigar when entering the tunnels, due to fire safety regulations
a man who enjoyed living in the tunnels so much that he died when eventually ordered out by the authorities
Ramsgate Tunnels Heritage Project
Visit Thanet - Ramsgate Tunnels
Click here for more information on visiting the tunnels.
Michaels Bookshop Ramsgate
Click here to visit the website of this local bookshop, which stocks history books about the local area, including publications about the tunnels.