We have some time off this week and were keeping it local today with a visit to Ramsgate Tunnels. It's only taken about 8 years since they first opened to get around to going!
The tunnels originated when a main line railway station was built right on Ramsgate seafront to provide direct access to the beach and harbour area as the nearest station was over a mile inland. A tunnel was cut to connect the station to the mainline. It served until 1926 when Southern Railway re-routed the mainline and ended the service. Subsequently a narrow gauge 'scenic' railway used the tunnel to give holiday makers easier access to the beach and this survived until 1965 and the tunnels were then closed up. The tunnels heyday, however, was perhaps 25 years before:
In WWI Ramsgate had the dubious honour of being one of the heaviest bombed towns in England being the subject of several Zeppelin raids. Even today a couple of small car parks in the middle of a Victorian terrace provide evidence of buildings destroyed in a Zeppelin raid that were never rebuilt. So, when WWII loomed the local Mayor pushed for a series of tunnels to be built under Ramsgate to provide air raid shelter for 30,000 locals. Permission was eventually given by the Home Office in spring 1939 and 3.25 miles of tunnels were completed 2 days before the outbreak of the war. The tunnels connected to the old railway tunnel and provided air raid safety to all.
The heaviest raid was on 25th August 1940 when over 500 bombs were dropped in 5 minutes and although 31 people died this compared with 28 deaths from just 28 Zeppelin bombs in WWI. Only 84 people in Ramsgate died during raids during the whole of the war as a result of the tunnels.
Today the tunnels have been reopened to give an indictaion of life underground during WWII although presently there are some restrictions in access to smaller tunnels due to Covid-19. There is a museum area and a short film and guided tour fully explain how things were 80 years ago.