Site Records

SiteName: Ramsgate Public Air Raid Shelter & Scenic Railway

Marina Esplanade (Southern portal of railway tunnel)
OS Grid Ref: TR387650

Sub Brit site visit August 1984 and January 1997

[Source: Nick Catford]

Street entrance Number 4

It was said that nowhere in the town was more than 5 minutes walk from one of the entrances. Each entrance was fitted with a steel gas tight door and these were closed in rotation to help ventilate the tunnels. In fact with two open ends to the railway tunnel and ten ventilations shafts the flow of air was too great at times and had to be controlled with regulators.

As well as an entrance at both ends of the railway tunnel and at Hereson Road Station, three further entrances were constructed from the east wall of the standard gauge tunnel, one serving the Synagogue and Dumpton Park Drive and a double entrance serving The Esplanade (now Marina Esplanade) at sea level and Victoria Parade 40 feet above the Esplanade (accessed by steps).

These entrances were served by a network of narrow tunnels one of which broke through into

the bottom of an old chalk mine or chalk well.

The shelter was quick to prove its worth as Ramsgate saw regular air raids. During one such raid, Ramsgate received a famous visitor, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who was visiting the town at the time.

On hearing the sirens he was ushered to the Queen Street entrance but as he was about to enter, the Mayor noticed he had just lit one of his legendary cigars. The Mayor tactfully pointed out that smoking was not allowed underground and Mr. Churchill is reported to have said, "There goes a good 'un", as he threw it to the ground.

After the war most of the entrances were sealed but in 1946 the Scenic Railway restarted its seasonal service running daily from Whitsun Bank Holiday until the end of September.

The Shelter in use

Photo:Looking up into the chalk well from the tunnel below (1999)
Photo by Nick Catford

Tunnel during WW2

A landslip at the southern terminus kept the line closed in 1957. The tunnel portal was rebuilt and at the same time the original 3 wooden platforms were removed from both stations and replaced by 2 concrete platforms, reducing the line to single track throughout. The only major incident during its 29 year history occurred on 1st July 1965 when a southbound train crashed into the buffers at Beach Station.

Five passengers were slightly injured and the driver was taken to hospital. This marked the end of the railway; the new owners closed the service at the end of the 1965 season.

The sunken Hereson Road station was in-filled along with the tunnel portal and a garage now occupies the site. A section of one of the concrete platforms at Beach Station still exists just inside the tunnel portal.

The gate was eventually welded shut in the 1980's. In 1996 the entrance was rebuilt and a new lockable door installed. The local authority strictly controls access at this point. The north portal of the standard gauge tunnel remained open and accessible until the late 1980's when it was fitted with a grille. This didn't deter vandals who were able to cut an opening to gain entry, so in 2000 metal plates were welded across the grille preventing further access.

Most of the entrances to the shelter tunnels have been back-filled and there is little evidence today

Section of tunnel near Queens Street entrance

Hereson Road station under construction

to show where they were. Cannon Road car park has been retained by the council as an access point into the system. The original entrance stairway has been slabbed over and tarmaced and access is now through a locked manhole with a short ladder.

Several other entrances have left some evidence above ground; the two in Ellington Park can be identified by a discolouring in the grass, Townley Castle is visible as a raised area of concrete slabs in the car park, St. Luke's Recreation Ground is clearly visible with

concrete slabs covering the top of the stairs, and at Arklow Square a change in the brick work in the wall around the square is the site of the entrance.

Photo:The concrete platform of Beach Station still extant in 1984
Photo by Nick Catford

The West Cliff Harbour entrance has been sealed with concrete blocks and the Esplanade entrance can be seen as a bricked up archway between two houses.

Photo:The railway tunnel in 1940 when it was in use as an air raid shelter. Lighting has been installed in the roof of the tunnel.

Below ground, the network of tunnels are largely intact though only now accessible with permission. The standard gauge railway tunnel is in good condition as is the narrow gauge spur tunnel which ends at a brick wall. Beyond this is the infill from the Hereson Road station site. Just south of the junction, worn narrow steps climb up to the former Dumpton Park Drive entrance which has been slabbed across at the top of the steps.

Photo:Junction with Cannon Road car park branch (1997)
Photo by Nick Catford

For further information and pictures of the Ramsgate tunnels click here

[Source: Nick Catford]

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