The Eastry ‘Caves’ lie under a property in Gore Lane, Eastry and were probably started around 1811 when Abraham Foord, a bricklayer, started to extract chalk to burn into lime.
In 1833 a plan was made of the tunnels by Abraham’s son Henry which shows that a total of 680 feet of galleries had been excavated on three levels. The early passages did not follow normal mining practice and the tunnels were dug in a somewhat random pattern around a vertical shaft. There is some thought that several of these passages predated those begun by the Foords although it is unlikely.
Later extraction became more efficient although they had a whim for digging rounded beehive chambers and odd shaped galleries. The excavated chalk was hauled up the vertical shaft but the workers had an easier way in via a set of steps near the rear of the Foords’ house. A cottage for some of the workers was constructed in front of the house, facing Woodnesborough Road near the lime kiln. Later a sloping entrance was constructed next to the cottage for workers access. In busy times it is probable that extra labour was sought from the local workhouse.
The Foord family continued to mine the chalk but in 1907 there was concern from villagers that the tunnels were undermining their houses and property. In fact the mine did not threaten the village at all, but Frederick Foord (grandson of Abraham) ceased working the mine in that direction in order to appease the fears of his neighbours.
In some of the beehive-shaped rooms, coffin boards were nailed to the walls and, on fair days, were occupied by fortune tellers and the like. All that now remains of this lining is the pattern of rusting iron nails in the walls. In World War II, the caves were used by the local Home Guard unit, and the long gallery was used for target practice using .22 rifles. Spent bullets can sometimes still be found embedded in the end wall.
The caves were opened to the general public in the 1960s by the enterprising James Gardner of Chislehurst Caves who, after negations with the owner, reopened the sloping entrance from Woodnesborough Road and started guided tours through the lower two sets of passages. A little guide book to the caves from this time gives the opening times as ‘every afternoon from 3pm to 7pm including Sunday during the summer season’. Visitors were escorted by a ‘competent guide’ and the charges were 1/6 for adults and 6d for children.
Perhaps because Eastry was a little off the main tourist routes the caves were not terribly successful as a business venture and after a couple of years they were closed. Gardner’s entrance was filled in and the caves reverted back to private ownership, in which they still remain.