The air raid shelter was rediscovered in 2010 following the demolition of Ellington Girl’s School, and the Kent Underground Research Group were invited to carry out a survey
It comprises two parallel tunnels, a longer tunnel running full width of the school grounds, and a shorter one 6m away (47m and 24m long respectively). These are linked by cross passages at the ends of the shorter tunnel.
Access to the shelter was via three staircases descending 12m below the surface, the three shelter entrances corresponding with doorways accessing the three sections of the original school (the school population was 350 boys, 350 girls and 150 infants), suggesting that they would have entered and possibly sat in different sections of the shelter.
In addition to the three stairways, there were two vertical shafts which are believed to have been used during the shelter’s construction. Excavation would have started with these two vertical construction shafts and the shelter then would have been created by digging laterally, removing the spoil by the shafts. This was the usual method of construction for Thanet’s First World War shelters, which in many cases had been dug by miners from the East Kent coalfields.
The tunnels are typically of unlined chalk, and are around 1.3m wide by on average 2.0m high, although the shelter roof follows natural seam planes in the chalk and can be higher. The Canterbury Archaeological Trust has determined from tool marks that round bladed shovels or trenching tools were used, while picks were restricted to specific tunnel sections.
The stairs are formed with wooden risers fixed in place with iron pins and tamped treads of clay and chalk. Timber benches appears to have been present, as timber support brackets survive, although the benches themselves have been salvaged post-war. Corrugated iron toilet screens are also present with stencilled “Boys” and “Girls”, and there are also fittings that would have supported lighting cables, although the latter are now missing.
These appear to have a First World War origin. The possibility of aerial attack was under consideration by Ramsgate Borough Council right from the start of the First World War, and within five weeks of the declaration of war, a subcommittee had already assessed and reported on potential shelter sites, such as existing basements, within the town centre. Residents could also take sand from the seashore to help protect a “dug-out” free of charge if they applied for a licence from the Chief Constable. Little appears to have taken place though until 1917 when heavy attacks by Zeppelins and Gotha bombers on the Ramsgate area would have made the advantages of digging in very clear, and by the end of the war the town had 25 public shelters, of which nine were purpose built. Ellington’s is believed to have been built in this later period of the war.
In 1919, after the war, the Borough Engineer was instructed to fill in school “ dug-outs” although in practice this was likely to have been effected by capping them, something that would have been relatively easy to undo two decades later.
Reuse of the town’s First World War school shelters was not originally planned because Ramsgate’s pupils were due to be evacuated to Staffordshire. This indeed happened, however many of the children subsequently returned, usually to find their schools had been taken over for other war-related purposes. Ellington School for example became a Ministry of Food “British Restaurant” in 1941, providing cheap meals for those who had been bombed out or who were in need of welfare. This use continued even after schooling formally recommenced in Ramsgate in January 1942, and pupils did not return to the Ellington School site until late 1943. Once there though the shelter was again used and the surviving fittings and graffiti all date from this period.
The shelters have now been comprehensively resealed