The Kent underground tunnels hidden beneath our feet and their fascinating stories

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Part One

Their rich history is largely unexplored by both Kent residents and visitors alike. Kent is full of remarkable landmarks that have become tourist hot spots over the decades.

From Canterbury Cathedral to Leeds Castle, millions of tourists visit our county every year.

But lying right beneath our feet is decades of history largely unexplored by both Kent residents and visitors alike.

There is, in fact, a network of underground tunnels across the county where dozens of people flocked to when the threat of foreign invasion was imminent.

There are many tales of secret tunnels across Kent which are often associated with hauntings and bloody crimes – and some of us didn’t even know they existed.

Some are said to be occupied by ghosts of past dwellers, others hid victims of political uprisings and a few provided secret passage for the thousands of smugglers who operated along the Kent coast.

The dark world which once existed is largely open to the public today, for people to explore and try and envisage exactly what life would have been like all those years ago.

In this series, we take a tour of the county’s darkest world and the lives that once existed here.

Part One – Ramsgate’s network of tunnels

Ramsgate and the surrounding area was badly bombed during the first and second World Wars

Deep in the inky blackness of subterranean Ramsgate, there lies a network of tunnels which once housed up to 1,000 people during some of the most troubled years of the town’s history.

Saturday, August 24, 1940, is a date forever etched in the town’s existence.

That was the date Hitler’s war machine dropped around 500 bombs on the port town in the space of five minutes.

But these tunnels were already a well-established feature of the town long before the bombs fell.

In October 1863 they were opened as part of the main railway line tunnel. This would eventually become the London, Chatham and Dover Railway.

Tragically, around 1,200 houses were destroyed or damaged in the raid of 1940. A total of 31 civilians were killed.

In response to the devastating raid around 300 families decided to take shelter in tunnels buried deep underneath the earth – far away from the danger of falling bombs.

The idea to convert part of the complex into an air raid shelter was conceived in 1938 when the outbreak of war seemed only a matter of time.

Thanks to the quick work of labourers, the air raid shelter was constructed in just nine months.

Within weeks a mini-town had been set up within these stone tunnels within which greengrocers and barbershops could be found. Concerts were even staged to keep up morale.

In 2011 Dumpton resident Muriel Lilley told the Isle of Thanet Gazette that her late husband, who was a commando, visited the tunnels when he was on leave during the war.

She said: “It was like one big family down there, everyone knew each other. You’d bump into neighbours or people that used to go to the same shops as you.

“After so many people were made homeless by the bombs they just moved into the tunnels permanently. There were barbers down there, greengrocers, everything.

“Some people would play music, and there were concert parties to keep morale up.”

There is no doubt that these tunnels saved hundreds of innocent lives during the war years.

Next: Chislehurst Caves