Ramsgate Tunnels Tour

Hidden within the white chalk cliffs towering over Ramsgate Sands is a network of tunnels extending approximately 3 and 1/4 miles under the town. There are 11 entrances at strategic points around the town providing easy access to safety within a 5 minute walk of most areas. If the siren was to go off, you and your family could be safe within a five minute’s walk.

Ramsgate Tunnels town entrance

Martin, our guide for the 1 and 1/2 hour tour is born and bred in Ramsgate and his grandparents used the tunnels during the war. He has many fascinating anecdotes to share.

Ramsgate Tunnels Tour

Ramsgate Tunnels entrance

I would advise you book your tickets online as the tours fill quickly and arriving at the door, hoping to squeeze on a tour may leave you disappointed.

The Ramsgate Tunnels Tour starts in the large entrance tunnel with a short film which takes you back to the days of World War II. Martin then introduces himself and runs you through the history, starting at the beginning when the tunnel was made to join Ramsgate Sands to the existing train line that then ended at Broadstairs. It proved to be a great success and Ramsgate enjoyed a booming tourist industry.

Ramsgate Tunnels vintage sign

As the Second World War approached, the tunnels had fallen into disuse and it was the brains of Mr Brimmell and Mr ABC Kemp, the mayor of Ramsgate, that came up with the ambitious plan to extend the tunnels into a network of deep shelter areas that would provide refuge for 60,000 people.

The Duke of Kent opened the completed tunnels in 1939 and on August 28th 1940 they proved their worth when Ramsgate received more than 500 bombs from a squadron of German pilots who dumped their load rather than carry it home. No lives were lost but the town was left badly damaged.

Ramsgate Tunnels toilets

The toilets of the time

The tunnels were equipped with chemical toilets, bunk beds, seating, lighting and a public addressing system. As homes were damaged above ground, life carried on underneath. Some people even took up residence down there.

Construction of the Ramsgate Tunnels

Ramsgate Tunnels tour

The tunnels were made 6 feet wide and 7 feet high. They were constructed at a depth of 50-75 feet to provide protection from bombs. If the tunnels rose closer to the surface and were deemed unsafe, they were coated with reinforced concrete.

Life in the Ramsgate Tunnels

Ramsgate Tunnels Tour

Two babies are said to have been born in the tunnels. Dances were held, Christmas dinners enjoyed, a barber, whose shop had been bombed, started to work down there. Life carried on and the children of the time, unaware of the enormity of the situation, had a great time living their underground adventure.

Fortunately, nobody died in the tunnels. The closet Ramsgate came was a man nicknamed ‘Shell’ which is a very sweet story but I’ll let Martin tell you that one, he tells it so much better than I could.

Tickets

Can be bought online

Adults – £6.50
Seniors – £5.00
Child – £4.00

Top Tips

Wear warm clothes. You will need a jacket as the tunnels are cold.

Wear trainers or flat closed shoes, it’s a dusty uneven surface down there.

Young children aren’t going to enjoy this. We had a 2 year old in our group, he screamed and cried all the way round which echoed in the small space. Poor child, he was cold, bored and would much rather be on the beach. It was a shame he was so noisy as he interrupted Martin’s fascinating stories and made it difficult for the group to hear.

Ramsgate Tunnels memoirs

 

Pocahontas Gravesend

The start of school in Year 2 was based around the topic My World and learning about the history of our local area Gravesend. Mid October saw the whole of Year 2 dress as Native Americans to celebrate Pocahontas Day which they all enjoyed and later on when we were in the town centre I took the girls to St Georges church to see the statue of Pocahontas and to see if I could find where Pocahontas was buried.

Native American Costume

One thing the girls knew from school is that the ‘real’ Pocahontas wasn’t like the one they had seen in the Disney film but her story was very similar.

Pocahontas Gravesend

The Story of Pocahontas

Powhatan her father was a powerful man and ruled over 40 Native American tribes, he gave his daughter Matoaka the nickname Pocahontas which means ‘the playful one’, she was her father’s favourite and the most beautiful of all his children.

As she grew up she witnessed many changes in Virginia her homeland, Europeans started to arrive and set up colonies. They brought objects with them like mirrors and knives which Pocahontas had never seen. There was a growing mistrust between the Native Americans and the Europeans, relations grew worse in 1607 when Captain John Smith was caught on their territory and brought in front of Powhatan for trial.

St Georges church Gravesend Pocahontas statue

Pocahontas is believed to have fallen in love with him and she pleaded with her father to save his life but he refused, Pocahontas threw herself between Captain James Smith and the executioners and her father was forced to let him live.

Captain James Smith later became leader of the settlers who built Jamestown, the first settlement in Virginia named after the English King James 1. The captain returned to England badly wounded in 1609 leaving a heartbroken Pocahontas believing he was dead. He survived and became a hero in the King’s court telling tales of his wondrous escape.

Back in Virginia relations between the settlers and the native Americans grew steadily worse, Powhatan ordered that the white man should stay within the confines of Jamestown. Pocahontas however was still fascinated by them and was easily enticed to the settlement where she was held captive whilst a ransom note was sent to her father.

Pocahontas Gravesend

It is said that she thoroughly enjoyed her captivity and in 1613 was the first native American to be baptised and re-named Rebecca. Shortly after this ceremony she married John Rolfe the magistrate of the colony in 1614 with her father’s blessing. They lived on John Rolfe’s tobacco plantation for two years and Pocahontas had a sone named Thomas.

In 1616, Pocahontas set sail for England with her family on Sir Thomas Dale’s ship with an escort of twelve Native Americans. They arrived in Plymouth and travelled to London where they created quite a stir. Pocahontas was praised for her beauty and became known as ‘la belle savage’.

Pocahontas mural Gravesend

It was on her return journey to Virginia after a year in England that she arrived in Gravesend, she became seriously ill offshore and was hurried to land where she spent her last few hours. It is thought she died of the plague and was quickly buried in St George’s Church at the age of 21. The parish church register the entry

“1617. March 21st Rebecca Wrolfe, Wyffe of Thomas Wrolfe, gent., a Virginia lady born, was buried in ye Chancell.”

Sadly the church was destroyed in a fire in 1727 and now no one knows the exact spot of her burial. The Pocahontas memorial serves to remember her.

Pocahontas today

Pocahontas profile

Gravesham was twinned with Chesterfield County of Virginia in 2005, since then pilgrimages have come to seek out the burial spot of Pocahontas. Her importance in English history has been recognised by a number of ceremonies including the placing of a plaque in the church in the late nineteenth century, a tablet and stained glass windows being donated in 1914 and a bronze statue of Pocahontas unveiled by the Governor of Virginia in 1958.

In July 2006 Gravesham welcomed eight tribes of Native American Indians who visited the UK for the first time. The visit was organised by Jamestown British Committee and Gravesham Borough Council to develop a better understanding of history, culture and to create new friendships.

Gravesend – What’s on?

To find out what’s going on locally take a look at Go Gravesham and check out their full Christmas schedule including Christmas Jumper World Record on the 6th December – can you be there?

Gravesham White Christmas

Stonehenge Wiltshire
On our way back from Cornwall over half term we took a break half way through our journey home and visited Stonehenge in Wiltshire, a landmark that has been on my Bucket List since Forever.

I was not disappointed.

Our Family ticket cost £36.10 – This covers a family of 2 adults and 3 children, the audio guide plus the shuttle to and from Stonehenge and the visitor centre were included in the ticket. We were lucky and after queuing a while we managed to get tickets and enter but it was out of season. Reading on the English Heritage website you will see it is highly advisable to book your tickets and times online prior to arrival.

Interestingly if you are members of the National Trust or English Heritage, Stonehenge would be a free entrance for you but still needs to be booked in advance.

stonehenge - neolithic huts

Once you have paid for your tickets and collected your audio guides you walk through the visitor centre to an area which is currently a work in progress; a team of volunteers  are constructing a cluster of Neolithic houses using authentic materials in the outdoor exhibition space. Due to open at Easter (2014) you’ll be able to walk inside the huts and see how people may have lived 4,500 years ago.

stonehenge close up

A short shuttle ride takes you to the site and there you can walk around Stonehenge. The audio guide will encourage you to stop at each numbered point and listen to the facts, we did this and loved it. We were advised to use the Family Tour and at the end of each numbered area the parents are asked to turn off the guide as there are facts for the children only to listen to. The girls were really tickled to be privy to knowledge we weren’t, they listened carefully and refused to tell us what they heard :)

stonehenge family audio guide

Stonehenge is majestic, it is spellbinding, it is breathtaking and it is fascinating. I believe it had this effect on all of the visitors present with us and I believe it was constructed to do just that.

I learnt that the site had been used as a ceremonial centre long before the massive stones were erected and that the exact position was not chosen by chance. In fact the Stonehenge timeline tells us that Mesolithic posts were raised to north-west of Stonehenge between 8,500 – 7000 BC and the positioning of the site is in line with the midsummer sunrise on one side and the mid winter sunset on the opposite.

Heel stone Stonehenge #Iseefaces

This is known as the Heel Stone and stands at the entrance from The Avenue leading up from the River Avon onto the sacred Stonehenge site, can you see the face I see #Iseefaces

After years of waiting to visit I was not disappointed, I came away with my guidebook and I’ve actually read this one rather than shove it on a shelf for future history lessons when the girls reach this part of the national curriculum.

I would thoroughly recommend a visit and definitely look into the English Heritage membership as you could save yourself a small fortune on entrance tickets all over the UK.

Hi Tara,

Today I think I may blow you away with awesomeness, the lovely lady you see here is my great grandmother. Her maiden name Irma Kovats de Dalnok, she was very well known in Brasso a provincial town of then Hungary and now Romania, her mother was descended from the most ancient Szelky nobility and her father was a high ranking army surgeon. A most respected and much loved family.

I have my great grandfather’s memoirs and he writes of the first time he laid eyes on her,

‘She was fair, delicate of countenance with beautiful big blue eyes that held a warm and friendly look. Her manner was distinguished but charming and I knew when I first met her that she would mean more to me than a mere acquaintance. When she turned up in her cherry red summer costume her beauty took my breath away and life was perfect.’

After a year’s courtship he proposed and she accepted. Her parents gave their consent and the city of Brasso was to experience a spectacular wedding. A procession of 24 carriages all decorated with white flowers and the coachmen dressed in the Hungarian national costume carried the guests to the church. Hundreds of people lined the streets and watched the bridal carriage pulled by black horses and adorned with garlands of orange blossom and afterwards it was reported that they had never seen such a fine wedding.

My great grandfather worked as an engineer for the Hungarian government and was highly respected but the nature of his work meant they eventually had to move around the country to the locations he was working at. The great Hungarian empire was also undergoing changes.

One of these moves took them to the town of Marosvasarhely built on the banks of the Maros river where the first impressions of life were very depressing but they soon settled and made friends, my grandfather had very fond memories of the house they lived in there.

Tara, I can’t read you the entire memoirs as it would take up too much time but I will get them sorted into an e book as theirs is a fascinating tale.

One part that struck me was when they were living in occupied Hungary and sheltering in the basement along with their neighbours, when two russian soldiers barged in and demanded to look at documents. Their intentions were clear, they were going to take some of the women away and rape them. My great grandmother saw this and faked illness, thankfully she was left behind but sadly had to watch the others being taken away.

This woman followed her husband loyally, supporting him in every way, she uprooted her family to sail on a ship to New Zealand in search of fresher pastures and at the station in Paris she had her bag snatched which contained the few jewels she had managed to save from the invasion. She was hoping to sell them and buy herself a French dress but it wasn’t meant to be. They returned to their beloved Hungary to find it simply wasn’t the country they loved.

They ended up settling on our British shores, their son my grandfather, was already living here and exhausted from war and disappointed at having had their lifetime possessions stolen from them they started afresh in our country.

The reverse of a rags to riches story, but one that shows a formidable woman that never lost her manners or her pride in herself and her family

Her grave can be found today in Surbiton, Surrey, a quiet stone marking her incredible life on this planet.

I really must write up the memoirs as they make a fascinating read.

I’m entering into the Sticky Fingers The Gallery where the prompt was A Family Story

Hungary is in my blood as my grandfather (photo of him as a child below) was Hungarian and this week I am very happy to host my Aunt Klari and her daughter Andi, who is my age, as they drove over to spend a week with the family and to take back some of the beautiful Hungarian oil paintings that my grandfather’s parents  took with them on their travels to New Zealand and then on to the UK.

Cornel DonnerLet me explain, my great grandmother Irma Anna Maria Kovats de Dalnok, (photo above) after whom I am named, was a princess. Yes, a real live true princess. She lived in the Austrian Hungarian empire and her father was a high ranking army surgeon descended from the most ancient Szelkely nobility, her mother was also descended from an aristocratic family and was a well known hostess. Irma’s name was on everyone’s lips, she was beautiful, sweet and intelligent and she was nicknamed ‘hothouse flower’. Her fame stretched far and wide and my great grandfather, in his memoirs, tells that on their wedding day…

‘It was the most spectacular wedding that had ever taken place in Brasso; a procession of 24 carriages, mostly led by the Szelkey family, all decorated with white flowers and the coachmen dressed in Hungarian national costume. The bridal coach was adorned with garlands of orange blossom and drawn by fine black horses. Hundreds of people lined the streets and said afterwards they had never seen such a beautiful wedding.’

Mum did tell me as a kid that we were descended from a princess and I think I may have tried to play that card at school – not that anyone took any notice of me of course, just thought I was making it up again!

I have my great grandfather’s memoirs written up and one day I may be allowed to publish them on here as his tale crosses two world wars, hardships that no woman, netalone a princess, should have to bare and an incredible sadness as these mighty people had to sit back and watch as their beloved country was slowly picked to pieces and reduced to 30% of it’s origins. In actual fact the house where they lived and where my grandfather was born is no longer part of Hungary as such but is now enclosed in the borders of Romania.

But today is for rejoicing, I first met Klari neni (aunt) and Andi when I was 13 and they invited me over to spend a month of my summer holiday with them, a holiday I remember very much to this day, swimming in Lake Balaton, meeting Pista Baci and Klara Neni, (Klari’s parents and my grandfathers sister and brother in law) in Budapest. Klara being the ‘princesses’ daughter was the sweetest silver haired lady with forget-me-not blue eyes, she couldn’t speak English but her smiles spoke volumes to me. Pista’s hair was as white as Father Christmas’s, again no English was spoken but I sensed immediately he was a lovely, lovely man.

I remember being shown a statue of Stalin on that holiday, I didn’t know who he was and loudly excitedly asked who he was, only to be shussed and moved on. In 1979 no one spoke outright and the buildings in the centre of Budapest carried plenty of bullet marks on the facades enough for my young 13 year old mind to understand the tragedy that had become this wonderful country.

I last saw Klari my aunt, at Andi’s first wedding in ’89 or thereabouts and I last saw Andi at my mum’s second wedding in 2003 so as you can imagine our days and evenings are filled with conversation, as we catch up on the whole family and the years we have lost in-between.

I must add that my uncle Giula is very poorly and I add this for a reason. Giula was a nuclear scientist but living in Hungary under the Russian regime, he worked for the state and never made any financial gain as he would have done had he been in the States or the UK. He was sent to work in conditions with no health and safety in place and consequently lost his eyesight. He invented a detector for eye cataracts that would have changed all opticians life way before its time but never managed to get a patent or the backing required in order to propose it to the market. An exceptional man whose enormous achievements are lost forever.

It makes me angry to think of this kind and gentle population being used and abused and getting nothing in return, it makes me feel grateful to have been born in a land that allows me to make the most of myself.

To finish my post I leave you with a photo taken yesterday at my grandmother’s house, note to the left of the photo a white bust on a pedestal, that is Irma, my great grandmother to whom we are all connected and the painting behind us was one of her favourites.

Hungarian relatives 2011

Mum, my grandmother, me, Klari neni and Andi plus the twins in front

I’m linking up with Karin at Cafe Bebe for her Flashback Friday head over and see who else has a story to tell. Or use my search box to find other Flashbacks of mine – happy weekend to all