NEWS FEATURE: The keeper of the tunnels in Ramsey

KEITH Sisman is the keeper of the tunnels in Ramsey. The boss of a taxi firm has a life-long passion for the network of tunnels which run beneath the town. And why not? The tunnels, which were built to carry the river under the town, have some stories to

KEITH Sisman is the keeper of the tunnels in Ramsey.

The boss of a taxi firm has a life-long passion for the network of tunnels which run beneath the town.

And why not? The tunnels, which were built to carry the river under the town, have some stories to tell, stories of attempted bank robberies, engineering feats, Oliver Cromwell and King Charles I.

But there's little awareness that the tunnels exist.


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The Ramsey culverts start under the NatWest Bank in the High Street and run the length of the Great Whyte up to The Mill, covering the river underneath.

The clock tower in the Great Whyte, which dates from 1886, was even once powered by the water that flows underneath (it was converted to electricity in 1920.)

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The culverts date back to 1800s and parts of the network were used as sewers when London's rivers and sewers were still mainly open.

Mr Sisman, 54, told The Hunts Post: "Most people in Ramsey are unaware that the tunnels are there - just as people are unaware that there are tunnels underneath London.

"There are culverts underneath Buckingham Palace for the same reason, that the river under the city was bricked over."

It was during the 1850s that the tunnels took their shape, ending the need for some of the town's bridges and changing the shape and character of the town.

Before the culverts were built, the Jolly Sailor pub was used by bargemen as were the Ship and the Boat Inns. And a bridge, known as Nobles Bridges, let people cross from the high side to the embankment where boats moored at the Jolly Sailor.

But in the 1850s came the building of the London Kings Cross to Edinburgh Railway. Holme Fen had to be drained and water levels dropped around Ramsey.

There was also a growing need for a sewerage system - without the tunnels, Ramsey would have been very smelly.

"Before the Fens were drained, Ramsey was a fishing village trading in Eels, afterwards - and after the building of the tunnels, the newly drained land was used for farming changing the landscape thereafter," said Mr Sisman.

The work started in 1852 and was finished in 1854. Legend has it that King Charles I met Oliver Cromwell on the High Bridge that spanned the Great Whyte where the High Street is now and that the stones from the bridge were used to construct the culvert.

Mr Sisman first went down into the culverts as a teenager in the 1960s with his father who was a part-time fireman.

"There was no health and safety in those days, kids could go along to have a look at things - nowadays we would regard it as ridiculous but I have found those culverts fascinating ever since."

However, he's not the only one who has been taking an interest in the tunnels. There is a bricked up arch under Barclays Bank and the story goes that this was closed off after thieves tried to rob the bank from underneath, but were unable to break through the masonry.

Over the years, Mr Sisman has taken it upon himself to inspect the culverts, brick built by Victorian engineers, who, as he says, could not have anticipated the heavy traffic running on top of them along the Great Whyte today.

"The culverts are quite fascinating. As soon as the water level drops, I will be going down there again to check for cracks in the masonry. We always go down there in a group because it would be too dangerous to go down there alone, if you slipped and broke your leg, for example. We take powerful halogen torches and go well equipped.

"These culverts are very dangerous, you need suitable equipment including portable gas detectors and people should never enter after railfall or when the current is fast."

nMost of the pictures on this page were taken in the 1970s and 1980s.

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