Photos: Wartime tunnels and a soldiers’ hospital on the site of Westwood Cross

Photo Thanet Hidden History (2015)

In 2015 Facebook page Thanet Hidden History shared photos of the underground tunnels at Westwood Cross that are now feared to be causing subsidence at the Primark store.

It is believed the tunnels were used during both World Wars for training exercises.

A Freedom of Information request sent to the Ministry of Defence in 2015 by Ravenside Investments Ltd ( a subsidiary of Land Securities) tried to establish records of the tunnels but the MoD said it held no information.

Work is now being carried out by Primark to fix the issue and is due to be completed by mid-Summer.

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A network of wartime tunnels and air raid shelters run underneath Thanet, the best known perhaps being the Ramsgate Tunnels where families sheltered from the enemy raids on the town.

Other tunnels run under Manston, on both the East Cliff and Westcliff and in Cliftonville by the Eastern Esplanade to name just a few. There is also a shelter under the former Hovis Mill, off Margate Road.

A specialist hospital

Westwood Cross is also the site where the former Haine Hospital stood and the gateway wall with the foundation stone, including soldiers’ names scribed into the stone, is still in place.

Photo Thanet Hidden History

Thanet Hidden History tells the fascinating history of the hospital:

Haine Hospital opened in 1901 and was demolished in March 2004.

The 110 bed Isle of Thanet Joint Isolation Hospital, as it was then known, began taking in patients in 1902.

The isolation hospital took in patients with a variety of illnesses, which included chicken pox, diphtheria, dysentery, encephalitis, enteric fever, enteritis, erysipelas, rubella, measles, meningitis, mumps, pneumonia, polio, puerperal fever, purpura, scarlet fever, tonsillitis, trachoma, typhoid fever and whooping cough.

One notable exception from this list is smallpox – this is because the Thanet Hospital Board had made an agreement with the Local Government Board in May 1894 that once the new hospital was completed, no smallpox patients would be allowed onto the site. In order to care for smallpox patients, a specialist facility was opened next to the Haine Hospital in spring 1902, this was known as the Isle of Thanet Smallpox Hospital.

Wartime use

During World War II, the hospital was used to house injured servicemen, including airmen from the USA and Canada.

On the two curved walls that survived the hospital (now in the middle of Westwood Cross shopping centre car park) there are a number of engravings visible on the bricks, some of which were made by the wounded servicemen.

Photo Thanet Hidden History

In 1948, with the establishment of the National Health Service, the Haine Hospital, as it was now officially known, began accepting patients from the Canterbury area and further afield. Starting from 1955, the hospital began to change its focus – admitting more and more chronically ill and geriatric patients.

Jean Crowley was a Red Cross nurse at Haine Hospital during WWII

The Haine Hospital closed in October 1986, its remaining patients were transferred to other hospitals across the Isle of Thanet. The hospital complex lay abandoned and derelict until 2002 when the site was finally sold and development of the Westwood Cross shopping centre began.

Find a gallery of photos of the inscribed bricks at Thanet Hidden History