The Brunel Tunnel

The Thames Tunnel was built between 1825 and 1843 and connects Wapping to Rotherhithe. When completed, it was the world’s first underwater tunnel and was referred to as the ‘Eight Wonder of the World’. It was designed by engineer Marc Brunel, and the works were supervised by himself and his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

The Tunnel was intended to be used for cargo transport, as the Thames was clogged up with large numbers of vessels transporting people and goods. However, the complexity, duration, and escalating costs of the project meant that the two large access shafts, which would have enabled horses and carriages to enter the tunnel, were never completed. Instead the Tunnel opened for pedestrian use only, and an entrance fee of 1 penny was charged.

In the first years after opening the Tunnel was a great success and it attracted millions of visitors. It was described in many tourist guides as an attraction. After its initial popularity however the Tunnel quickly deteriorated and became known as a seedy spot, best to be avoided.

The East London Railway company bought the Tunnel in 1865, and four years later the first cargo trains started using the tunnel. Today, the tunnel is part of the London Overground network.

You can learn more about Isambard Kingdom Brunel and the Thames Tunnel by visiting The Brunel Museum. The Museum has recently refurbished one of the entry shafts to the original tunnel, which is now used as an events space.

Mara Arts has written a number of short fictional pieces giving an impression of the different stages of the Tunnel’s lifecycle.

Click on the images below to read more.