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A couple of weeks ago I visited the Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe and did a tour of the Thames Tunnel and Grand Entrance Hall. It was fascinating.
Father and son team Marc and Isambard Kingdom Brunel began construction on the Thames tunnel in 1825. It was meant to take three years. It took 18 and was described by tunnel workers as “the worst job in the world”.
When it finally opened, the Thames Tunnel represented a feat of engineering never before seen in the world. It was the first under-river tunnel of its kind, the birthplace of the Tube (globally, as London’s was the first underground railway system).
Although intended for transporting goods off ships beneath the Thames, due to a lack of pulleys, the tunnel’s first use, explained our thoroughly entertaining tour guide Robert Hulse (director of the Brunel Museum), was as an underwater “shopping mall”. And, while the stalls and “Underwater Fancy Fair” attracted astonishing numbers of visitors from day one, the tunnel eventually became a place for shady dealings and, if you’ll pardon the pun, underworld characters.
I won’t say more, because you should see it for yourself. Even better – join a Brunel Museum tour of the tunnel by train (the newly opened East London line goes right through Brunel’s tunnel) and/or take the Thamesside Walk through Bermondsey and Rotherhithe this Bank Holiday Weekend, which includes a tour of the Grand Entrance Hall.