London reopens the Thames underwater tunnel after 150 years

Date: April 15, 2016 By: Gemma Heath in River Thames News
London reopens the Thames underwater tunnel after 150 years

The Thames has always been one of the capital’s most popular attractions, with people using the services of London boat hire companies to explore the beauty of the river and see the sights along its banks. Now, there’s another attraction that people can enjoy besides the cruises; the Thames Tunnel.

History of the Thames Tunnel

The tunnel, once called the Eighth Wonder of the World, attracted around a million visitors during the Victorian era. However, when it closed to the public, the entrance to the Thames Tunnel was completely abandoned.

The tunnel, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and his father, Marc was completed in 1843. Brunel wanted to show off the magnificent construction so it was opened to the public.

Three months after opening, the tunnel attracted a million visitors, about half the population of the city. At different times in history, the tunnel has been a venue for banquets, fairs, and even brothels.

When trains started to run through tunnels between Rotherhithe and Wapping in 1869, the grand entrance of the tunnel was sealed shut.

The refurbishment

In 2011, a concrete roof was constructed over the tunnel, making the entrance hall accessible again. Biffa, the National Heritage Landmarks Partnership and the Association of Independent Museums have worked together to transform the Grade II hall.

Architects from Tate Harmer have designed and installed a new staircase, allowing access to the grand entrance. The soot-blackened walls remain untouched, and visitors will be able to see part of Brunel’s original staircase next to the new one.

The grand entrance, which is part of the Brunel Museum, will host musical performances and cocktail evenings amidst the occasional soft rumbling of the London Overground from the tunnel below.