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  Themes Homepage > Thames Tunnel
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Thames Tunnel

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World's first bored tunnel
The world's first crossing of a river by bored tunnel was designed by Marc Isambard Brunel, the father of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The two seven metre high horseshoe-shaped tunnels ran for 400 metres under the river, between Wapping on the north bank and Rotherhithe to the south. Constructed between 1825 and 1843, the tunnels were originally designed for crossing by horse and foot, and are still in use today carrying passengers by rail.

The Diving Bell, Rotherhithe
The Diving Bell, Rotherhithe
Six drown
Working under the river was always dangerous. This print shows a diving bell used after the Thames Tunnel was flooded on the 18th of May 1827. Fortunately nobody was drowned. A second flood in 1828 results in the loss of 6 workmen. The tunnel was then bricked up for seven years, before funding could be found to restart the project.
White Elephant
"This great , but for many years comparatively useless work of Sir Isambard Brunel was carried under the river from Wapping to Rotherhithe at a cost of nearly half a million of money." It is clear that Charles Dickens Junior, writing in his "Dictionary of the Thames" published in 1889, was not impressed.

He went on to write, "For about twenty years after its completion it was one of the recognised sights of London, and a kind of mouldy and poverty-stricken bazaar established itself at the entrance of the tunnel.

The pence of the sightseers and the rent of the stalls proved wholly insufficient even to pay current expenses, and in 1865 the Tunnel Company were glad to get rid of their white elephant at a loss of about half its original cost. It now belongs to the East London Railway Company."
Dictionary of the Thames - cover
Dictionary of the Thames - cover
Tunnel under the Thames - Peepshow Souvenir
Tunnel under the Thames - Peepshow Souvenir
The Victorians were very proud of their engineering, and the tunnel generated many souvenirs.The six panels of this peepshow (also called a "peeperama") expanded to enable a three dimensional view of pedestrians, horsemen and vehicles inside the tunnel.
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