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Page last updated at 14:06 GMT, Friday, 12 June 2009 15:06 UK
Brunel Museum
Plans for Brunel's tunnel under the River Thames from Rotherhithe to Wapping, circa 1825
Plans for Brunel's tunnel under the River Thames from Rotherhithe to Wapping, circa 1825

Thames tour of Rotherhithe: Stage 4

In 1825 work began to build the first ever tunnel under the Thames linking Rotherhithe in South London and Wapping in East London.

Designed by Sir Marc Brunel and assisted by his son Isambard the pedestrian tunnel took 18 years to complete and was finally finished in 1843.

This was the only project they worked on together.

It was the beginning of the amazing career of Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Before construction could begin a huge shaft was built at ground level representing the depth of the tunnel work.

British engineer Marc Isambard Brunel
Marc Isambard Brunel with a picture of the Rotherhithe Tunnel

Earth was removed from the shaft foundations allowing it to gradually sink down in order for the tunnel to be at the right depth.

Next to the shaft, an engine house was also built to contain the steam engines used to drain water from the tunnel.

The unique shield tunnelling method used by Brunel was the first of its kind during the construction and the concept is still used today.

The Thames Tunnel was Isambard Kingdom Brunel's first project aged just 19
The tunnel did attract hordes of visitors - two million in the first year
Fairs were held in the tunnel, with entertainers and stalls selling souvenirs
It was designed for horse and carts but access could not be built due to a lack of funds

After 26 years as a foot tunnel it was converted into a railway tunnel to create the East London Railway in 1869.

In 1914 the tunnel became part of the London Underground, and in 2010 transferred to the East London Railway, part of the London Overground which runs from Croydon to Dalston Kingsland.

It is the oldest tunnel in the oldest underground system in the world.

With the extension of the East London line the tunnel will remain in use for many more years to come.

Continue your walk along Rotherhithe Street towards St Mary's Church.

Brunel's Bridges

Inside the Brunel Museum
Inside the Brunel Museum

Three benches, modelled on Brunel's historic bridges, have been installed outside the museum.

The benches were built by Monster Creations and local children from Bermondsey and Rotherhithe.

Royal Albert Bridge, Saltash 1854 (River Tamar) - a hybrid arch-suspension bridge built to carry the great western railway into Cornwall. Brunel's last bridge and still the only one of its kind.

A model of the Hungerford Bridge outside the Brunel Museum
A model of the Hungerford Bridge outside the Brunel Museum

Hungerford Bridge 1845 (River Thames) - an open system suspension bridge, demolished circa 1860 to make for the railway. The piers are still in use and a modern Hungerford Bridge has also been built.

Maidenhead Bridge 1838 (River Thames) - an arched bridge for the Great Western Railway. It was the widest, flattest brick span in the world. It is still in use today.

More information

Brunel Museum, Railway Avenue, Rotherhithe, London SE16 4LF

Telephone: 020 7231 3840
Email: info@brunel-museum.org.uk

Open from Monday to Sunday, 10:00 to 17:00 throughout the year. The museum also opens outside these hours for pre-arranged visiting parties and also visit schools by arrangement.


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