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Brunel's Thames Tunnel

Crowds at the Fancy Fair in the Thames Tunnel

Designed by Marc Brunel, the Thames Tunnel was one of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th century. Running between Rotherhithe and Wapping it was the world's first tunnel under a navigable river.

Victorian souvenir plate showing an image of the Thames Tunnel

Eighteen years in the making, it finally opened to the public in 1843, and featured the first underwater shopping arcade - with a parade of 60 shops selling souvenirs.

Poster for the Fancy Fair

Every year a Fancy Fair was held in the Thames Tunnel and included panoramas, side shows and scientific demonstrations.

Banquet in the tunnel

In November 1827 Marc’s son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, organised a lavish underwater banquet in the tunnel – to help convince people that it was safe.

Engraving showing miners swept away by water

But later that year Isambard almost drowned when the tunnel flooded. He was sent to Bristol to recover and it was here he first came up with the idea for the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Illustration showing interior of the Thames Tunnel, mid-19th century

Victorians called the tunnel the eighth wonder of the world – but it became notorious for prostitutes and "tunnel thieves" who lurked in the arches and mugged passers-by.

The tunnel as it is today

In 1865 the tunnel was bought by the East London Railway Company. Currently closed for engineering work, the grand entrance hall to the tunnel is now accessible to the public for the first time in over 140 years.

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