under the river

Continuing my theme of enjoying vintage London, I was one of the lucky ones to get a ticket for a tour through the Brunel Thames tunnel this weekend.

This was apparently the first public opening for 145 years, and tours were only running for two days, leading to quite a clamor for tickets.  The tour was only possible as the line is currently closed to trains as this stretch of railway is being refurbished as part of the new East London Overground line.

This was such a great little snippet of London history.  The tunnel under the Thames was originally designed to carry horse and cart cargo under the river, but after a phenomenal overspend (it seems nothing changes!) it was eventually opened in 1843 as a pedestrian tunnel only. Entrepreneurs set up stalls in the archways to do trade with the passers-by.

The tour led us under the river from Rotherhithe to Wapping and back, and I loved the idea that half the population of London paid the sum of a penny each to come through the tunnel in the first fifteen weeks of its opening back in 1843.  It was obviously a huge drawcard.

We had all the usual health and safety warnings.  We were told that anyone wearing unsuitable footwear (trainers included) would be refused entry.  Strangely enough there was one woman in our group wearing ugg boots, but also another woman wearing plastic bags under her shoes!  Maybe not so dangerous after all.

The tunnel was also host to ‘Underwater Fancy Fairs’, including one which was recreated last night.  Unfortunately I didn’t stick around to check it out, but it sounded like fun, with Victorian strongmen, jugglers, stalls, and special Brunel cocktails (whatever they might have been!).

Flyer from Brunel museum