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The Thames Tunnel


he Thames tunnel, is the first of its kind. An underwater construction which at the time it was built was concidered a marvil of the work. The Thames tunnel is an amazment of Victorian enginuity, and one of the times that Victorian enginering still asstounds us today. We all know of the famouse Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a enginer and designer that has gone down in history. But not to much is known about his famouse father Sir Marc Isambard Brunel. However it was Sir M,I Brunel who desined and constructed with the help of his son, the eights wonder of the world... Though not many people today know of this wonderful piece of engineering and construction that lies right in the very heart of london.


His way of creating ships blocks brought him from New York to England in 1799. Brunel lay down his plans to the British Government where they were accepted. Brunel was then sent to portsmouth, where he became incharge of installing his machines in portsmouth dockyard.

Marc Ismbard Brunel. 1769-1849 Marc Ismbard Brunel was born in france on April 25th 1769. Brunel showed from an early age that he had a talent with drawing, mathematics and mechanics. Brunel joined the french navy in 1793 at the age of 24. After six years in the french navy he returned to france. Which was then in the mitst of revelution. Within a couple of months Brunels Royalist sympathies compelled him to leave france. Marc Brunel fled to the united states of america, where he was able to practice as an architect, and a civil engineer. While in New York he became the citys cheif engineer. He built many buildings constructed an arsenal and a cannon foundary. while in New York he also developed a way of producing Ships blocks (pulleys).


When the factery was compleated the system of 43 machines run by 10 men, started producing superior quality ships blocks than the previousily handmade ships blocks which took 100 men to make. This was also one of the earliest examples of compleatily mechanise productin in the world. Other Productions of brunels design were, the ile de bourbon suspension bridge, and the first floating piers at Liverpool. In 1818 Marc Brunel patented the tunneling sheild, a device that made it possible to tunnel safely through water baering strata. This invention led to the opening of the first tunnel running underneath the Thames some 25 years later in 1843. The tunnel was one of Sir Marc Brunels most sucessful enterprises, even though at the time it was a financial desaster.

When was the tunnel built? Construction on the tunnel started in march of 1825. The callosal tunnel took 18 years to build and was compleated and opened in march of 1843. The tunnel was only predicted to take three years to build, but ended up being compleated after a delay of an extra fifteen years. It was dubed by the press as the boaring tunnel, as it was being board and people were board of the excuse that it was still unready.


Who designed the tunnel? The tunnel was designed and built by Sir Marc Isambard Brunel and his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel, as a joint project. Isambard Kingdom Brunel was the works manager, and incharge of construction.

Why was the tunnel built? The tunnel was built to cope with the demand for another way across the river Thames. London in the Victorian era was a very bussy port and so london bridge ended up in a grid lock. The old bridge wasn’t built to cope with the amount of cargo that crossed it everyday. It was said that it took cargo longer to go over London bridge then cross the atlantic. All of London cryed out for another crossing.


A tidy sum could be amounted by whichever clever private enterprise could get across frst. A crossing was required but if another bridge was constucted it would stop the ships from being able to get to the port, meaning a bridge was out of the question. So a tunnel was the nly way forward, but couldn’t be done with normal tunnaling methods.

How long is the Thames tunnel?

Where is the thames tunnel?

The tunnel that Marc Brunel created is 1200 feet long. That is one of the reasons that it is a marvel even to this day.

The tunnel lies underneath the water between Wapping and Rotherhythe, in London.

Concidering how long the tunnel actually is, it isn’t realy any surprise that it took 18 years to build, as the miners were only going 4 inches at a time. This is equiverlent to one brick at a time.


Victorian london. London in Victorian times was much diferent than the London of today. The streets were dirty, covered in filth and desease. The river Thames was overflowing with swage that ran through the very haert of London. Unlike today the city of London was a major shipping port. With ships from all over the world docking there to unload and sell their cargo. London was also the place to go in the Victorian era. people came to London to start their careers, or try to make their fortunes. Most people looked to london as a way forward for them. London in the Victorian era was also very industrial, with smog poluting the London sky, and taking decades to clear. Smog would have been a very diar health problem in the Victorian era, as it would have clogged up lungs and corsed major breathing dificultys. Vitorian london was sunonamouse with slumbs and poverty, even though people thought it was the answer to their prairs.


How was the tunnel built? The very larg cilindrical enterence chamber was built first, but it wasn’t built below ground. Unlike normal tequniechs of the day which was that the ground be dug out and the tower be built in the space dug. No the hole hall was actually built above ground and alowed to sink into the ground like a gigantic cookie cutter. Useing gravity to do most of the work for you was also a pionering brack through and haddn’t been done before. Once the tower had sunk to a surfisiant depth the sheild was constructed and work on the actuall tunnel could begin

The sheild was basically a cage were men would carfully chip away at the water cloged earth. Each man had a selection of wooden pannels infront of him, which he would remove dig and replace.


After all the planks has been removed and all the soil had been removed, the sheild was then pushed forwards on jacks, so that the proses could start again.

Started here

When the miners had dug a certain length then the tunnel could collapse behind, so bricklayers worked directily behind the minners makeing sure that the tunnel would be safe.

The holes were dug in crcular shapes because then the soft earth wouldn’t be able to push inwards and collapse the tunnel. If the tunnel was square then the corners would be a problem and a week point, so tunnels were always rounded.


End result

Conditions within the tunnel? The pay for working as a minner was good, going up to £1 per week. Which for the time was good as a police inspecter didn’t even recive that much. Yet for all the money that the workers could earn, they might never be able to spend it? Rained on by raw swage coming from the river Thames which ran a mear 14 feet above their heads. To doging the flaming balls of meathain gas. This occured when methain stored within the soil seeped into the tunnel and got ignited by the flames from the gas lanterns that the minners would have used for light. It was truely a dangerouse job.


Minners are offten seen as stupid with loads of muscules and no brain. In actuallity minners were specialised workers, and ineresting engineers. They were not stupid, but very brave to have the guts to go underground and not hesatate while doing so, especially considering that their job was considered the worst job in the world.

The minners could only hanndle two hour shifts, after two hours then the minners would calapse. With all the gasses within the tunnel, and with less air being able to get along the tunnel, combined with the gas lamps and flames it would have been very difficult to breath within the tunnel. So the minners would collapse from lack of oxigen. After the two hours they spent in the tunnel, the minners would simply be replaced by minners that could breath, but the inturn would be replaced shortily.


The river Thames in victorian times was basicaly more swage than water. All manner of waist would regularly flow down the river, from poop to dead bodys and blood from slaughter houses, everything was dumped into the river. litteraly death floted down the river, it was so poluted that even if you survived contact with thw water. You could still die from all sorts of deseases that the river carried. And such a thing was true for the poor minners who toiled away under the waves.

Disasters in the tunnel?

progress on the tunnel wasn’t stoped for long. The tunnel also flooded in 1827 shortThe tunnel had its fair share of diily after a banquet for investers was sasters. In the 18 years that it took to compleat the tunnel, the tunnel flooded held in the enterence to the tunnel. five times. The worst time the tunnel flooded was in 1828 when six men died. Even Isambard Kingdom Brunel almost lost his life. It wasn’t just the tunnel that flooded but also the grand enterence to. Some of the men who died actually made it to the stare well and then got swept below the water. The tunnel was closed for a short period after the flood, while the Brunels Though there are only six casualtys registed to the tunnel. The fatalitys for got some more investers, but the the tunnel is probbabily much higher, due to the poor working condidtions, and the fact they would have consumed some of the swage, desease would have killed so may more.


Why you don’t know about the tunnel? The reason you cant walk down this magnificent tunnel today, is because in 1865 the tunnel was bought by the East London Railway Company. In 1869 trains started useing the tunnel as part of the over ground railway, but was slowely converted to be part of the London underground. Which is where it lies today. it is still a working length of track, surprisingly. Infact it is the oldest part of the oldest underground railway system in the world!


Charles Pearson, was the first person to think of puting the London railways underground, so that people from outside London could get to the center of London quicker and more efficientily. His basic idea was putting tracks in ditches. He presented his ideas to the Government and was granted permission, which cost 12000 people to lose their hoses. Construction on the first London underground i,e the metrapolitan line was compleated in 1854. Since then trains have dominated underneath londons streets. In 1913 electric trains appeared and the tube became what we know of today.

BASIC HISTORY The Thames tunnel, was built by Marc Brunel between 1825 and 1843. At the begining the tunnel was suposed to be for cargo, but because it was 15 years late on finnishing, the Brunels couldn’t aford to build the ramps required for cargo. so instead it was opened as a torist atraction.

The tunnel was a sucsess, at first and people were charged a penny to enter and walk along the tunnel. The tunnel was a place for preformance , and frevolity. Shops lined the tunnel and each alcove had a shop within. One part of the tunnel was decked out like a dancing hall. Music was played by steam powered machines, and people were incoraged to dance. It was concidered a test of your bravery going through the tunnel. If you ran or walked quickily through the tunnel, and bought very little it showed they were scared. If you walked at a wondering slow pace, and bought lots of items it showed that you wern’t scared. After a while the tunnel lost favour with the general publc, and also with the shop keepers, as it became a place for vagerents and prostituts to hang around. After a while it became a cheap place to live, and a place of busines soly for prostituts and beggers.


During the first day a million people visited the tunnel, but now thousands of people visit the tunnel every few hours, and don’t even know it. The thames tunnel was sold to the East london railway and was unbearable for the first drivers that used it as the steam from the trains would have harrible. it became easier to use after the railway turned to electric trains.

This is a representation of what the sheild that would have been used by the minners would have looked like.

Victorian london would have looked like during the time when the tunnel was built.

This is the dinner party in 1827, which was orchestraited by Isambard Kingdom Brunell to help get more investers in the tunnel. It is one of the only depictions of bother father and son together in the same place.


By Gemma Ellerton and Ryan Roberts

The Thames Tunnel  
The Thames Tunnel  

By Gemma Ellerton and Ryan Roberts