East London tunnel vision

Musicians play at the Victorian fancy fair at the Thames Tunnel. Photo: Melanie Macleod

Over the weekend the public had a “never again chance” to take a step back in time, and look into the future… of the East London Line.

The Thames Tunnel, which will form part of the new East London line, opened for the public to walk through for the first time in 145 years.

The tunnel was built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and hailed as the eighth wonder of the world upon its construction in 1852. As the finale to the East festival, the tunnel opened its doors to the public with a Victorian fancy fair and guided walks through the tunnel.

The Thames Tunnel stretches 396 metres under the river, from Rotherhithe to Wapping, Tower Hamlets, was built in the Victorian era and is believed to be the first tunnel to have been built beneath a navigable river. Brunel Museum Director, Robert Hulse, said the tunnel is “the birthplace of the tube system”.

In 1869 it was converted from a thriving shopping arcade and entertainment centre into a railway tunnel for the East London underground line. This year the Thames Tunnel will see trains running through it once more as the redeveloped East London Line goes live once more.

Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: “We are delighted that the works on the East London Line are working so well to time that we have been able to put them on hold for two days so that the public will get this never-again chance to walk through the Thames Tunnel.

“Brunel’s achievements taught us that it is vital to invest in transport infrastructure, the benefits of which are preserved for Londoners for generations to come.”

The fancy fair harks back to Victorian times, when the tunnel captured the imagination of the city, attracting exotic dancers, sword swallowers and tightrope walkers. Speaking to visitors, Robert Hulse described the scenes of yesteryear: “Imagine this echoing with laughter and screams of delight, and parties of people. This is a Victorian rave, this is vaudeville, a party place.”

The modern day fancy fair, held at the Brunel Museum, Rotherhithe, boasted Victorian Strongmen, jugglers, acrobats and fire eaters, steams organs and Brunel themed cocktails and jellies. Visitors were also treated to model painting and authentic Victorian costume and photography at the event.

Lawrence Wakefield, 21, a musician from Lewisham, said: “This event is a great way to get a feel for the Victorian era, I especially liked the Victorian strongmen – they were really entertaining and energetic. The Brunel museum was good too, really informative about the tunnel.”

Anyone wishing to find out more about the tunnel and Brunel’s other works can visit the Brunel Museum, on Railway Avenue, Rotherhithe.

One Response

  1. Tim Gopsill March 19, 2010

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