Building the Rotherhithe Tunnel

In my last post I told you about my weekend of London tunnel visits, culminating in an exceedingly rare chance to walk through Brunel’s Thames Tunnel from Rotherhithe to Wapping.

Well, to help acclimatise to the underground world of Rotherhithe, my friends and I had spent the morning in training, by walking through the Rotherhithe Tunnel.

Entrance to the Rotherhithe Tunnel, 2010 (David Rooney)

Unlike its 1840s counterpart a shade further west, built for pedestrians and taken over by the railway, the Rotherhithe Tunnel, opened in 1908, was originally for horse-drawn traffic but soon overrun with motor vehicles. But pedestrians have always been allowed through.

In the Rotherhithe Tunnel, 2010 (David Rooney)

To be honest, our walk was pretty hard work. The pavements are narrow, the vehicles many, the air fume-laden and the noise infernal. We really had to keep our wits about us. But it was well worth it, just to experience another historic Thames tunnel.

And historic it really is. When I got home, I looked to see what our collections hold on the tunnel, and what I discovered blew me away. Buried in our stores is a set of 56 original photographic prints depicting the construction of the tunnel.

Here’s a tiny taster of what I found:

Construction of the Rotherhithe Tunnel (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Construction of the Rotherhithe Tunnel (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Construction of the Rotherhithe Tunnel (Science Museum / Science & Society)

How’s that for a bit of London history! If you want to see all 56 in all their glory, go to our picture library website and type ‘Rotherhithe Tunnel’ into the search box. And keep these remarkable pictures in mind next time you’re stuck in traffic down the Rotherhithe Tunnel…

5 thoughts on “Building the Rotherhithe Tunnel

  1. Dominic

    Im travelling there almost everyday, and every time Im driving in, cant stop thinking about its history. Amazing construction, more than 100 years old and still in 24h use with all that trafffic.

    Reply
  2. Marcus de Mowbray

    It is near me and I go through it regularly, once – but hopefully never again – on my bicycle! The nearby tunnel museum is very small but interesting, and might even still have 2 steam powered model boats to represent the Rattler and Alecto paddle/propellor trials for a TV programme; they were donated.

    Reply
  3. larry osborne

    What is happening in the tunnel? Most of the beautiful tiles have been removed and it dosen’t look like they were taken in a way that they could be returned. Is the tunnel listed?

    Reply
  4. David Rooney

    Hi Larry – I’m not sure. The Blackwall is being refurbished but I haven’t been in the Rotherhithe for a while and didn’t know of any work planned. Both tunnels are managed, I think, by Transport for London so it would probably be worth asking their roads department what is going on. Keen to hear if you find anything out. Thanks, David.

    Reply
  5. Louise

    Interesting post and great pics. My ancestor was killed in 1905 whilst working on the building of the tunnel. He was only 24 years old. Apparently a crane jib fell in him! Must have been such a hard and dangerous job!!

    Reply

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