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General Information

Beginning of works: February 1825
Completion: 25 March 1843
Status: in use

Project Type

Structure: Tunnel with masonry lining
Function / usage: original use:
Subway (pedestrian tunnel)
later use:
Metro tunnel / subway tunnel
current use:
Railroad (railway) tunnel

Awards and Distinctions


Location: , , ,
, , ,
Underneath of:
  • Thames River
Coordinates: 51° 30' 3" N    0° 3' 7" W
Coordinates: 51° 30' 16" N    0° 3' 21" W
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Technical Information


width 11 m
height 6 m
length 396 m
depth 23 m


cost of construction Pound sterling 454 000 + 180 000


tunnel structure tile lined brick built using Roman cement



Marc Isambard Brunel presents a first design for a tunneling shield for use in a project under the Neva in Saint Petersburg. Although a bridge is built instead, the concept is similar to the shield Brunel would eventually use on the Thames Tunnel.

January 1818

Marc Brunel and Thomas Cochrane patent their tunneling shield.


Marc Brunel proposes a plan for a tunnel between Rotherhithe and Wapping to be dug using his new shield. Private investors including the Duke of Wellington help fund the Thames Tunnel Company which is formed the following year.

2 March 1825

First brick laid.

November 1825

The shaft on the south bank at Rotherhithe is completed. It is located 46 m away from the river bank. The shaft was built using an iron ring 15 m in diameter onto which a 12 m high circular wall is built with a thickness of 91 cm. It is surmounted by a steam engine driving the excavation pumps. The weight of the entire apparatus is estimated at 1 000 tons. The soil below the ring was removed manually and due to its weight it would sink into the soft soil as digging continued. The construction was not without incident as the apparatus became stuck at one point and additional weight had to be added to make the ring descend further. This was due to the wall being vertical and not tapered thus providing a larger friction surface. For the later Wapping the same method was used though with a tapered apparatus.

1826 — 1828

Isambard Kingdom Brunel is resident engineer. Followed by William Gravett and Richard Beamish.

12 May 1827

First major eruption.

12 January 1828

Isambard Kingdom Brunel is seriously injured during second eruption, while 6 workmen are killed. Brunel is sent to Brislington to recuperate where he finds out about the competition for the construction of the Clifton Bridge.

August 1828

Due to financial woes the tunnel is walled off and construction halts for 7 years.

December 1834

Marc Brunel succeeds in raising sufficient funds to continue working on the tunnel. This includes a £247,000 loan from the treasury.

August 1835

- March 1836

The first shield, left in the tunnel for seven years to rust, is dismantled and removed. It is replaced by a new and heavier shield.

1837 — 1841

The tunnel is flooded four more times (on 23 August 1837, 3 November 1837, 20 March 1838, and again on 3 April 1840) and fires and leaks of methane and hydrogen sulphide gas impede tunnelling.


Marc Isambart Brunel is knighted.

November 1841

Tunneling itself is completed. The further works include fitting out the tunnel with lighting, roaways, adding staircases in the shafts, etc. An engine house is built on the Rotherhithe side (now houses the Brunel Museum).

25 March 1843

The tunnel is opened to the public. By that day the costs have far exceeded the initial cost estimates. While a civil engineering success, it does not become a financial one despite two million pedestrians paying a penny per trip to use the tunnel.

26 July 1843

Royal visit by Queen Victoria.

September 1865

The East London Railway Company purchases the tunnel to convert it into link between Wapping and the South London Line.

7 December 1869

The first train rolls through the tunnel. The East London Railway is later incorporated into the London Underground.


The original but disused entrance shafts to the pedestrian tunnel are converted into Wapping and Rotherhithe stations, respectively.

1995 — 1998

The tunnel is closed for long-term maintenance work. London Underground management declares that the tunnel must be repaired or the East London Line will have to be closed. The proposal is to shotcrete any leaks thus covering up the original masonry lining which causes controversy with conservationists. It is finally agreed that one end of the tunnel is to be left untreated while the remainder is repaired.

23 December 2007

- 27 April 2010

The tunnel is closed again for upgrading works to the tracks and signalling as part of the East London line extension. Afterwards the tunnel becomes a part of London Overground and upon reopening is used by mainline trains again.


Resident engineering

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