The Brunels' Tunnel
Edited by Eric Kentley, Foreword by Michael Palin
Price: £ 7.50
Publish Date: 24/05/2006
Publisher: Thomas Telford Ltd
Page Size: 210x210mm
Number of Pages: 84
"The story of Brunel's tunnel under the Thames is a fine combination of drama, farce, ingenuity, showmanship and sheer engineering chutzpah, the like of which we shall probably never see again"
- MICHAEL PALIN in his foreword
Written by acknowledged experts and published by the Brunel Museum in association with the ICE, this new book presents the fascinating story of the first successful tunnel under a river in soft ground. It is illustrated with 55 contemporary paintings, plans, photographs and engravings, which bring the project to life.
The origins of the tunnel can be traced back to a lecture Marc Isambard Brunel gave at ICE on 17 February 1824. The tunnel was begun in 1825 by with Marc ably supported by 18 year old son, Isambard.
But the tunnel was not opened until 1843 - 18 years of struggle using engineering techniques operating at the very limits of available technology, five major collapses and inundations by the Thames, health and safety problems which would have produced an instant closedown today, a government which would not release funds, and a Board of Directors which was regularly at odds with the needs of the engineers.
Yet, as the book explains, the Brunels overcame all these obstacles. The magnificence of their technical achievement is borne out by the contemporary allusions to the tunnel being the "eighth wonder of the world" with over 1 million people paying 1d to walk through the tunnel in the four months following its opening. And to the fact that over 160 years later, the tunnel still carries 14 million people a year as part of the London Tube network.
Marc Brunel (Sir Marc, after the completion of the Tunnel), although overshadowed by the achievements of his son, was one of the greatest civil and mechanical engineers of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a man of even greater inventive genius than his son. The Thames Tunnel was his greatest achievement and modern tunnelling techniques can trace a direct lineage back to the tunneling shield principle Marc patented to dig the Thames Tunnel.
The book tells the story of the challenges the Brunels faced at a time when such engineering projects were the wonder of the age and reveals how they overcame difficulties with ingenious solutions. It details the problems with unhealthy working conditions, leakages, a sceptical society and public fears that led the Brunels to hold a banquet inside the tunnel itself to engender public confidence in the project and create broad appeal.
As the book illustrates, boldness and great optimism continued to typify the mindset of the project team until the first Londoners walked from one side of the city to the other, beneath the Thames, in 1843.
A Chronology of the Thames Tunnel:
1798: Ralph Dodd’s attempt at a tunnel between Gravesend and Tilbury fails.
1802: Robert Vazie proposes a tunnel between Rotherhithe and Limehouse.
1805: The newly formed Thames Archway Company is empowered to undertake the project.
1807: Vazie begins his tunnel.
1808: The tunnel is flooded just less than 200 ft short of completion and is abandoned.
1818: Marc Brunel patents a device for ‘Forming Drifts and Tunnels Under Ground’.
1821: Marc Brunel is imprisoned for debt.
1824: FEB – Marc creates great enthusiasm for the idea of a tunnel when he gives a lecture to the Institution of Civil Engineers.
MARCH – Marc enlists the support of the Duke of Wellington.
JUNE – The parliamentary Bill defining the powers of the Thames Tunnel Company for ‘Making and Maintaining a Tunnel under the Thames’ receives the Royal Assent.
1825: MARCH – The formal opening of work on the shaft at Rotherhithe takes place.
JUNE – The top of the brick tower is sunk below ground level.
NOVEMBER – The boring of the tunnel begins.
1827: JANUARY – Isambard Brunel, who has been acting as resident engineer for several months, is officially confirmed in the appointment.
MAY – Protesting about cuts in their wages, the miners go on strike. The first major flood. The tunnel is 549 ft long.
AUGUST – Marc suffers a paralytic stroke.
NOVEMBER – The celebration banquet takes place in the tunnel. Work begins again.
1828: JANUARY – Second major flood. Six men are killed and Isambard is injured. The tunnel is 605 ft long.
FEBRUARY – Isambard suffers the first of a series of haemorrhages and is laid up for several months.
AUGUST – The tunnel is bricked up after a new issues of shares fails to raise adequate money.
1834: APRIL – The Tunnel Club is founded by Fellows of Royal Society at the Spreadeagle and Crown inn (now the Mayflower) opposite the tunnel works on Marc Brunels 65th birthday.
DECEMBER – The first part of a £270,000 loan from the Treasury is made over to the Thames Tunnel Company.
1835: The new shield is installed underground and tunneling restarts.
1837: AUGUST – Third major flood. The tunnel is 736 ft long.
NOVEMBER – Forth major flood. One miner is killed. The tunnel is 742 ft long.
1838: Fifth major flood. The tunnel is 763 ft long.
1839: The tunnel reaches the low-water mark on the Wapping shore.
1840: MARCH – Marc is knighted by Queen Victoria.
JUNE – Marc takes possession of the land for the Wapping shaft.
1841: The tunnel reaches the Wapping shaft.
1843: MARCH – The Thames Tunnel is opened to pedestrian traffic. It is 1,200 ft long.
JULY – Queen Victoria visits the tunnel.
1852: The first Thames Tunnel Fancy Fair is held.
1865: The tunnel is formally handed over to the East London Railway.
1869: The first passenger train on the East London Railway passes through the tunnel.
1973: A charity is established to restore the old engine house, by now a scheduled ancient monument.
1980: The restored building is opened as the Brunel Engine House Museum.
2002: The Museum earns the Freedom of the Ancient Metropolitan Borough of Bermondsey, a civic award for services to the community.
2005: The Museum achieves the status of a Registered Museum and changes its name to the Brunel Museum.
2006: Just before the bicentennial of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s birth, the Museum welcomes its 50,000th visitor.