The story of “The Brunels’ Tunnel” under the River Thames is a combination of drama, ingenuity, showmanship and sheer engineering courage that will probably never be seen again.
This book illustrates the challenges that the great Brunels’ faced at a time when this mind-boggling engineering feat was in development and reveals how they overcame difficulties with incredible solutions. It details the problems with unhealthy working conditions, leakages, a skeptical society and public fears that led the Brunels to hold a banquet inside the tunnel itself to spawn public confidence in the project and create broad appeal.
Characterised by innovation, technical ability, flair and practicality, this book shows that the Brunels also had an acute marketing sense, as Marc Brunel did everything possible to charm the public down into the strange, somewhat threatening, subterranean world in order for the project ultimately to be a success. As this illustrated paperback depicts, boldness and great optimism continued to typify the mindset on the project team until the first Londoners walked from one side of the city to the other, beneath the Thames, in 1843. This was the crowning glory of the tunnel’s chief engineer, Marc Brunel, who came up with the idea of using a steel case as a tunnel boring shield. This method is still used in all great underground boring projects nearly two hundred years later.
When the railways came in the 1860s pedestrian access was sacrificed to the new and much more commercial technology, and to this day the Thames Tunnel is still used as a vital part of London’s transport system. This great underwater crossing was a feat of engineering which the Victorians called the Eighth Wonder of the World. Its continued use today as part of the East London Line is testimony to the far-sighted technical skill of Marc and Isambard Brunel, who was recently voted the second-greatest Briton ever in a BBC poll. The Brunels’ Tunnel, the first of an underground network that transformed London city’s life, is something of which Londoners always were, and should always remain, rightly proud.
By The Brunel Museum