Greenwich in London has many free attractions that are worth visiting but one that does get overlooked and is actually worth a visit is the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, an amazing piece of Victorian engineering.
The tunnel was designed by civil engineer Sir Alexander Binnie and was constructed by John Cochrane & Co. The tunnel was built to allow workers living on the south side of the Thames to reach their work places in the London docks and shipyards that were then located on or near the Isle of Dogs, replacing an expensive and sometimes unreliable ferry service.
Work started in June 1899 and the tunnel was finally completed and opened on 4th August 1902. The entrance shafts at both ends of the tunnel lie beneath glass domes, inside you’ll find lifts that were installed in 1904 (don’t worry they have been replaced several times since then!) and helical staircases that take you to the tile lined tunnel below.
The cast iron tunnel is 1,215 feet (370.2 m) long and 50 feet (15.2 m) deep, the internal diameter is about 9 feet (2.74 m). The cast iron rings are lined with concrete which has been finished with 200,000 white glazed tiles. As you walk through the tunnel you will see that the diameter at the northern end reduces substantially, this was caused by bomb damage during the Second World War and is where repairs were made with a thick steel and concrete inner lining.
You’re most likely to enter the tunnel from the Greenwich side and you’ll find the entrance right by the Cutty Sark. I’d suggest walking down the stairs and getting the lift back up at the other side. Although there’s nothing much to see in the tunnel I just think it’s a very atmospheric place to go and an incredible feat of engineering bearing in mind when it was built. If you’re visiting on one of those rare occasions when London is suffering extreme heat then this is a great place to go to cool off.
When you reach the northern end of the tunnel and are back outside you’ll be in Island Gardens, a small riverside park. Bring your camera with you as there are excellent views across the river of the Old Royal Naval College, the Queen’s House and Greenwich Park.
A word of caution: Beware if you’re down there on your own as you may become one of a select few who have seen the ghosts of a couple in Victorian clothing seemingly out on a nice stroll to Greenwich, the couple walk towards other tunnel users, fading as they get closer. The tunnel is open 24 hours, if you’re brave enough to walk it late at night!