Those who know London will tell you that there are many tunnels crossing underneath the River Thames. Some carry motor vehicles, others trains and tube trains and a couple are for pedestrians. The latter two are located at Greenwich and Woolwich. But there is another pedestrian tunnel which remains unknown to most people.
It was built in 1869 at a cost of £16,000 by a young engineer named James Greathead. It is situated about 100 metres west of the Tower of London and was called the Tower Subway. It consisted of an iron tube with a single rail track running along it. A carriage which could accommodate up to 12 passengers was used to make the journey under the river. It was an interesting idea which unfortunately did not work as the engineers had hoped. A series of mechanical problems forced the train to cease operating after only three months in service.
Since there was no trouble with the tunnel itself, it was decided to turn it into a pedestrian tunnel where the customers could walk through from end to end. The walk was both damp and dreary due to the sparse lighting, but up to 20,000 people per week were happy to pay the half-pence charge for the privilege.
However, by 1894, one of the most iconic landmarks of London opened to the public. It was Tower Bridge and was located just a couple of hundred metres away from the tunnel. Not only could vehicles and pedestrians use the bridge, it was also free. It spelt the end of the tunnel.
It was closed and sold to the London Hydraulic Power Company who used it to lay water pipes under the Thames. These days it is used to carry electrical cables of varying types. Although the public cannot gain access, you can still see the small round building which is the entrance to the tunnel. It is located just behind the Tower of London gift shop.
In recent years, the tunnel has gained a little fictional publicity as it is featured as the secret location of Torch headquarters in the “Shadow World” series of novels I have written beginning with “Hour of the Wolf”.