Underneath the river: Secret London

Did you know you could walk from one side of the Thames to another, underneath the river?

Greenwich Thames foot tunnel

A social revolution

Opened in 1902, the Greenwich Thames foot tunnel allowed dock workers who lived on the south side of the river an easier way to get to and from work. But also, families living in the unhealthy Docklands were now able to cross the river to enjoy peace and quiet and fresh air in the countryside.

Peace today is not a given. Over the years, the foot tunnel has been under threat from war and terrorism. World War II took its toll and the IRA and others have tried to ruin this treasure.

greenwich thames foot tunnel

From Greenwich I enter the tunnel through a glazed brick dome, then walk down the winding staircase. I’ve no choice, really – the lift’s out. Down below – 15 metres beneath the river at high tide – I begin walking.

 

Cycling is not allowed in the tunnel. Everywhere, signs remind cyclists to dismount. But some are quite indifferent. I suppose Londoners can be just as contrary as the rest of us. One man bikes on in blatant disregard; others have found a middle ground, using their bike as a kick scooter: one foot on a pedal and pushing with the other.

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Because of the U-shape, I can’t see the whole tunnel. This has a curious consequence: people coming in the opposite direction appear gradually. A man approaches. A man’s shoes, at least. Then I see the legs, then the torso. Finally the head materialises.

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At the other end, I approach the lift. I’ve read about these mahogany-clad contraptions and am keen to see it. Luckily, this one works. It’s quite beautiful: spacious, with deep, dark brown walls, brass fittings and a bench, in case the 370-metre-walk was too taxing.

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Soon, I alight on the other side of the river, at Tower Hamlets, through another dome. Outside, the twilight vista of Greenwich on the other side is wonderful.

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After the introduction of the DLR (Docklands Light Railway), not many use the old tunnel anymore. Next time you’re in London, I highly recommend wandering through this tunnel. It’s simply a bit of old-world magic.

Did you know about the Greenwich Thames foot tunnel? Been here?

More travel photo fun here, peeps.

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21 Responses to “Underneath the river: Secret London”

  1. Indrani 6 May 2016 0154 #

    This sounds so exciting and worth experiencing. 🙂
    I haven’t been to London yet, but making a note of it in case I get there.
    Strange why some hesitate to follow rules.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 May 2016 2144 #

      I think there’s an unruly child in many of us.

  2. Ruth - Tanama Tales 6 May 2016 0716 #

    I didn’t know about this tunnel at all. Sounds like stuff coming out of movies. An underground tunnel, terrorism, war? I would love to walk thru it.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 May 2016 2147 #

      It’s very cool 🙂

  3. budget jan 6 May 2016 1228 #

    No I didn’t know you could do that. It’s a cool thing to do I think and I’d like to check that lift out too!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 May 2016 2148 #

      🙂

  4. Mette 9 May 2016 2021 #

    I used to live in London SE and I’ve never heard about a pedestrians only tunnel. What a wonderful discovery. I wonder how long it takes to walk from one bank to the other.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 May 2016 2141 #

      The tunnel is only 370 metres – then the stairs and/or the lift. 10 minutes or so.

  5. Marcia 10 May 2016 0415 #

    Wow, how did I miss this? Thanks, Sophie, I’ll add this to my list for my next trip.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 May 2016 2140 #

      It’s a secret 😉

  6. Sonali chauhan 10 May 2016 1121 #

    This sounds so exciting. What a wonderful discovery. Thanks for sharing.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 May 2016 2140 #

      Thanks for stopping by.

  7. I’ve not heard of this foot tunnel, but now I’m really thinking about taking a stroll through it. We’re planning a trip to London in July, and the Royal Observatory is already of my list of places to visit. It looks like the tunnel isn’t too far from it.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 May 2016 2139 #

      I took the boat out to the Royal Observatory, and then the tunnel across the river going back.

      • Janita Drew 12 June 2016 2331 #

        I don’t think this comment gives readers a fair idea of the proximity of the Royal Observatory to Greenwich Pier where the boat ACTUALLY stops. To some people it might come as a rather distressing shock that they now have what is to some a quite long walk a lot of it up a hill and you have to cross a main road. Never assume your readers are exactly the same as you. Some of them might be disabled or have small children to think about.

        • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2016 2352 #

          Thanks for your comment, Janita. You’re right – the Royal Observatory is a fair walk from the river. Some nice stops along the way, though, with the Cutty Sark, the old naval college (loved the Painted Hall), and the maritime museum.

  8. Ramana 13 May 2016 1239 #

    Really amazing construction under the river

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2016 2353 #

      🙂

  9. Ana O 10 August 2016 0118 #

    I didn’t know it existed! Thanks for sharing, noew I have one more thing to the never ending list of things to do in London! 🙂

  10. Chaudhry Anjum 23 August 2016 1356 #

    Thanks for sharing this secret , planed trip to Lobdon in October 2016 & must see this tunnel

  11. Fredrik 26 December 2016 0822 #

    I used to live close to the northern entrance to the tunnel, roughly while they were extending the DLR (Docklands Light Railway). Before that service was extended, the tunnel was my best route to Greenwich, and it’s still a nice way to cross the river.
    There’s a road tunnel in similar style a bit to the west, at Rotherhithe. It feels scary narrow driving through it, but it’s another slightly quirky way of crossing. More info at the link to “my website”.

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