In Guarded Praise Of The Woolwich Foot Tunnel

A view along the Woolwich foot tunnel taken at floor level. It is a white tiled tunnel with left and right marked lanes

A stroll beneath the Thames that everybody ought to attempt precisely as soon as.

There are 3 ways to get throughout the Thames at Woolwich. Most individuals take the DLR. These with vehicles, or the urge to sing sea shanties, catch the Woolwich Ferry (when it is working). The match and fearless descend into the foot tunnel.

Sure, the foot tunnel. It has been there since 1912, however is not precisely widespread information. No less than to not those that dwell outdoors the world. If you happen to’ve ever walked by its better-known sibling in Greenwich then you definately’ve had a flavour. However the Woolwich model is longer and lonelier, and due to this fact seems like extra of an journey. Go search it out… although you may wish to deliver a pal.

Around the again of the leisure centre

The primary problem is to seek out the ruddy factor. If coming from Woolwich Excessive Avenue you must duck down a semi-industrial entry highway that would not win any “world’s most inviting avenue” competitions. There’s a signpost, nevertheless it would not exit of its solution to appeal to your consideration. Flip proper, then proper once more, and hopefully you will stumble throughout a distinct segment minimize into the again of the leisure centre. There lurks the doorway shaft — prefer it’s on a fag break or one thing.

A red-brick rotunda with lots of fingerposts in front of it

In order that’s the place all of the signposts went…

This good-looking hatbox of a constructing is of comparable species to the one guarding the Greenwich tunnel. It lacks the acquainted glass dome and is altogether extra timid in its setting, however is clearly of comparable kind and performance. Duck inside (as soon as you’ve got discovered the doorway; itself furtive) and there is a determination to make: stairs or raise?

It’s best to take the raise as a result of it has an intriguing wood inside — but additionally since you’ll get a radical introduction to the steps on the different finish, the place the elevator has been out of motion for a while (I am going to come to that in a bit). The raise takes its time to descend into the depths, supplying you with loads of time to recall all these viral vids the place the lights exit and somebody creeps into the raise from a hid panel.

The interior of the lift

Ultimately, the raise doorways open to disclose one of many nice alt.Insta views in London. Voila!

Looking through lift doors into a long tunnel

And, as a result of the tunnel sees very low footfall, you will in all probability have the place all to your self… which is great for images, not so good for peace of thoughts.

Historic interlude

A view along the tunnel from roof height

Earlier than we set off, it is value taking a minute to evaluation the historical past of this unlikely tunnel. It was designed within the early twentieth century by the splendidly named Sir Maurice Fitzmaurice, whose CV additionally included Vauxhall Bridge, the Rotherhithe Tunnel… and the Aswan Dam.

The tunnel opened on 26 October 1912… aptly, the identical day that Don Siegel, director of Escape From Alcatraz, was born. The route was properly utilized in its adolescence. Woolwich and the Royal Docks had been nonetheless thriving industrial areas on the time, and many individuals made the crossing. In 1915, a soldier returning to Woolwich barracks fired his revolver into the ground of the tunnel — only for the LOLs. He was apprehended by a passing constable and later fined simply 20 shillings because of his earlier good character. It was a special age.

A warning sign of what you can and cannot do in the tunnel. Smoking and cycling are the main no-nos

Puppet exhibits, picnics

Biking has lengthy been outlawed within the tunnel. It is hardly enforced right now, however information reviews from the early years counsel folks had been commonly fined for using beneath the Thames. One other regulation, relationship from 1938, states that “No particular person shall drive or conduct into the tunnel any cattle, or any animal forming a part of a menagerie, or wild animal.” It isn’t clear if the bylaw has ever been examined.

Journey beneath the Thames

Fortunately unencumbered by any menagerie, I set off into the tunnel making an attempt not to consider the megatons of water above my head. The passage stretches off like a mildew-bricked highway, diving down beneath the river in the direction of a far-off inflection level, past which the tunnel’s progress is obscured by its personal roof. No person else is down right here. I enterprise a “whats up” however the curved partitions mirror no echo. The house can be unexpectedly odourless. I have been down right here earlier than, and recall an fragrant mixture of piss and damp, however the tunnel has seemingly cleaned up its act.

Which will partly be because of the cameras. A discreet CCTV hub protrudes from the roof each 50 paces or so. For as soon as, the surveillance is a welcome companion. This lengthy, lonely, linear stroll might really feel a mite threatening to the solo walker, and it is reassuring to know that somebody’s (in all probability) keeping track of issues from a sales space someplace.

The half-kilometre tunnel is conquered in little greater than 5 minutes. It is a trek taken in virtually full isolation. Solely as I method the northern shaft do different folks seem — a bunch of high-vis-sporting workmen heading over to Woolwich, and an excited toddler with its large particular person. The ferry is at the moment out of motion, and I think a number of additional persons are utilizing this free crossing quite than pay for the DLR.

A view through the tunnel, with graffiti saying Fix the Lift

Thanks for the supply however… you did not go away contact particulars

There’s unhealthy information on the finish of the tunnel. The northern raise shaft has been out of motion for years, because of difficulties procuring spare components. A neighborhood marketing campaign group, rejoicing within the memorable acronym of Fogwoft (Pals of Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels) has given up campaigning in frustration. Scrawl on the wall echoes their sentiments. So it is up the 126 steps I’m going, rising into the gray, afternoon gentle of North Woolwich (because the south-eastern a part of the Royal Docks continues to be recognized — a uncommon case of a reputation spanning the Thames).

I am unable to say it was probably the most joyous quarter-hour of my life, nevertheless it definitely one thing to attempt should you take pleasure in barely unsettling city exploration. Tripadvisor ranks the tunnel because the 536th smartest thing to do in London, which is a travesty because it ought to at the least be within the high 400.

What you do from right here is your individual enterprise. You may discover the close by Royal Victoria Gardens with its unusual benches and industrial salvage. You might comply with the Capital Ring strolling route north spherical the highest of the Royal Docks in the direction of West Ham. You may even board a flight from the adjoining Metropolis Airport. However no matter you do, you will not discover wherever else fairly like Woolwich foot tunnel*

A red brick, drum-shaped building with slope-roofed porch

The Royal Docks shaft

*Other than Greenwich foot tunnel.

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