Over 120 years after it was built, the Blackwall Tunnel remains the main river crossing East of Tower Bridge, connecting the East End to South East London. It may be a surprise to learn that a late Victorian Londoner, would have the same inner London river crossing options as a Londoner today.
In the mid-1850s Londoners had 3 toll-free river crossing options, London Bridge, Westminster, and in the middle Blackfriars. Victorian planners saw the need for building additional river crossing capacity for the 40% of the London population that lived in the East of the city. The Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW), set up in 1855, worked over a 30 year period to solve the river crossing problem. The solution came in 1885 by way of an act of parliament to build what would be known as Tower Bridge and further down the river, a tunnel which would be called Black Wall Tunnel
When the Blackwall Tunnel only had one
Traveling southbound through the Blackwall tunnel today you will notice the engraved stone above the tunnel entrance bears the date 1967. Today’s northbound tunnel bears the date 1897. Victorian engineer Alexander Binnie designed a single tunnel with sufficient width for north and southbound traffic.
When you look back in our history, especially on matters of city planning, you get the sense that the time scales are counted in decade jumps. The victorian city planners were building their tomorrow, and no their today. The decision to go with a single tunnel solution for the Blackwall tunnel would take another 80 years for a second tunnel to be built, ironically the original plan in 1885 by Sir Joseph Bazalgette, was for a twin tunnel solution.
The approval for the Single tunnel was approved by the London County Council in 1891 with a tender going to S. Pearson & Son of Victoria Street, at construction cost of £871,000.
27 Foot wide, 6000 feet long the largest tunnel of its time
At the time of planning, 3 other notable tunnels existed, City and South London Railway Tunnel (1886–90), the Hudson River Tunnel in New York (1879), and the St Clair Tunnel in Canada (1889). None of these were as big as the Blackwall tunnel project.
The Blackwall Tunnel under River Thames opened in 1897
- The Blackwall Tunnel was the longest underwater tunnel in the world in the year they built it.
- Pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages were the primary users until the motor car took off and nudged them out of the way
- It took 71 years to realise another tunnel was needed to ease congestion, the second tunnel was completed in 1967
- The Blackwall Tunnel is free to use, no tolls and as yet no congestion zone or ULEZ
- Bus Route 108 runs through the tunnel
- 800 people took to make the Blackwall Tunnel
- Unfortunately, 7 people are recorded to have died on the project to build the Blackwall Tunnel
- The Northbound Tunnel Gatehouse is a Grade II listed building
- 2012 TFL announced they would TOLL the Blackwall Tunnel to pay for Silverton Link. This idea has not seen the light of day