When the City of London decided it needed a bridge to be built next to the Tower of London, it held an open competition for designs for said bridge. Around 50 designs were submitted for a bridge at the location now occupied by Tower Bridge, and many of the rejected designs have cropped up on the internet over the years.

Probably the most famous rejected design was this unworkable idea. Photo courtesy of the City of London Archive.

What I was not aware of, having never seen the drawings before – was that one submission was not for a bridge, but a tunnel. And what a tunnel it would have been!

Tower Hill Tunnel

Some drawings were shown to a group of people this morning at Tower Bridge by the London Metropolitan Archives — for an unrelated reason which I will write about later — and while I nodded in memory of most of them, the tunnel made us all jump in shock.

There is actually an old railway/pedestrian tunnel right next to Tower Bridge — the Tower Subway — which fell into disuse after the Bridge was built, but is still in use today for carrying fibre optic cables.

Anyway – the drawings were behind a protective plastic sheet as they are quite fragile, but I managed to take a few photos that came out well enough for you to appreciate what a monumental underground structure this would have been.

Tower Hill Tunnel

The tunnel would have been quite shallow by the looks of things, and the riverside nearby looks like it would have also been lowered for road traffic, with steps leading down from the normal street level for pedestrians.

That long slope, and grand brick arched embankment by the road marked a stark contrast to the original idea for the Brunel Tunnel further down the river, which had planned a circular walkway for horse and cart to slowly spiral down to the tunnel.

Even accepting Victorian tendencies to exaggerate the scale of their constructions, this would have still been a massive structure and at least avoided the problems associated with bridges blocking river traffic.

I quite liked the little waterfalls of water on either side of the entrance, which may have scared delicate Victorians.

Tower Hill Tunnel

Was it rejected for being too expensive, or because of the well known problems with Brunel’s own tunnel we might never know.

It might even have been more impressive than Tower Bridge – but only up close. Tower Bridge as it stands today is rightly an icon of the city, not just visually but also as a physical landmark that says “here begins the city” in a way that a tunnel could never have achieved.

Tower Hill Tunnel

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4 Comments

  1. Adam Thompson

    Ian,

    Thanks for posting this impressive like you I knew of the bridge but not the tunnel did you get any concept of how long the access roads would have been?

    • IanVisits

      No idea – the single draft drawing is all we had to look at, but you can guestimate maybe half a mile to maintain a decent slope.

  2. Great article; I love these long lost plans for a London that may have been.

    Reminds me of an alternative plan for the Channel Tunnel I once saw at the National Railway Museum in York- it was the opposite; rather than a tunnel, one idea was to build a vast bridge across the sea!

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