If you were so minded to pass by and peer over the edge, you might notice that there’s an old plaque on the wall in the modern approach roads to the Blackwall Tunnel.

It marks the opening of the original tunnel, which was marked by two great gatehouses at either end. The southern gatehouse still exists, but its northern counterpart was demolished in 1959 to make way for the highway that now rips though this part of East London.

While the gatehouse has gone, the plaque was kept in storage and later mounted on the walls near where it had originally been.

The plaque celebrates the opening of the tunnel in 1897 by the Prince of Wales and apart from the usual grand statements and lists of names of important people, what makes it worth seeking out is what’s underneath it.

At a time when ordinary folk were overlooked, here is a diagram of the ordinary people digging the tunnel.

You can see the tunneling shield heading under the Thames, the men removing spoil, and even the pipes that would have delivered fresh air down into the underground workspace.

The plaque is surprisingly easy to get to, as by coincidence, there’s a bus stop right next to it (bus stop M on route 108), with a staircase up to the main roads above.

There is an identical plaque mounted inside the gatehouse on the southern side as well, but it’s in a space that’s even less pedestrian friendly than the northern side, so you’ll have to make do with a google image.


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  1. Mary says:

    I think its a bit hard describing the men who worked on the tunnel as ‘ordinary’ – skilled, brave workers’ perhaps (and whose health was monitored by the LCC throughout). There are a lot of other things of interest in the tunnel – including a rather mysterious concrete building above the southern entrance which was removed as ‘untidy’ before the millennium exhibition. It dated from the Second World War. Anyway – keep in mind that the poor old Blackwall was an engineering marvel in its day- and puts up how with a daily hammering unthought of when it was built. -oh and yes – check out the vent systems in the old stairway entrances.

    • ianvisits says:

      Ordinary as in not lords and peers, the point of the comment being that ordinary folk were recorded in the plaque, which was unusual at the time.

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