For the past year or so, the foot tunnel that runs under the Thames between the Isle of Dog and Greenwich has had the lifts out of action, and the staircase covered up in so much cladding that it is barely wide enough for people to walk down it.

And it’s certainly a struggle with bikes or prams to get past people.

Fortunately, a week ago, the lifts were reopened to the public, and while I always tended to use the stairs before (fitness, innit), I wanted to have a look at the lifts and see what a year’s worth of work had done to them.

Gone are the steel doors with tiny windows and in come department store gloss, with floor to ceiling glass sliding doors that look very swish and rather nice. They invite the chance to look down the lift shaft (and up from below) in a most agreeable manner.

Greenwich foot tunnel

Unfortunately, the north-side lift is proving temperamental, and it takes ages to arrive. While I was there, several families gave up and walked down.

Once eventually arrived, the lifts have evidently been given a bit of a clean inside. The wood panelling looks like a replacement for the old panels that were there simply because it looks too clean and sharp edged to have been a restoration.

Greenwich foot tunnel

However, one stalwart has gone – the guy sitting in the corner reading a paper and lethargically pressing the open and close buttons on the lift. The “bell boy” has gone and these are now self-service lifts. OK, the former bell boys were hardly inspiring, sitting there in casual clothing and looking utterly bored with life, but it was slightly reassuring having them there instead of a bank of distant CCTVs.

Sadly though, the glass lift doors might prove to be a better idea for a posh shop than an unstaffed pedestrian tunnel – as the bottom door has already been smashed. Not sure if due to manufacturing defect, or an idiot venting angst at the lifts.

Greenwich foot tunnel

The rest of the tunnel is essentially unchanged – still dirty and dimly lit. Atmospheric, and I like that they haven’t tried to modernise it – but what on earth have they spent the past year doing?

The stairs are still covered in hoardings. With the exception of the clean glass doors, the dirty plastic/glass around the rest of the lift shaft is still there – and most annoying of all, the steel girder that sits right in front of the lift doors is still blocking access.

I’d have thought replacing that with something less obtrusive would have been the main priority of the building works. They’ve had a year – and modern materials – to work with, so it shouldn’t have been that difficult to shift it.

Greenwich foot tunnel

Yes, I like the new lifts with their shiny doors (when not smashed), but like a lot of people, I struggle to understand why they had to be closed for a year, and why the staircases are still covered up.

Greenwich foot tunnel

At least they’ve taken down the signs warning that photography is banned in the tunnel.


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  1. Paulos says:

    I would hope that there is still work to do on the tunnel itself. It’s still a dirty, dimly lit passage. Looking at the planning application on the Tower Hamlets website the tunnel walls are due to be cleaned and any broken/missing tiles replaced. For however many million that’s been spent on it it does seem to have been a waste of money.

  2. Islander says:

    Work started on the tunnel Easter 2010 and should have taken a year, so it’s now a year over schedule and still not finished. Apart from the restored lifts and PA speakers about every 10 feet along the tunnel, it’s hard to see what has taken up all the time. Also, the already much narrower section at the northern end (due to WW2 bomb damage) now has even less headroom due to the installation of an electrical conduit.

  3. IslandDweller says:

    My partner (who has struggled with a bike up and down those narrowed stairs for the past year) tells me that one of the lift is beyond temperamental, it’s now not working at all….
    Completely agree with your theme – what on earth have they been doing all this time?

  4. violet Harrington says:

    I used those lifts when I was eight years of age and I am now 85. I wrote a story about my East End and the bombing when I lived there till we went to live in Reading after the bombing got too bad. It is very interesting to read about the changes but the tiles in the tunnel are a part of my history . I used to think the condensation was the river coming through and run quickly to get out to the other side,
    I was a lucky child as I lived in Stebondale st and had the park just behind our shop , The swimming pool, the tennis courts the paddling pond and the large green grass area to play , I ised to sit and watch the boasts go past at The Island Gardens and Greenwich Park with Plum Pudding Hill, The Fair at Black heath was something the kids today never see and the prizes were worth winning in those days.

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