The Brunels’ Tunnel

This great underwater crossing’s continued use today is testimony to the far-sighted technical skill of Marc and Isambard Brunel. What we shouldn’t forget is the grip that the Thames Tunnel had on the popular imagination at the time; a combination of joy, pleasure, wonder and sheer excitement, which is not dead and which echoes up from the river-bed to this day.

- MICHAEL PALIN in his foreword


Written by acknowledged experts and published by the Brunel Museum in association with the Institute of Civil Engineers, this  book presents the fascinating story of the first successful tunnel under a river in soft ground. It is illustrated with 55 contemporary paintings, plans, photographs and engravings, which bring the project to life.

The origins of the tunnel can be traced back to a lecture Marc Isambard Brunel gave at ICE on 17 February 1824. The tunnel was begun in 1825 with Marc ably supported by his 18-year-old son, Isambard.

But the tunnel was not opened until 1843 – 18 years of struggle using engineering techniques operating at the very limits of available technology, five major collapses and inundations by the Thames, health and safety problems which would have produced an instant closedown today, a government which would not release funds, and a Board of Directors which was regularly at odds with the needs of the engineers.

Yet, as the book explains, the Brunels overcame all these obstacles. The magnificence of their technical achievement is borne out by the contemporary allusions to the tunnel being the “eighth wonder of the world” with over 1 million people paying 1d to walk through the tunnel in the four months following its opening. And to the fact that over 160 years later, the tunnel still carries 14 million people a year as part of the London Tube network.

The book tells the story of the challenges the Brunels faced at a time when such engineering projects were the wonder of the age and reveals how they overcame difficulties with ingenious solutions. It details the problems with unhealthy working conditions, leakages, a sceptical society and public fears that led the Brunels to hold a banquet inside the tunnel itself to engender public confidence in the project and create broad appeal.

As the book illustrates, boldness and great optimism continued to typify the mindset of the project team until the first Londoners walked from one side of the city to the other, beneath the Thames, in 1843.



  • Foreword
  • A Chronology of the Thames Tunnel
  • Under the River
  • The Remarkable Brunels
  • A Tunnel for the Thames
  • Beginning the Tunnel
  • Finishing the Tunnel
  • The Celebrated Tunnel
  • The Fate of the Tunnel
  • Where the Tunnel Led
  • The Tunnel Today
  • Bibliography
  • Acknowledgements

Images of the book:

Pages from The Brunels' Tunnel

Pages from The Brunels' Tunnel


Purchase this book here.


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