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An Anniversary Fete held in the Thames Tunnel, London, in 1858

Posted in Anniversary, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, Leisure, London, Railways, Rivers on Tuesday, 27 August 2013

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Thames Tunnel, picture, image, illustration

Thames Tunnel – anniversary fetes; from The Illustrated News of the World, 3 April 1858.

The Thames Tunnel was opened to the public on 25 March, 1843. It was the first tunnel in the world to be built under a navigable river, and quickly became a tourist attraction for visitors to London. In the early days of its construction Londoners had been admitted for one shilling, but by mid-century the new admission charge was just one penny, and around two million people a year paid to pass through some of the 1300 feet of the tunnel’s length. It was soon to be filled with stall-holders, hawkers, buskers and official musicians, including an organist performing on a grand instrument specially designed for the location. It also quickly became the haunt of prostitutes and criminals. Nevertheless, no tourist to the capital would be satisfied without visiting what one American called “the Eighth Wonder of the World”. Isambard Kingdom Brunel had himself held a banquet in the tunnel after repairing the damage in 1827, and now the work was finished and the attraction opened, others were quick to follow in using the space for celebration and entertainment. Its arches were festooned with lights and the interior served as banqueting hall, market hall, occasional ballroom and vast subterranean salon for fashionable society. It would be 1865 before it was finally bought by the East London Railway and put to use in the only way appropriate in the Railway Age – as a train tunnel.

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