Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s father Marc began the tunnel with his teenage son, who later became resident engineer. It is the only project that father and son worked on together, and Isambard’s first. The Thames Tunnel opened in 1843 and is the first underwater tunnel in the world – and the birthplace of the modern metro system.
The Brunel Museum commemorates Isambard Kingdom Brunel's first and last projects. An exhibition celebrates the Thames Tunnel as the birthplace of the tube system, and the Great Eastern steamship as the first modern ocean liner. Watercolours, engravings, and models explain this epic feat of engineering and tell the story of the men who worked in the dark, dodging flames and raw sewage every day.
When constructed, their project didn’t quite go as planned: the engineering was genius, the finances less so. The twin tunnels were intended for horse-drawn freight, but the money ran out before the ramps twining down the shaft walls could be built. Only pedestrians could get into the tunnel, and in the years until the arrival of the steam trains, it became a an underwater shopping mall, banquet hall and fun fair.
Today it houses a wonderful museum and the former entrance shaft provides a newly accessible underground space and a key exhibit for the museum, hosting events and performances and breathing new life into this important fragment of Brunel’s first project.