Project ID: 1050

DescriptionBrunels' Tunnel. which connected Rotherhithe and Wapping, was constructed between 1825 and 1843. It was the first ever tunnel dug under a river and is still in use today as the route for TFLs Overground Railway. However the Brunels did not dig the tunnel themselves, they had a large workforce probably around 36 men on each shift and two shifts a day plus lots of other labourers doing a variety of other support tasks. The museum has good records of the tunnelers who perished whilst working on the tunnel but very limited records of the rest of the workforce. This is where our SLP may be able to help. Our project is likely to research the workforce, what were their names? where did they live? what about their families - did they move with them or stay at home? Indeed where were their homes? were they recruited from the tin mines of Cornwall or the coal mines of Somerset?
TopicsSocial history
TypeU3A-led research (SLP)
U3ASouth East Greater London Network
Organization/partnerBrunel Museum, Rotherhithe, SE London
Year started2022
Source of referenceFlyer for SLP
The Brunel Museum sits at the top of the Rotherhithe Shaft and is seeking funds for refurbishment and a new exhibition. You can find out more about the museum on their website 
NotesReport from Robert Keirle, Brunel Museum

In addition to producing a detailed database of named workers (inc. engineers, boilermen, foremen etc.), the team have uncovered huge amounts of source material on the history of Rotherhithe at the time, contemporary opinion of the Thames Tunnel in Victorian newspapers and the building materials and mechanics of the tunnel design as well as information on worker conditions and health and family life. 

The fantastic research they’ve produced is already directly influencing how we, as a museum, tell the Thames Tunnel story not only in how we deliver guided tours to visitors but also in the design of our upcoming lottery-funded Brunel Museum Reinvented project over the next year. The information will be presented on new museum displays and will also feature in a series of blog posts to be published on our website. 

Ultimately, their work has helped humanise our understanding of how the Tunnel was constructed and brought to light many previously unheard stories and voices. This work will also serve as the foundation for future historical research into the social history of the tunnel and its later years as an underwater shopping arcade.