Tower Subway fails the grade

by James Barber on 28 February 2013

Southwark is often said to be the most historic London borough. Part of this evidence in the Tower Subway. It was the world’s first ever tube railway in 1869.

Today English Heritage decided not to award it Grade II listing.

See the report why:  report_165456

Tower subwayThe tower subway has historical significance as one of the earliest tunnels to be dug using the tunnel shield method.  Marc and Isambard Brunel pioneered the use of a tunnelling shield in the digging of the Thames Tunnel between Wapping and Rotherhithe (now part of the London Overground Network) and Peter Barlow and James Greathead significantly improved on this work in constructing an iron shield that was circular in cross section (the Brunel’s shield was rectangular) that laid the foundations for the tunnel boring machines that are used today. The Tower Subway is also significant in being the first to use a segmental cast-iron lining, a system still in common use today.  The Tower Subway is thus London’s second oldest tunnel beneath the River Thames and pre-dates the next oldest – the City and South London Railway (now the Northern Line) – by some 14 years. Tunnel’s are not normally listed (the Thames Tunnel, at grade II*, is a rare exception) the historic significance  of the Tower Subway suggests that it would make  a worthy candidate for listing.

It was built in less than one year in 1869 which is a great example of how great an engineer Peter Barlow was designing his shield etc and how James Greathead delivered the project. It originally had a mini tube train which failed commercially. Once this subway train was removed in 1870 it became a 1/2 penny toll foot tunnel and was hugely successful in getting one million people a year from Tooley Street to outside the Tower of London. But this commercially died when Tower Bridge was opened as a free way of crossing the River Thames in 1894.

The tunnel was then bought by the London Hydraulic Power Company housing high pressured water pipes, later Thames Water pipes and more recently fibre optic cables for Cable&Wireless Worldwide.

Is it safe for the future?

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