Greenwich foot tunnel

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Inside the tunnel
Entrance to the Greenwich foot tunnel, southern side, with a view of Canary Wharf.

The Greenwich Foot Tunnel crosses beneath the River Thames in East London, linking Greenwich (Royal Borough of Greenwich) on the south bank with the Isle of Dogs (London Borough of Tower Hamlets) on the north.

Design and construction[edit]

The section of the tunnel that was repaired following damage during WW2

The tunnel was designed by civil engineer Sir Alexander Binnie[1] for London County Council and constructed by contractor John Cochrane & Co. The project started in June 1899 and the tunnel opened on 4 August 1902. The tunnel replaced an expensive and sometimes unreliable ferry service allowing workers living south of the Thames to reach their workplaces in the London docks and shipyards in or near the Isle of Dogs. Its creation owed much to the efforts of working-class politician Will Crooks who had worked in the docks and, after chairing the LCC's Bridges Committee responsible for the tunnel, later served as Labour MP for Woolwich.

The entrance shafts at both ends are beneath glazed domes. Lifts, installed in 1904 were upgraded in 1992 and again in 2012, and helical staircases allow pedestrians to access the sloping, tile-lined tunnel. The cast-iron tunnel is 1,215 feet (370.2 m) long, 50 feet (15.2 m) deep[2] and has an internal diameter of about 9 feet (2.74 m). The cast-iron rings are coated with concrete and surfaced with some 200,000 white glazed tiles. The northern end was damaged by bombs during the Second World War and repairs included a thick steel and concrete inner lining that reduces the diameter substantially for a short distance. The North tower has 87 steps, and the South tower has 100.


The tunnel links Greenwich town centre on the south bank of the Thames, its entrance is close to the restored clipper Cutty Sark, and parts of Docklands including Canary Wharf on the north bank. The tunnel's northern entrance is at Island Gardens, a park on the southern tip of the Isle of Dogs, with views across the river to the former Greenwich Hospital, the Queen's House and the Royal Greenwich Observatory. Because of its depth and location, the tunnel remains cool even on hot days.[citation needed]


The tunnel is classed as a public highway and by law is kept open 24 hours a day. The tunnel is accessible by spiral staircases and large lifts that were refurbished between 2010 and 2012. The tunnel is also part of the UK's National Cycle Route 1 linking Inverness and Dover. Until 2016, cyclists were required to dismount and push their bikes through the tunnel. A National Trail, the Thames Path uses the tunnel to rejoin the southbound part of the path.

Upgrade works[edit]

Prior to recent renovations, the attendant-operated lift service was only open from 7am to 7pm on weekdays and Saturdays, 10am-5.30pm on Sundays, with no service on Christmas Day or Boxing Day; staff shortages and other problems meant that even during these times the lifts were often unavailable. If the lift was not functioning and a person felt unable to use the stairs, they could take the Docklands Light Railway between Island Gardens DLR station (close to the northern end of the tunnel) and Cutty Sark DLR station, close to the southern end since 1999. However, non-folding bicycles are not permitted on the Docklands Light Railway system during peak times.

Greenwich Council started work to upgrade the tunnel on 19 April 2010, intending to reduce leakage, improve drainage and install new lifts, CCTV, communication facilities and signage. Completion was planned for March 2011 but this slipped to September 2011. The tunnel was supposed to be accessible throughout most of the renovations, but closed completely in February 2011. Stair use was soon regained but lifts remained out of service until early 2012, and remained subject to occasional brief closures during 2012.

In October 2012 Greenwich Council acknowledged that the upgrade work had not been completed on time and had run over budget.[3] The work was finally completed and included new customer-operated lifts with surface level availability signs, CCTV coverage, upgraded lighting and renewal or replacement of vital structural components.[4]

The 'Friends of Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels' (FOGWOFT) was established in September 2013.[5] Following encouragement from FOGWOFT and information from the Institution of Civil Engineers, on 5 July 2016 an interpretative plaque was unveiled near the tunnel's Greenwich entrance by the deputy leader of Royal Borough of Greenwich council.[6][7]

In 2016 the Ethos Active Mobility system was installed in the tunnel to monitor and actively manage tunnel usage. The system uses computer vision to count and measure the speed of bicycles and pedestrians, and displays messages on electronic signs to encourage considerate behaviour. The system has also been installed in the Woolwich foot tunnel and aims to make urban shared spaces safer and more pleasant to use for all. The system displays two messages - "No cycling allowed" (in red text) during busy periods, and "Please consider pedestrians" (in green text) during quiet periods.[8]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Greenwich Council Facts about the Foot Tunnel". 2011-10-10. Retrieved 2013-06-27. 
  2. ^ Greenwich Foot Tunnel at Structurae
  3. ^ "Cabinet agrees way ahead for foot tunnels refurbishment - Greenwich". 2012-10-12. Retrieved 2013-06-27. 
  4. ^ "Foot tunnels". Royal Borough of Greenwich. Retrieved 11 March 2015. 
  5. ^ Friends of Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels website
  6. ^ Little, Mandy (12 July 2016). "Plaque to flag up the history of 100 year old Greenwich Foot Tunnel". South London Press online. Retrieved 11 August 2016. 
  7. ^ Chrimes, Mike (September 2016). "Recognition for historic foot tunnel" (PDF). New Civil Engineer: 69. (subscription required)
  8. ^ "Case Study: Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels". Retrieved 28 September 2016. 

External links[edit]