Episode 325 – UNDER the Thames to…. Canada?

This is our “neighbourhood” ! Top: looking through the Greenwich University grounds toward the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf on the opposite side of the Thames. Centre: part of the Greenwich University campus. Bottom: the area on the South Bank of the Thames near the Cutty Sark.

In 1902, just one year after Queen Victoria’s death, the Greenwich Foot Tunnel was opened, connecting Greenwich from the point where the Cutty Sark is displayed to the Isle of Dogs on the opposite side of the Thames River.

The oxidized copper plaque above the door of the south entrance doors.
“THIS TUNNEL CONSTRUCTED BY THE LONDON COUNTY COUNCIL
WAS OPENED IN AUGUST 1902”

There are glazed domes enclosing the entrance shafts at both ends. Helical staircases allow access to the tunnel, which slopes slightly from each side to its midpoint under the river.

The South tunnel entrance. There was a diversion (sorry).

Despite reading descriptions of the tunnel as “spooky”, I really wanted to experience it. Plus, how spooky can it really be when about 4000 people use it every day? I expect the description relates to the fact that the most tourists are not used to walking in a 9-foot diameter 0.3km/1215 ft long cylinder running 15.2 metres /50 feet below the surface of a river.

The northern access staircase has 87 steps, and the southern has 100 – a piece of cake for experienced cathedral bell tower climbers like we are – and the staircases are bright and spacious, a far cry from the 18th century bell towers in Germany!

Would a “spooky” tunnel have a chocolate bar dispenser on its wall?

There are also elevators (“lifts”, since we’re in England), originally installed in 1904, upgraded in 1992 and 2012, but they’re less reliable than the stairs. The Royal Borough of Greenwich website mentions that while the lifts are currently operating, “they remain vulnerable to further unpredictable faults, due to their historic nature.” No thanks. Getting stuck in a lift is not on my to do list.

The tunnel itself is made of cast iron, coated with concrete and surfaced with over 200,000 white glazed tiles.

In my opinion, there is nothing the least bit spooky about it, although maybe if we were entering it at night…and the lights flickered….or we could hear water dripping….

The only section I expected to find a bit disconcerting was the northern end that was damaged by bombs on the first night of the Blitz (September 8/9 1940) in WWII, since after being repaired and reinforced it is quite a bit narrower in diameter than the rest of the tunnel, but even that is brightly lit – and it’s actually quite interesting to see the infrastructure without tile covering it.

Top: what the majority of the tunnel looks like.
Bottom: the narrower reinforced section, with a close look at the construction of the reinforcing rings.

Reaching the north side, we were on the Isle of Dogs, and immediately in Island Gardens.

The northern access point looks exactly like the southern one, except for the surrounding garden with its palm trees!
After ascending from the tunnel we sat down in the gardens and looked back across at the southern bank. On this side of the river we’re no longer in Greenwich, but in Tower Hamlets.
We got a completely different view from the gardens. These are the same buildings as in the first picture in this blog post. I really like the way Ted can zoom in closer and closer!
From “our” side of the river we’ve seen those huge smokestacks of Greenwich Power Station often, but from the opposite side we suddenly discovered that the beautiful Trinity Hospital was visible!

To reach “Canada”, we had to pass through Mudchute Park, 32 acres of countryside with a working farm, children’s nursery, protected wildlife habitat, and a wide range of education activities. The entire complex is a free-access community charity.

Top: free public access exercise equipment in the park. Bottom: walking along the former dockyards (Millwall Outer Dock) into Canary Wharf.
Looking back into the former dry dock. It has become a gorgeous residential area.

Canary Wharf was the 1980s mega-project funded by Canadian Paul Reichmann and his real estate development company Olympia & York, which was also responsible for developments in Toronto’s financial district and Manhattan’s World Financial Center in the mid 1970’s . In 1987, he was asked by then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to create a project similar to New York City’s in London. Unfortunately, transit infrastructure promised by the British government didn’t happen (until 1999), making the Canary Wharf docklands location an inaccessible white elephant instead of the city’s second financial district. The project eventually bankrupted the Reichmanns. In his 2013 obituary in MoneyWeek magazine, they wrote: “As with railway pioneers, his career reminds us that those who risk their money on mega-projects often lose out, while the rest of us inherit a great infrastructure”.

In recognition of the Canadian developer’s role in revitalizing the area, “Canada” is recognized in the huge central complex comprised of Canada Place, Cabot Place, Churchill Place, Crossrail Place, Jubilee Place and The Park Pavilion, and Canada Square hosts events and performances when not simply being used as green space.

Top: looking into busy Canada Place. Bottom: the Canary Wharf DLR (Docklands Light Rail) Station. Wonderful, but too late for the Reichmanns.

In 2015, Canary Wharf was bought by Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund and another Canadian investor, Brookfield Properties. It is certainly a thriving centre now, full of retail malls, huge office towers, and modern apartment buildings mixed with a few iconic older structures, AND some of the world’s biggest banks, all surrounding an area that was once shipbuilding drydocks.

Old and new, which aptly describes the city of London in general, with post-war construction contrasting historic architecture to create a truly unique city.

We were ready for lunch and a rest by the time we reached Canada Square, having done just over 10,000 steps. A couple of lovely draught beers, potato and sweet potato fries, a bit of battered chicken, and spiced cucumber hit the spot. After all, we still needed to walk back home!

A quiet evening in front of the telly beckons.

3 comments

  1. On our visits to England, we often stayed for a while with our nephew Marc in London . On one of them, he took us by the light rail to Canary Wharf and through the tunnel to Greenwich. I found it really neat to do and not spooky at all. We visited the Cutty Sark and the observatory, picniced on the hillside and took a river boat back. A very enjoyable way to spend a day!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ROSE: Thanks again for enhancing what we saw.  There was a carnival type set up around the Cutty Sark when we were in Greenwich.  I had no idea that the round structure was an entrance to a tunnel under the river.  Our guide probably didn’t want us wandering down there and not getting back on time to return to the ship! Al

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yea, wandering away from the group might have been a no-no. To be fair, when we were here in 2017, we weren’t aware of the tunnel either. I probably thought the round buildings were WCs!

      Like

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