Foot Tunnel

The Foot Tunnel under the Thames at North Woolwich.

It was built to provide a more reliable connection between North and South Woolwich, as the bad winter fogs often stopped the Woolwich Free Ferry from operating. It also provided a route for services, including a 20” water main with risers coming up through a number of shafts. The tunnel owed much to the efforts of Will Crooks MP (1852-1921), hero of the 1889 docks strike and later Chairman of the LCC's Bridges Committee.

The tunnel was commissioned by the LCC It was designed and built by Sir Maurice Fitzmaurice (1861-1924) chief engineer to LCC who also designed the Rotherhithe Tunnel (1908) and Vauxhall Bridge (1906). An earlier tunnel was begun under the Thames here in 1876 by J.H. Gratehead (1844-1896) but was not completed.

It is similar to the foot tunnel that links Greenwich to the Isle of Dogs, built in 1901, but has a smaller entrance rotunda which is 19 feet 5 inches in height. It is red brick, with segmental-headed paired sash windows and wrought-iron grilles. The copper dome has a little conical-roofed lantern on top. The entrances have glass canopies on cast iron columns with foliated caps and decorated barge-boards. The rotunda is a grade II listed building.

The construction of the north shaft was begun on 1 May 1910. It is 64 feet deep and was completed in September 1910. The south shaft is 51 feet deep. Both shafts were sunk by excavating inside them under compressed air. The shafts have two skins of steel plating and the space between them is filled with concrete, they are lined with brickwork, the inside diameter is 25 feet. In each there is a spiral staircase giving access to the tunnel from the street above. The original scheme did not allow for provision of the lifts which were later added into the stair wells at a cost of £5,000.

The tunnel was dug by hand and is 1655 feet in length and the top is 10 feet below the river bed. It is covered by 38 feet of water at low tide and 69 feet of water at high tide. Tunnelling started on 1 December 1910 and finished in October 1911. The work was carried out by Messrs. Walter Scott and Middleton cost to £78,860 7s 1d.

The tunnel, a cast-iron tube made of a series of connecting rings, is 12 feet 8 inches outside diameter. The men worked three eight-hour shifts and managed an average of 8ft 4in every 24 hours.The laborers digging the tunnel worked within a Greathead shield, a large metal ring, which gave them protection and supported the walls at the same time. The shield was moved forward by hydraulic jacks and the walls were then lined with cast iron segments. Compressed air was pumped into the tunnel to prevent water leaking into it. After it was completed from shaft to shaft it was lined throughout with concrete, upon which white glazed tiles are fixed. The footway is paved with York stone flags.

The people of North Woolwich refer to the tunnel as ‘the pipe’. It is often used a filming location for TV dramas and adverts.

Photo: © Copyright Nigel Cox and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence at

Posted by: Kathy Taylor


Foot Tunnel