Extract from Letters From Mr. [Thurlow] Weed . . . No. X., Correspondence of the Albany Evening Journal
From the New York Daily Tribune, August 19, 1843
Monday, July 17
I have been through the Thames Tunnel. This is to London what the Croton Water Works are to New.York, the great achievement of the 19th century. There is nothing at either entrance of the Tunnel, which indicates that you are in the vicinity of this extraordinary improvement. We passed over it in a steamer in the morning, without being aware that other masses of fellow beings were quietly walking through a subterranean passage below us! The visitor is directed “This way to the Tunnel ” by a board on the corner of a street. You descend a winding stone stairway 100 steps, and enter into the Tunnel, which is well lighted with gas, and afforded us a cool pleasant walk, after four hour’s exposure to the sun. The Tunnel has two avenues, each wide enough to allow 12 or 16 persons to walk abreast. Half way through, a printing press is stationed “By Royal Authority,” which is throwing off sheets containing an account of the Tunnel. I told the man I would purchase two of his sheets provided lie would allow me to “pull” them myself. This, upon learning that “I knows the ropes,” as they say at sea, he consented to. I have, therefore, an account of the Thames Tunnel, printed by myself, standing midway between the London and Surry sides of the river, seventy feet below its bed, with Steamers and ships passing directly over my head!
The Tunnel is two miles below London Bridge, where another bridge, which was much wanted, would have proved seriously injurious to the immense commerce of the metropolis. In 1823, after the failure and abandonment of several plans for tunneling the Thames, one was submitted by Mr. (now Sir J. M.) Brunel [sic], which received the confidence of capitalists, and in 1825 he commenced his operations. But he encountered difficulties and obstacles for years, at every step of his progress, that would have disheartened and appalled any man but one whom the emergency had produced to accomplish this mighty enterprise. Quicksand beds were among the most troublesome and perilous obstacles met with. The top of the tunnel’s arch, about the middle of the river, approaches within ten feet of the bottom of the river. Four times during its progress the tunnel and shafts were filled with water, and the irruption of 1827 threatened to destroy the enterprise, but by the most incredible efforts, all was overcome by its indomitable architect, and in 1835, seven years afterwards, Sir J. M. Brunel [sic] was enabled to resume the work.
The progress of this great work was necessarily very slow. Sometimes, with favorable excavations, two feet would be accomplished in twenty. four hours, working as they did. with changes of hands, day and night; when the excavation was difficult, only two feet would be done in a week; and for the last three months. so great was the labor and so formidable the obstructions, that only three feet and four inches progress was made! In August, 1841, fifteen years after the ground was broken on the London side of the Thames, Sir J. M. Brunel [sic] descended a shaft from the Wapping side and passed through a small “drift-way through the shield in the Tunnel.” Less than two years thereafter, in March, 1843, the magnificent work was completed. The whole expense of construction is estimated at 614,000 pounds sterling. The toll is only a penny for passing through the Tunnel, and but for “the getting up stairs” it would pay well. Until passengers are let down and taken up by an engine, it will not take foot passengers from the bridges.
The son of Sir J. M. Brunel [sic]. whose life was in such eminent danger from swallowing a half crown piece, was, with three workmen, caught by one of the inbreaks of water and carried by the rushing column through the Tunnel to the shaft and up to the surface where he was rescued. The three men who were with him perished. On the first passage of the steamer Great Western from London to Bristol, he met with an accident which it was supposed would result fatally, but from which he recovered.
Source: New-York daily tribune. [volume] (New-York [N.Y.]), 19 Aug. 1843. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030213/1843-08-19/ed-1/seq-4/>