Saturday 22nd May 1897
The western Blackwall Tunnel, part of the A102, designed by Sir Alexander Binnie and built by S. Pearson & Sons for London County Council, was opened by the Prince of Wales. It was then the longest underwater tunnel in the world at 4,410 feet (1,344 m) and was initially lit by three rows of incandescent streetlights. To clear the site in Greenwich, more than 600 people had to be rehoused,[and a house reputedly once owned by Sir Walter Raleigh had to be demolished. Costing £1.4 million and employing 800 men, it took 6 years to construct, using a tunnelling shield and compressed-air techniques .A tunnel in the Blackwall area was originally proposed in the 1880s. According to Robert Webster, then MP for St Pancras East, a tunnel would “be very useful to the East End of London, a district representing in trade and commerce a population greater than the combined populations of Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham.” By this time, all road bridges in London east of the ferry at Chiswick were toll-free, but these were of little use to the two fifths of London’s population that lived to the east of London Bridge. The Thames Tunnel (Blackwall) Act was created in August 1887, which provided the legal framework necessary to construct the tunnel. The initial proposal, made by Sir Joseph Bazalgette, called for three parallel tunnels, two for vehicular traffic and one for foot, with an expected completion date of works within seven years. It was originally commissioned by the Metropolitan Board of Works but, just before the contract was due to start, responsibility passed to the London County Council (LCC) when the former body was abolished in 1889 and Bazalgette’s work on the tunnel ended.