Rotherhithe’s Brunel Museum is to give visitors full access to the shaft of Brunel’s Thames Tunnel for the first time.
Plans for a new staircase to the tunnel have been unveiled by architect Tate Harmer.
Visitor access is currently via a low doorway reached by stepping over a flood defence wall. Once through the doorway, visitors must use a temporary scaffold walkway to reach the bottom.
A new freestanding cantilevered staircase will lead into an underground performance space, and be entirely independent of the Grade II listed shaft
The transformed shaft will give full access to visitors by installing a viewing platform, and the permanent stairway to the bottom.
When originally opening in 1843, over 50,000 visitors viewed the shaft and it was considered the eighth wonder of the world. Originally the shaft had a grand staircase, but this was removed when the tunnel was converted to railway use in the 1860s.
Director of the Brunel Museum, Robert Hulse said: “We are delighted to be able to forge ahead with our plans to grant a new lease of life to this important piece of engineering history. Brunel was a showman as well as an engineer, and I’m sure he would have approved of holding performances in this new underground gallery. This will be one of the first exciting steps in the Brunel Museum’s ongoing plans to preserve Brunel’s first project and his enduring legacy for the enjoyment of the public”.
The museum hopes that by restoring public access to the shaft, visitors will fully understand the significance of the first Thames Tunnel in London’s industrial history.