16 January 2012

The first attempt to build a tunnel under the Thames in London was from Rotherhithe to Limehouse and made little initial progress and so in 1807 the Thames Archway Company employed Richard Trevithick from Cornwall to lead the work on the pilot tunnel, a driftway. Trevithick, in a letter to Davies Giddy, said that he had sent for miners from Cornwall to come to help the people already digging.

In very difficult circumstances with a varied and volatile river bed – not at all like the hard rock the Cornish miners were used to – and with several floodings, they reached within two hundred feet or so of the high tide mark on the northern foreshore of the Thames when in 1808 the company called a halt. The tunnel was abandoned.

Marc Brunel eventually built a tunnel westward of Trevithick’s, opened in 1843, which is still used by trains.

Trevethick and his men did outstanding work. In 1807 technology and engineering were not yet up to the job.

Who built Thebes of the seven gates?
There seems to be no extant record of the names of the Cornish and other tunnellers and the location of the entry shaft, long filled in, seems to be unknown but was possibly about a hundred yards from the river in the area of what was Lavender Lane. Two hundred years ago the south London streets hereabouts and river side would have buzzed with many Cornish voices.

Who built Thebes of the seven gates? From a poem, A worker reads history, by Bertolt Brecht about the anonymity of workers in history. A copy in translation is here.