This is looking at the original section of the tunnel
The gated doors were manned by two smiling tube officials in their fluorescent jackets. Four more laughed and joked inside, which made a nice change considering most of the underground staff I see while commuting look distinctly less thrilled with their lot in life. This alone convinced me we were in for something special.
Once inside, we were ushered to collect latex gloves so we didn’t get mad rat disease. One size fits all was the rule, which meant my gloves mainly flapped in the breeze, each fingertip with its own trailing flag. We then had our health and safety talk, which consisted of ‘stand still if we need to evacuate’. We nodded in faux agreement, stamped feet, and flopped gloves. And then we were off!
Down the stairs to the platform, and scaffolding had been erected for us walkers so we could step down to the tube lines. There is something ever so much fun about standing where you ought not to be. The tunnels stretched with a line of light before us, accentuating the dip and slight incline in the curve of electric. Back in the day this would have been flickering gas light. We were cautioned not to stand on the rails, not because of any power of course as it was switched off, but in case we fell from the slight height. I looked at them in alarm anyway; after years of terrifying public safety films as a child I would rather go outside and lick the road than go near any rails, powerless or not.
Instead of it being one large tunnel, as I presumed from Victorian illustrations, it was two twin tunnels. Strange serendipity means that although the tunnels were built for horse-drawn carts, they are the exact size for current day tube trains. Archways linked each tunnel at strategic gaps, and it was from these small gaps that Victorian traders would sell their wares to the passing promenade. They wouldn’t have been very private for a naughty rendezvous, but that apparently didn’t dissuade the more naughty-minded of the public towards the latter years.
The older style walls of the tunnel have been left at one end to preserve its link with history, as you can see from my top photograph. It was odd to think of all those people who came down here to walk through ‘a wonder of the world’ – six million Victorians made their way down here to gawp and admire, and now two thousand modern Elizabethans to add to the list, with our walking shoes and cameras. I loitered at the back taking pictures, and sauntered along beside a knowledgeable tube official engineer. I sensed he wanted me to ask him some clever questions. But try as I might, I could not think of one clever question to ask him whatsoever. Sadly our conversation went more like this:
Him: This is one of the signal boxes. *points it out*
Me: Ooo. Um. Er. *stares at it* Does it control the signals?
Him (patiently): Yes.
Me: Ah. It’s a nice colour.
Him (contemplates it): Yes, I suppose it is.
Me (striking up bold conversation): So you’re an engineer?
Me: Right. Um. *casts around desperately for something engineer-y to say* This rail is shiny.
Him (as if speaking to small child): Yes, it is rather, isn’t it? And this one is greasy.
Me: Yes! That one is greasy. *pleased with discovery like child*
Silence for a bit.
Me: Tunnels are really cool aren’t they?
Him (ponderingly): Yes I suppose they are.
I bet he was really pleased when someone came along and asked him something proper.
This is the newer section of the tunnel - you can see the walls are different
At the end of the day it is just a tunnel, I suppose, but what a great place to point a camera! We clambered back up the scaffolding to the surface, and then went along to the 'fancy fair' at the Brunel museum. Although the fair was good, it was a nearby pub that took our fancy, and we decided to retire with a fine ale instead. Cheers, Brunel!