Greenwich Foot Tunnel

‘Aren’t you a bit peckish?’ Hubbie asked me as he squinted into the viewfinder of his Leica which was pointed towards Old Royal Naval College across the Thames. ‘Yeah, I am hungry but is there any place we can eat around here?’ I looked around and found a small kiosk which appeared to sell some hot tea and candy bars in the far corner of Island Gardens. ‘Shall we have tea and a bar of chocolate?’ Hubbie wrinkled his nose and replied curtly, ‘Nah.’ ‘What shall we do then?’ I threw back a question while sticking my icy hands into the pockets of my lumberjack jacket ever so deeper. ‘Let’s cross the tunnel and eat something hot in Greenwich!’ Oh, cool!

Greenwich Foot Tunnel, a subterranean walkway under the River Thames, connects the south bank of the Isle of Dogs and the north bank of Greenwich.

The tunnel’s construction commenced in 1899, right at the end of the Victorian Era, and completed in 1902. The purpose of the tunnel was to provide a more reliable and less costly method of commute for workers who lived in the south side of the river and worked in the docks and shipyards in or near the Isle of Dogs.

Today, the tunnel is classified as a public highway and it is in use 24 hours a day.

Let’s go down the tunnel…

During the 90s, I used to walk down the passage at least once a week. The reason was because there was a riding school at Mudchute Farm & Park and I rode with them every Saturday. The farm was rather a pain to travel to, especially during weekend. However, the fee was significantly cheaper than the one at Hyde Park and which afforded me to have two sessions for the price of one in Central London. I used to have one session in the morning and another one in the afternoon.

The stable at Mudchute Farm was not as snooty as Hyde Park’s and I enjoyed hanging around the yard, chatting with the fellow student riders and petting the horses and ponies. The only shortcoming of the farm was a lack of facility for food and drink. There was no cafe or kiosk in and around the farm – literally, the farm stood in the middle of the council flats and wasteland then, therefore, I had to travel to Greenwich if I wanted to eat lunch.

Until 1996, Docklands Light Railway (DLR) was not extended as far as Greenwich, and I had to ride DLR to Island Gardens so I could walk across to the south bank via Greenwich Foot Tunnel.

The lift looked different then…

I can’t elaborate exactly what was different with the lift then but the doors wasn’t like these. It may have been a pair of steel doors.

We came out of the tunnel on the south side and the first thing greeted us was the famous Cutty Sark

In the 90s, the ship was moored on the quay like HMS Belfast near London Bridge. I remember the tall masts of the clipper decorated with rows of ensigns. The newly restored Cutty Sark after the fire in 2007, however, was hoisted up on the custom made structure designed by Nicholas Grimshaw, away from the water. This treatment aroused controversy because it made her no longer sailable as a ship. However, the state of the timber of the tea clipper and the modification done in the 50’s made her structurally too weak for the actual seafaring.

It is sad to realise that we will never be able to see her in full sail like this…

Still, all is not lost. The new exhibition space which is created underneath the ship allows the visitors to admire her famous keel which contributed to her legendary speed while she was in service.

The wind by the Thames was extra chilly…

Does Cutty Sark want to be as free as a bird like these seagulls?

We wandered around the crowded weekend Greenwich Market and looked for some hot food. Every stall we passed had a long queue, and in the end, we settled for hot dogs…

It tasted okay but the benches were in the shade and it was a bit too cold for our comfort.

After finishing our hasty lunch, we headed for the tunnel entrance…

It was a fun day out. But next time, I shan’t forget to bring a pair of gloves…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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