GREENWICH FOOT TUNNEL ANNIVERSARY
At 1l am on Sunday 4 August, 2002, a small ceremony was held to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. This occasion was almost overlooked, but for the sleuthing work of Barry Mason, a local bicycle campaigner, and co-ordinator of Greenwich cyclists. Barry discovered by accident the birthday of the tunnel and contacted Greenwich and Tower Hamlets councils to see if any official event was happening to celebrate the occasion. On being told that there was no interest from the local authorities at either end of the tunnel, he contacted the consulting engineers Binnie Black and Veach, who are the successors to Sir Alexander Binnie, the original designer of the tunnel.
Fortunately, Binnie Black and Veach have an enthusiastic PR department and they arranged a ceremony in co-operation with Mr Mason. Greenwich and Tower Hamlets councils then jumped on board. A small stage was erected nearby the southern entrance to the tunnel, standing in the shadow of the Cutty Sark. During a sudden downpour of rain Chris Binnie, great grandson of Sir Alexander and himself a retired engineer specialising in water supply, gave an excellent, very funny speech. He dressed for the occasion in the style of his great grandfather, including a stovepipe hat and pearl tie pin.
Watched by a crowd of puzzled tourists, the group, including 20 or so cyclists from Barry's cyclist group, representatives from Binnie Black and Veach, and the great and good from both borough councils, retired to the Greenwich University hall for a champagne lunch, compliments of the engineers.
The following extract is taken from an information pack handed out on the day:
The tunnel was opened in August 1902, and was built to replace the ferry services that were causing congestion on that particularly busy part of the Thames, The ferry provided an essential link to the docks for many workers who lived south of the river. At the time there was no free crossing from Tower Bridge to the Woolwich ferry. The terry was also subject to weather delay, and at the time a ferry fare cost a workman half his day's wages.
The tunnel was designed by Alexander Binnie, and work commenced under his guidance in June 1899 by Messrs John Cochrane and Co at a proposed cost of £109,500.
Two shafts were sunk to depths of 44 and 50ft, the shafts are 1,217ft apart. The cast-iron tunnel was bored using a trap/box style shield, with an external diameter of 12ft 9in. 12,000 cubic yards of earth were excavated. Workers operating in the compressed air environment were examined once a week, by a doctor. A medical lock was constructed for cases of 'cassion sickness' but was only used twice. Progress was at a rate of 5ft 6in per day, 33ft per week for 36 weeks. The tunnel is made of cast-iron segments, lined with concrete and faced with 200,000 white glazed tiles. 1,670 tons of cast iron was used and 700 tons of steel. Lifts were built in 1904 at either end and were still in use until their upgrade in 1992 The tunnel is a quarter mile long, and lies 53ft below the high-water mark and 33ft below the low-water mark, there are 88 steps on the Isle of Dogs side and 100 on the Greenwich side, the tunnel at its steepest has a gradient of 1 in 15.
The final capital expenditure on the project was just under £180,000 and compensation was paid to the water (ferry operators) of £100 each for lost business when the tunnel opened.
Binnie received a knighthood from Queen Victoria for his part in the tunnels construction. With Sir Benjamin Baker he promoted the reconstruction of London's main drainage system and completed the sewage treatment works at Barking and Crossness. In 1905 he was elected president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and in 1906 designed the Vauxhall Bridge. In 1913 he published 'Rainfall, Reservoirs and Water Supply' The business went through a number of name changes. In 1909 Sir Alexander Binnie and Son merged with Deacon & Sons to Form Sir Alexander Binnie, Son and Deacon and the same year they undertook a water supply project at Kalgoorlie in Australia, their first major overseas work. 1922 they designed and supervised the Gunong Pulai dam in Singapore 1930 design and supervision of Gorge dam in Hong Kong. In 1995 the practice was by then known as Binnie and Partners, and it merged with Black and Veach of the USA, to form Binnie Black and Veach. Today the company is a large engineering and management consultancy with an annual turnover of $2.3bn, employing 9.000 in 100 offices worldwide. '
Following the event, the cyclists left Greenwich and made a 20-mile round trip down river to the Woolwich tunnel, they went through and then came back toward London where they ate tea and cake in Island Gardens, before finally riding into the Greenwich tunnel one last time and singing it happy birthday.
Gary Cummins Adapted from GLIAS NEWSLETTER 202, October 2002 without permission.