This underground arts venue has just opened inside Brunel's Thames Tunnel entrance – 190 years after it was first built

Kasmira Jefford
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Architects Tate Harmer have created a new jazzy staircase to descend into the shaft (Source: Brunel Museum)

An historic underground shaft in south east London that once served as the entrance to the world's first underwater tunnel has been reopened as an arts and music performance venue.

The Thames Tunnel – designed by engineers Marc Brunel and his son Isambard Kingdom – is considered one of the greatest feats of 19th century engineering and also paved the way for the modern day metro system.

Now the entrance – a 50 feet-tall sunken shaft which was flooded with millions of visitors after its launch in 1843 – has been restored and will become the new home for Brunel Museum exhibitions as well as intimate concerts for 200 standing guests.

Robert Hulse, director of the Brunel Museum, said: “Brunel was a daring engineer and organised the world’s first underwater concert right here in Rotherhithe. Museums should be places to be inspired and places for celebration and performance. Happy Birthday Brunel! 210 years old this week”.

More than half the population of London swept down the original staircase inside the shaft to visit the tunnel in the first three months of opening – turning the crossing between Rotherhithe and Wapping into a visitor attraction in its own right, selling its own souvenirs.

It was originally designed to carry freight but Brunel ran out of money to build the cargo ramps, keeping it as a pedestrian passage instead.

The tunnel was eventually sold to the railways and became part of the London Underground system in 1865, a role it still serves today as part of London's Overground rail network.