Walking the Thames Tunnel

From Wapping to Rotherhithe and back again.

From Rotherhite to Wapping and back again.

Back in May, my friend Robbie and I managed to bag a couple of [super rare] tickets to walk the original Thames Tunnel.

If you’ve never heard of the Thames Tunnel before, it’s the underwater tunnel that lives between Rotherhithe and Wapping. You’ll know it today as part of the London Overground network.

Thames Tunnel location

Hang on, let me look it up on Wikipedia:

The Thames Tunnel is an underwater tunnel, built beneath the River Thames in London, connecting Rotherhithe and Wapping. It measures 35 feet (11 m) wide by 20 feet (6 m) high and is 1,300 feet (396 m) long, running at a depth of 75 feet (23 m) below the river surface measured at high tide. It was the first tunnel known to have been constructed successfully underneath a navigable river, and was built between 1825 and 1843 using Marc Isambard Brunel’s and Thomas Cochrane’s newly invented tunnelling shield technology, by Brunel and his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The tunnel was originally designed for, but never used by, horse-drawn carriages. It now forms part of the London Overground railway network.

On its opening day in 1843 it is said over fifty thousand people paid a single penny to walk through Brunel’s tunnel and within three months it is reported that over one million people had been through.


Some 170 years later, I paid 1800 pennies and descended into the tunnel myself but not via the stairs of Londoners old, instead by way of platform 2 at Rotherhithe station.

I don’t think there’ll be many of you that can say that they’ve walked on the tracks around London. It’s definitely worth doing (even if it is a little hairy when you first get down there).

Once the first part of ‘OMG! We’re on the frickin’ tracks!’ excitement subsided, we entered into the main event.

And we were not disappointed.


If you know me even slightly then you probably know that I’m a massive tube geek. I love this stuff. Be it snapping deserted underground stations in the name of #EmptyUnderground or even headed down to the disused tracks of Aldwych Station – if it’s to do with the London Underground, I’m all over it.

You could argue the Thames Tunnel was the first true ‘London Underground’ and even though it has found its home as part of the Overground network, I’ll never pass through it feeling the same way ever again.

I don’t know how often these walks are arranged (I’m guessing only a couple of times a year, maximum) but keep an eye out for them, they’re totally worth it, and all the money goes towards the upkeep of the Brunel museum nearby – so it’s helping a good cause too!

The guide we had was pretty awesome, told us about the huge dinner parties they used throw down there and the different uses that it had over the years. I could recount those stories here but you’d be better off just doing the tour yourself.

Additional reading:



Abandoned Tube Stations: Aldwych

Or why Aldwych Station is the best ‘#EmptyUnderground’ ever.

Formerly known as ‘Strand’, Aldwych first opened in 1907, closed in 1940, reopened in 1946 and then closed again, for the final time, in 1994.

Twenty years later, sharp-eyed Sherlock fans (as if there’s any other kind) would go on to spot it in the first episode of season three, ‘The Empty Hearse’ (as confirmed by Buzzfeed and the BBC shortly after).

Back in November, my good friend Robbie managed to lay his hands on an extremely rare pair of tickets for the tour of the now abandoned station and, if you know anything about me and a certain hobby I have, you’d know that it was pretty much like Christmas coming a whole month early for me – I couldn’t have been more excited.

Aldwych is amazing. The above photo, for example, shows a track before the introduction of ‘suicide pits’ – a fairly recent addition that a medical study found halved the death rate of those falling onto (or under) the tracks (it was the first thing I spotted when we entered this part of the station; it’s weird to see tracks flat like this, I thought anyway).

Interesting facts about Strand/Aldwych:

  • Located on The Strand, the station is/was on the Piccadilly line and was the terminus and only station the short branch from Holborn.
  • During both World Wars, aside from being partially fitted out as an air-raid shelter, disused parts of the tunnels were used to store and protect artworks from London’s museums from bombing – including the Elgin Marbles.
  • While many old posters can be seen adoring the walls of the platform, nearly of these have been placed there by movie studios, to provide the ‘old abandoned platform’ look for many films.

There are no rats in Aldwych, apparently. What with a distinct lack of commuters down there every day, they have no opportunities to snack on our litter. Sad but true.

What’s also sad (but also quite cool) is that the tours aren’t really on that regularly. You have to be super keen to catch one. So keep your eyes peeled, you never know when they might open them again.

UPDATE: see the comments for an update on when the tickets might be available again in 2014.


All photos taken, by me, with the Nokia Lumia 1020, published under Creative Commons with the full set of photos available on my Flickr page.


Five things on Friday #52

Things of note for the week ending December 28th, 2012


1. #EmptyUnderground, New York
The above photo is taken from the mythical City Hall subway station that resides underneath New York City which, thanks to the demand of longer and larger trains, has been closed and deserted since 1945.

According to the source, New Yorkers now have the opportunity to see said subterranean architecture for themselves –

You don’t have to take my word that the secret City Hall Station exists, as the 6 Train will now allow the passengers who have been enlightened with the knowledge of its whereabouts to stay on the train during its turnaround and see the Station. You won’t be able to get off, but you’ll be taken for a slow tour of the platform and see what a beauty it was in its heyday!


If you’re reading this then that means you’re reading the last ‘Five things on Friday’ of 2012; week 52 is in the bag and my year-long blogging project is complete.

I am spent.

Whatley Shark

Back on December 30th, 2011 – aka, ‘Five things on Friday #0’ – I made a promise:

Every Friday (hopefully on my way home from work) I’m going to jot down the five things I’ve done or seen that week. Or perhaps even five things that have happened to me or that I’ve seen or whatever. Either way, it’s going in the Moleskine and then, naturally, it’s ending up on here.

Over time that promise has moved around. Earlier posts focusing on what I’d been up to, who’d I seen or what projects I’d been working on, with later entries mainly being about the coolest things I’d found on the web that week. It’s interesting – to me at least – how (and why) that changed in the way it did.

Moving to big agency life means that there’s more structure around what projects you are (and more specifically are not) allowed to talk about. With a few slight changes in place already (I still work for Social@Ogilvy, I no longer work for OPR), I’m hoping that will change in the New Year.

What else? Well, life has been tough this year. Perhaps the toughest year to date. Both for me and for the woman in my life. We’ve not been able to do all the things we’ve wanted and we’ve had some pretty hard personal and professional battles to fight too. But again, things are changing and, as 2013 rolls around the corner, already we seem to be armed better than ever before to face the year ahead.

Work and home life aside (huh, it’s strange isn’t it? How through the simple act of collating different things you do and don’t like over the course of 365 days allows you to view the past year of your life with a new and more thoughtful lens? I never thought that this project would provide such post-year analysis – and I certainly never thought it’d wind up in this way either), here we are: exactly 52 weeks later and Five things on Friday 2012 is complete. I honestly still don’t know if I want to keep going. It was a year-long project and that year is over.So I guess, we’ll have to until next Friday and see how I feel.

What have we learnt?

  • Much? Doubtful.
  • Stupid things? Probably.
  • What it feels like to actually finish a project? Definitely.

Right then, enough wanky introspection Whatley, you’ve still got three more things to bash through – GO!

3. Jerry Seinfeld Intends to Die Standing Up


The New York Times ran a profile on Jerry Seinfeld just before Christmas and, even if you’re not a fan, it really is one of the best things on the web this week.

Go read it.

4. Christmas in The Trenches
On Christmas Day, 1914, Private Frederick W. Heath wrote the following –

“The night closed in early – the ghostly shadows that haunt the trenches came to keep us company as we stood to arms. Under a pale moon, one could just see the grave-like rise of ground which marked the German trenches two hundred yards away. Fires in the English lines had died down, and only the squelch of the sodden boots in the slushy mud, the whispered orders of the officers and the NCOs, and the moan of the wind broke the silence of the night. The soldiers’ Christmas Eve had come at last, and it was hardly the time or place to feel grateful for it.

Memory in her shrine kept us in a trance of saddened silence. Back somewhere in England, the fires were burning in cosy rooms; in fancy I heard laughter and the thousand melodies of reunion on Christmas Eve. With overcoat thick with wet mud, hands cracked and sore with the frost, I leaned against the side of the trench, and, looking through my loophole, fixed weary eyes on the German trenches. Thoughts surged madly in my mind; but they had no sequence, no cohesion. Mostly they were of home as I had known it through the years that had brought me to this. I asked myself why I was in the trenches in misery at all, when I might have been in England warm and prosperous. That involuntary question was quickly answered. For is there not a multitude of houses in England, and has not someone to keep them intact? I thought of a shattered cottage in — , and felt glad that I was in the trenches. That cottage was once somebody’s home.

Still looking and dreaming, my eyes caught a flare in the darkness. A light in the enemy’s trenches was so rare at that hour that I passed a message down the line. I had hardly spoken when light after light sprang up along the German front. Then quite near our dug-outs, so near as to make me start and clutch my rifle, I heard a voice. there was no mistaking that voice with its guttural ring. With ears strained, I listened, and then, all down our line of trenches there came to our ears a greeting unique in war: “English soldier, English soldier, a merry Christmas, a merry Christmas!”

Following that salute boomed the invitation from those harsh voices: “Come out, English soldier; come out here to us.” For some little time we were cautious, and did not even answer. Officers, fearing treachery, ordered the men to be silent. But up and down our line one heard the men answering that Christmas greeting from the enemy. How could we resist wishing each other a Merry Christmas, even though we might be at each other’s throats immediately afterwards? So we kept up a running conversation with the Germans, all the while our hands ready on our rifles. Blood and peace, enmity and fraternity – war’s most amazing paradox. The night wore on to dawn – a night made easier by songs from the German trenches, the pipings of piccolos and from our broad lines laughter and Christmas carols. Not a shot was fired, except for down on our right, where the French artillery were at work.

Came the dawn, pencilling the sky with grey and pink. Under the early light we saw our foes moving recklessly about on top of their trenches. Here, indeed, was courage; no seeking the security of the shelter but a brazen invitation to us to shoot and kill with deadly certainty. But did we shoot? Not likely! We stood up ourselves and called benisons on the Germans. Then came the invitation to fall out of the trenches and meet half way.

Still cautious we hung back. Not so the others. They ran forward in little groups, with hands held up above their heads, asking us to do the same. Not for long could such an appeal be resisted – beside, was not the courage up to now all on one side? Jumping up onto the parapet, a few of us advanced to meet the on-coming Germans. Out went the hands and tightened in the grip of friendship. Christmas had made the bitterest foes friends.

Here was no desire to kill, but just the wish of a few simple soldiers (and no one is quite so simple as a soldier) that on Christmas Day, at any rate, the force of fire should cease. We gave each other cigarettes and exchanged all manner of things. We wrote our names and addresses on the field service postcards, and exchanged them for German ones. We cut the buttons off our coats and took in exchange the Imperial Arms of Germany. But the gift of gifts was Christmas pudding. The sight of it made the Germans’ eyes grow wide with hungry wonder, and at the first bite of it they were our friends for ever. Given a sufficient quantity of Christmas puddings, every German in the trenches before ours would have surrendered.

And so we stayed together for a while and talked, even though all the time there was a strained feeling of suspicion which rather spoilt this Christmas armistice. We could not help remembering that we were enemies, even though we had shaken hands. We dare not advance too near their trenches lest we saw too much, nor could the Germans come beyond the barbed wire which lay before ours. After we had chatted, we turned back to our respective trenches for breakfast.

All through the day no shot was fired, and all we did was talk to each other and make confessions which, perhaps, were truer at that curious moment than in the normal times of war. How far this unofficial truce extended along the lines I do not know, but I do know that what I have written here applies to the — on our side and the 158th German Brigade, composed of Westphalians.

As I finish this short and scrappy description of a strangely human event, we are pouring rapid fire into the German trenches, and they are returning the compliment just as fiercely. Screeching through the air above us are the shattering shells of rival batteries of artillery. So we are back once more to the ordeal of fire.”

via ‘The Christmas Truce’

5. The Augmented Reality TARDIS: it really is bigger on the inside
This is, without doubt, one of the best uses of Augmented Reality I have EVER seen.


Bonuses this week; first, the kindle version of Life Of Pi is now only 20p. Stop what you’re doing right now and go and buy it immediately. Then go and see the film. Second, this is an old post first published back in August but still – once you’ve read what successful people do with the first hour of their day – you’ll be tempted to change yours accordingly. And finally, ‘Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek‘ really is quite beautiful.

Whatley out.

Ps. Why not leave me a comment this week, let me know what you think…

Five things on Friday #46

Things of note for the week ending November 16th, 2012

1. The Skyfall Island is REAL

Seen Skyfall yet?


Well that’s OK*, this next bit is no real big spoiler so you can stick around if you haven’t seen it.

Like all great Bond villains, Javier Bardem’s ‘Silva’ has a fairly awesome lair. However, not many people would guess that this abandoned island / secret base would actually be a real place in the real world.

But it is.

And quite unbelievably, Hashima – to give the island its proper name – used to be one of the most densely populated places on Earth. But why is it deserted now?

Despite what it might look like, this was not a war zone. There was no outbreak of disease or biochemical disaster here. Hashima Island is the victim of a country’s rapid industrialization. Once a thriving coal-mining town owned by the famous Mitsubishi Corporation, it was home to more than 5,000 employees and their families.

The full story, plus a whole load more photos, over on Messy Nessy Chic.

*Spoiler-free review, just in case –

2. Three videos worth YOUR TIME
First, Paul Simon’s ‘Call me Al’ in Zimbabwe (4mins 55), embedded because it made me smile so much and reminded me of why Zimbabwe is one of my favourite places in the whole world.

Second, The Escapist’s [NSFW] review of Assassin’s Creed III, (5mins 18), not embedded because the site won’t let you (but still worth watching).

Sidenote: I’ve finally crumbled and asked my sister to get me AC:III for my birthday next week. I was hoping to leave it for as long as possible (delayed gratification, innit) but I’m ploughing through Need For Speed: Most Wanted at an astonishing rate and I really need to get my runny-jumpy-stabby-stab-stab on fairly soon.

Third: Precisely why the Daily Mail is evil (21mins 33), not embedded because Cory Doctorow’s US-perspective intro adds that little extra bit.

Actually, scratch that – I’ve just finished watching it – make this the one thing you watch today. Please.

3. Interesting People & Interesting Things

Will Cooke at Rubber Republic – we spoke at length this week about what makes a viral, viral and how things travel through the internet. It was quite a revealing conversation which told me more about my own content sharing habits than I think I wanted to know. Findings of the research should form part of their LOL_PROJECT – something to keep an eye on, definitely.

Dominic Pride (a chap I first met at a mobile geek up in Vegas of all places) and I had lunch to chat about NewsCred – it’s like an iStock Photo/Getty Images but for the written word; branded content marketing. Interesting, and useful.

There’s a decent white paper that’s worth a look also.

Coney Agency; the Show and Tell I went to this past week probably deserves its own post (I have many notes). But I haven’t done that yet so I may as well tell you that it was both scientific without being too science-y and was overall a thoroughly enjoyable evening. You should go.

4. Munich Subway Stations

A great photo set, and one that speaks to my heart, ‘Eerily devoid of passengers’ is ace.

5. To Twitter ‘whom I once loved’
This is a great read –

Oh that night, and the many nights we shared. Of ignoring people we had long known in favour of the unknown, of staying up later and later to never miss a moment together…

That was three years ago now. I’m not saying we’ve changed. Oh, who am I kidding, of course we’ve changed. No don’t look away, you know it’s true. The passion has gone, well it has hasn’t it? We shared everything with each other, not a moment wasn’t recorded and broadcast. Our very location drew comments or people checking in with us but now our relationship is more and more, well, normal. The honeymoon is over.


Bonuses this week are a few my sources of interesting things (this week at least). If you’re on the Twitters, go and follow these people –



Whatley out.

Empty Underground

I love London.
More than that, I love London’s Underground.

This ancient subterranean transport system has been a part of my psyche from the first time my Mum brought me up to the big smoke to see the pigeons of Trafalgar Square – remember them?
Since then the colourful, maze-like map and simple iconography have been a clear and constant theme throughout my life.

Recently, after moving to London, travelling on the Tube (as it is more commonly known), has become a daily routine. Having spent a good couple of years working out of town, it really is good to be back.

Back on the underground.

Another pleasant by-product of enjoying my favourite form of public transport is the fantastic photography of it all.

Over the course of last year I caught myself snapping here and there more often than not, when there is an absence of occupance. This in turn led to the creation of a Flickr group -  Empty Underground.

A collection of photos taken of London’s underground rail system all in that rarest of moments; emptiness.

There’s a whole bunch of amazing images from many different photographers. If you have some time, go check it out – and if you have any of your own, why not add them to the group?

See you around… on the empty underground.