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:



The reason why I use Google+

Auto-awesome. That’s it.


A few things:

  1. Thanks Alfie, for getting me into the habit.
  2. I’ve done quite a few already now (the tube is a hobby, clearly).
  3. The Auto-Awesome community on Google+ is worth a look.

As features go, this is fantastic. Download Google+ (on iOS or Android), turn on Google+ Auto-Backup of photos (I have mine switched to ‘Wi-fi only’), line up a decent sequence shot, and then Google+ will do the rest.

Great stuff.

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.


How to improve your outdoor campaign with Virgin Media WiFi on the Underground

Example one (real)

The Look for Longer campaign is a neat little competition from CBS Outdoor to encourage interaction with outdoor advertising. The game itself is quite cute, there’s 75 different tube stations hidden on a poster and you have to guess them all. Simple, right? Perfect brain fodder for London’s challenge-hungry commuters.

You can see the full poster on the campaign website, the version that I’m showing above however highlights quite a nice piece of joined-up thinking from the chaps behind the activity. Conversations around this sort of thing would normally go like this:

‘OK, so we’ve got our posters’


‘Do they have a clear call to action? Something like, ‘Text us on this number now!’ or similar?’


‘OK, so where are these posters going again?’

‘On the Underground.’

‘OK. Then make sure we add a QR code too…’

‘Straight away!’

—- I’m not kidding.

But not this time ’round, oh no. This time the copywriters and creatives have actually applied context to their work and seeing this kind of relevant and in situ call to action actually put a smile on my face. Smart thinking tends to have that affect on me.

More of this please.

Example two (not real)

Walking onto the platform at Maida Vale back in July earlier this year, I was greeted with this fairly awesome poster for The Amazing Spider-Man. Now while the film wasn’t exactly awesome, the outdoor campaign really could’ve been.

Literally the first thing I thought when I saw this poster was ‘How cool would it be if this was an augmented reality (AR) execution?’. I walk onto the platform and the poster is exactly how you see it now except there’s no Spider-Man in it.

Instead, you download the AR app, hold up your cameraphone and voila, there’s Spidey, crawling around the other side of the platform on the underground.

Wouldn’t be ace if the call to action was something like ‘Seen The Amazing Spider-Man yet? Connect to Virgin Wifi and download app X to see him on this poster right now’ or, better yet, have the app on the Virgin Wi-Fi splash page.

I know a little bit about a little bit when it comes to AR markers (and marker-less markers too) and I’ve always thought you could do something cool with the actual tracks themselves (health and safety, what?) but now there’s internet down there, a whole new world of integrated marketing is wide open.

WiFi on the Underground is free until the end of this year.

Who’s going to innovate next?



Creative print advertising on the tube shocker. 2012 edition.


While the above ad isn’t as inventive (or as contextually aware) as the awesome Limitless Clear Pill ads from early last year, the above ad for the new Total Recall film (yes, another re-make) the similarities between the two still shine through – and I like it.

Let’s start with the basics: the above ad is not for Total Recall. No no. It is for the entirely fictional company [from the film] ‘Rekall‘.

Using real world reference points for what is a very futuristic film is a touch of genius, I love it. There are two main variants on the ad, one puts you as a football star and the other gifts you women and a yacht.


“Tell us your fantasy,” the ad says “We’ll make it real*”
– the asterisk is used to perfection

Rekall Tube Ads

Why else does this work?

1. Title [or lack thereof]
If you slap ‘Total Recall’ on anything the first question that’d pop into anyone’s head is ‘Where’s Arnie?’. The original film is such an iconic sci-fi of its generation; it’s cheesy as hell and some of its Paul-Verhoeven-directed moments are stalwarts of early 90s pop-culture. Getting over that is not easy. So just ignore it! If we don’t mention the original, we won’t get the Schwarzenegger mind pop! Win!

 2. They make it REAL
As I mentioned, it uses real world fantasies to bring the message home and to pique commuters’ interest. I love the idea of fictional companies advertising fictional products from the films that they feature in and communicating this in the way – making it real, if you will – works perfectly.

How could it be better?

First and foremost the ad doesn’t work as hard as the Limitless efforts from March 2011. The two call to actions (one web, one Twitter) are semi-usable in our new kind-of-online London Underground BUT I don’t think its strong enough to warrant an online only response. There’s no recognition that you’re without mobile signal, and for that REKALL lose points.

Overall though, it’s a good effort and hey, I’m blogging about it!

Grade: B+
Better than most, but still room for improvement.



  • The website is actually ace (up until you realise the Facebook bits don’t work).
  • Apologies for the blurry photos; it’s really hard to take photos on the tube without looking like a complete weirdo.
  • Finally, it turns out the new film isn’t actually that good either.  Damn.

Limitless: The Clear Pill

Creative print advertising on the tube shocker…

I spotted the above ad on the tube just over a week ago…
You may have seen one like it yourself.

Tweet Tweet

I knew exactly what it was for, instantly. But that’s me; I read film blogs, subscribe to Total Film magazine, I write about the films I’ve seen – basically, I’m into my film.

The other 2.6m people using the London Underground every day however might not all be self-confessed movie geeks and may not have jumped to the same immediate conclusion, and that’s no bad thing. Allow me to explain:

If you are one of those people then let’s quickly get this out of the way; that there above – believe it or not – is a rather awesome advert for the new Bradley Cooper film, LIMITLESS. The film is about what happens to a guy when he’s given the chance to become more than who he is. To become the best he could ever be. All achieved simply by using the full potential of his brain. A potential that’s unlocked thanks to the swallowing of a daily pill.

A clear pill.

It looks good right?

I thought so too when I first saw the trailer. However, what they’re doing with their marketing campaign is fantastic. This film could’ve easily just slipped out without anyone noticing and before you know it, it would’ve come and gone by Easter. But with this whole ‘NZT‘ drive, they [the studio, the agency behind the campaign, everyone involved etc] are onto a winner.

Reasons why this works:

  • Bradley Cooper’s most recent ‘hit’ was The A-Team, however he’s probably known to most for his leading turn in the epic post-bachelor party comedy, The Hangover. Those films aside, he’s only ever really played supporting roles which means for a very short time – to the public at least – he has one of those faces.
    You know he’s famous but you can’t quite place him. Just the sort of celebrity face you’d see adorned on a piece of two-bit above the line advertising. A point proven just yesterday when someone in my office held up the equivalent advertisement in her copy of Metro and asked “Hey, wasn’t he in The Hangover? He can’t be doing too well [if he’s doing ads like this].”
  • The advert itself is brilliantly written. It is just like one of those shoddy medical ads that you would see on the tube. The call to action, while completely nullified as it asks you to SEND AN SMS WHILE YOU ARE UNDER THE GROUND is AWESOME as it ASKS YOU TO TAKE A PHOTO OF THE AD TO REMEMBER and, that itself is actually quite compelling because the copy and the thought behind it keep you thinking long after you are outside and above ground – your interest is piqued enough to genuinely follow through on it.
  • It’s a word of mouth, dare I say it – ‘viral’ marketing campaign, that genuinely inspires conversation. How? By offering up a point of entry to a story that you don’t know exists yet. This is not your average movie poster, oh no. In fact the only clue that this might not actually be what you think it is is the URL ‘showfilmfirst‘ which is a site set up to offer early screening tickets to [from the looks of things] films that don’t have the traditionally large studio backing. However, what you take away is THE CLEAR PILL.

    Google that and what you get?

Google Clear Pill

That URL (or that call to action for that matter) isn’t anywhere on the ad, but still people are sharing it –

Ross Tweet Tweet

In fact, if I was writing the wrap up document for this campaign say in about a month or so from now (after the film has hit and the numbers have come in), I’d include that very screen grab.

Bam! Sale! Job done! Cheque please!

Go spend some time poking around the clear pill website, my favourite part so far is the epic ‘we don’t give a stuff about you’ small print.
I’m off to buy my ticket for Limitless. Like I said, it looks pretty good.

Minor addendum; the plot reminds me of the short story Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes. That’s worth a look too.