Subterranean London

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{village, small, smallsup}

The metropolis of London has been occupied for millennia, and has over that time acquired a large number of subterranean structures.

These have served a number of purposes:


Water and waste

Since its foundation, the Thames has been at the heart of London. Many tributaries flow into it and over time these have changed from sources of water to open sewers and sources of disease.

As the city developed from a cluster of villages, many of the existing rivers were buried or canalized: see subterranean rivers of London.

The rivers failed to carry the sewage of the growing metropolis. The resulting health crisis led to the creation in the late nineteenth century of the London sewerage system, designed by Joseph Bazalgette, one of the first modern sewer systems in the world.

The Thames Water Ring Main is a notable modern piece of large-scale water supply infrastructure, comprising 80 km of wide-bore water-carrying tunnels.


The London Underground was the first underground railway in the world, and remains one of the most extensive. Its construction began in 1860 with the 3.7-mile (6.0 km) Metropolitan Railway from Farringdon to Paddington. It was opened in 1863, having caused much disruption by the use of "cut and cover" techniques, which involved digging large trenches along the course of existing roads, and then constructing a roof over the excavation to reinstate the road surface.[1] Tube railways, which caused little disruption because they were constructed by boring a tunnel, arrived in 1890, with the opening of the City and South London Railway, a 1.5-mile (2.4 km) line from Stockwell to King William Street. It was planned as a cable hauled railway, but the advent of electric traction resulted in a simpler solution, and the change was made before the cable system was built. It thus became the world's first electric tube railway.[2] Although the system comprises 249 miles (401 km) of track, only about 45 per cent is actually below ground.[3]

Numerous tunnels underneath the River Thames have been created, ranging from foot-tunnels to road tunnels and the tunnels of the Underground. The first of these, the Thames Tunnel, designed by Marc Brunel, was the first tunnel known to have been successfully constructed underneath a navigable river. It ran for 1,200 yards (1,100 m) from Rotherhithe to Wapping, and was opened in 1843. It was used as a pedestrian subway, as the finance was not available to allow the company to build the intended access ramps for horse-drawn traffic, and was later used by the East London branch of the Metropolitan Railway from Shoreditch to New Cross.[1]

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