The Brunel Engine House
In The Heart Of Historic Rotherhithe

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The Shaft

To dig a tunnel you need to be at the right depth in the ground. The round lump next to the engine house is the top of the 42 feet deep shaft. If you looked down it today you would see the top of the London underground whizzing by as they travel between Rotherhithe and Wapping stations.

If you dig a hole deep enough the sides of it will fall in unless you support them. Marc Brunel needed a shaft 42 feet deep at which depth he would start the tunnel heading for Wapping.

He came up with a very simple solution. Marc Brunel laid out a giant 50 foot diameter cast iron hoop where he wanted the shaft to be on top of which he built a brick tower 42 feet high made up of an inner and outer walls three feet apart with cement and rubble used to fill the gap.

Once the tower was built the miners climbed down inside it and started digging the earth out within the tower's perimeter. As they dug the earth out the 1000 ton tower slowly sank into the hole they were making under its own weight.

As the shaft became deeper water seeped in from the surrounding marshy ground. Unless the water was removed the shaft would have quickly flooded, so a steam engine placed on top of the tower was used to pump out the water. The steam engine also powered a crane to lift out the earth the miners dug from the bottom of the tower.

That brick built tower, now mostly hidden below ground, still supports the walls of the shaft today. All you can see of it today is the round lump next to the engine house.



The Engine House and Shaft with
Rotherhithe Station at the top of the picture