Ancient Monuments

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Pumping engine house for Brunel's Thames tunnel

A Scheduled Monument in Rotherhithe, Southwark

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Latitude: 51.5016 / 51°30'5"N

Longitude: -0.0529 / 0°3'10"W

OS Eastings: 535239.16079

OS Northings: 179871.887545

OS Grid: TQ352798

Mapcode National: GBR JB.3BG

Mapcode Global: VHGR1.1JC6

Entry Name: Pumping engine house for Brunel's Thames tunnel

Scheduled Date: 14 December 1976

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1005556

English Heritage Legacy ID: LO 140

County: Southwark

Electoral Ward/Division: Rotherhithe

Built-Up Area: Southwark

Traditional County: Surrey

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London

Church of England Parish: Rotherhithe St Mary with All Saints

Church of England Diocese: Southwark


Pumping engine house of the Thames Tunnel, 70m ENE of St Mary’s Church.

Source: Historic England


This record was the subject of a minor enhancement on 19 March 2015. This record has been generated from an "old county number" (OCN) scheduling record. These are monuments that were not reviewed under the Monuments Protection Programme and are some of our oldest designation records.

The monument includes a 19th century engine house, which originally contained the steam driven pumps used to keep the Thames Tunnel clear of water. It is situated on the south side of the River Thames on Tunnel Road at Rotherhithe.

The engine house is constructed from stock brick with a pantiled roof. The blind west return has flat buttresses to the first floor whilst the east return is mainly blind with various filled in openings. The north end has part of a curved wall to the right and, to the left, an attached, taller, square battered chimney with a stone cornice and a blocking course above a brick corbel table. On top of it is a replica steel plate chimney stack reinstated in 1993. In the south return there is an opening to the interior. North-east of the engine house is the air shaft of the Thames Tunnel, a cylindrical access shaft about 15m wide.

The engine house was built by Marc Isambard Brunel, with the assistance of his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel, in about 1842. It replaced an earlier boiler house on the site and was used to house the pumps that kept the Thames Tunnel clear of water. The Thames Tunnel, built between 1825 and 1843, was the first sub-aqueous tunnel under the River Thames. As well as being the world's first bored tunnel crossing of a river it is the earliest example of a shield driven tunnel. The tunnel was originally used by pedestrians, although it had been designed for horse-drawn carriages, until it was converted into the East London railway line in about 1869.

The pumping engine house was probably enlarged in about 1865 when new approaches to the tunnel were built by the East London Railway and a need for pumps and machinery meant that the building reverted to use as a boiler house. In 1913, new electric pumps were built to drain the tunnel and the building was let as storage shed. It was restored in 1976 and now houses a museum.

The engine house is Grade II listed and the Thames Tunnel is Grade II* listed.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Steam engines, housed in engine houses, were used throughout the 18th and 19th centuries to pump water out of mine shafts. The first practical steam-powered engine was patented by Thomas Savery in 1698. It was powered by a vacuum created by condensing steam within a cylinder and was used to pump water out of mines and at pumping stations. In 1712, Thomas Newcomen created the first commercially successful engine, which could be used to drain mine shafts at far greater depths.

In the later 18th century, James Watt introduced major improvements. These included a separate condensing chamber for the steam engine, patented in 1769, which prevented enormous losses of steam. In the early 19th century, high pressure steam engines were developed, which provided more power yet were small enough to be implemented into modes of transport. The steam engine was a foundation stone of the industrial revolution in Britain and was widely used to drive machinery in factories and mills, power pumping stations, trains and ships. Steam continued as a dominant power source into the 20th century, after which it was eventually substituted by the electric motor and internal combustion engine.

Despite later alterations, the pumping engine house of the Thames Tunnel, 70m ENE of St Mary’s Church, is an impressive monument which survives well. Although it no longer houses the original steam driven pump, it is an integral part of the first Thames Tunnel; a remarkable feat of engineering as the first sub-aqueous tunnel under the River Thames. As a site accessible to the public, the engine house provides a valuable educational and recreational resource.

Source: Historic England


Greater London SMR MLO93393. NMR TQ37NE59, TQ38SE110. PastScape 404381, 1059012.

Source: Historic England

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