The Grand Entrance Hall at Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s 1843 Thames Tunnel is now a performance space
The entrance hall - or ‘sinking shaft’ - has reopened to the public for the first time in 150 years thanks to a new entrance by Tate Harmer.
The tunnel, once pedestrianised, welcomed millions of visitors before it was bought in the 1860s and adapted for the Underground. In 2008, while the line was shut in order for work on Crossrail to be completed, a concrete slab floor was constructed across the shaft, above the trains. For a number of years after the floor was created, a makeshift scaffolded staircase enabled entrance into the historic shaft through a cramped half-height service door.
The Grand Entrance Hall is now easily accessible via the new freestanding, cantilevered staircase designed by Tate Harmer and built by Cobalt Green Construction. It maximises the floor space of the shaft (approximately 15m in diameter and 15m deep) with only three points of contact on the concrete floor, and stands completely independent of the listed shaft walls, cantilevered by a new doorway at street level.
Not only does the staircase facilitate access for the space to be used for performance, but it is, in itself, integral to those performances. Platforms at different heights provide miniature stages and from the side and underneath the stairs hang lighting rigs and full electrical wiring for sound and light. With easy access and an enlarged floor space, the shaft is ready for its next chapter as a performance space, and will host concerts, exhibitions and all kinds of pop-up entertainments.
The Brunel Museum is close to Rotherhithe station and is open seven days a week from 10am to 5pm