Southern gatehouse to the Blackwall Tunnel


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Statutory Address:
Tunnel Avenue, Greenwich, London, SE10 0PT


Ordnance survey map of Southern gatehouse to the Blackwall Tunnel
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Statutory Address:
Tunnel Avenue, Greenwich, London, SE10 0PT

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Greater London Authority
Greenwich (London Borough)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


Tunnel gatehouse. Opened 1897 for the London County Council to designs by Thomas Blashill, Superintending Architect.

Reasons for Designation

The southern gatehouse to the Blackwall Tunnel, opened in 1897 to designs by Thomas Blashill, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest: * as a high-quality example of late-C19 Scots-Baronial architecture providing a prominent approach to the Blackwall Tunnel.

Historical interest: * as one of the first public buildings erected by the London County Council, marking the southern approach to the first vehicular tunnel built under the Thames.


The original plan for a first practical vehicular road tunnel under the River Thames was undertaken by the Metropolitan Board of Works which obtained an Act in 1887. Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s plan was for three parallel tunnels, with separate tunnels for vehicles and pedestrians, and the work was to have been completed within seven years. However, the Metropolitan Board of Works was wound up on 21 March 1889, prior to the establishment of the London County Council on 1 April 1889, just as contracts for the work were about to be let. A new scheme was proposed following an inspection of the compressed air working used to hold back the outside water pressure at the Hudson River tunnel in New York and the St Clair tunnel in Canada. The new scheme, reduced to a single tunnel, was devised by the London County Council Chief Engineer, Alexander R Binnie (1839-1917) and submitted on 20 November 1890. The tender of S Pearson and Son (who were building the Hudson River tunnel), of £871,000, was accepted towards the end of 1891 and work began in 1892. The tunnel is 1,890m long with an outside diameter of the cast-iron lining of 8m. The Blackwall Tunnel was opened by the Prince of Wales on 22 May 1897.

By the 1930s the tunnel was becoming inadequate due to the volume of traffic and the London County Council obtained an Act in 1938 for a new tunnel sited to the east of the original one. However, the war intervened and construction works did not begin until 1958. The eastern tunnel opened in 1967 and is used for south-bound traffic with north-bound traffic using the original tunnel.

The southern gatehouse to the Blackwall tunnel was erected prior to the tunnel’s opening in 1897, to designs by Thomas Blashill (c1831 - 1905), the Superintending Architect to the London County Council. It was one of a pair with a corresponding gatehouse on the north side of the river which was demolished in 1958. Alexander Binnie’s original plan was for a pair of simple Classical arches to mark the entrances to the open approach roads and indicate the maximum headroom in the tunnel but these were superseded by the gatehouses in order to house the superintendent and caretaker of the tunnel. The gatehouse contained two bedrooms, a living room, scullery, larder and WC on the floor above the archway, with a third bedroom and cistern room on the floor above.


Tunnel gatehouse. Opened 1897 for the London County Council to designs by Thomas Blashill, Superintending Architect.

MATERIALS: yellow and red sandstone. Slate roofs with lead covered cupolas. Cast-iron water goods.

PLAN: located 255m south of the southern portal to the Blackwall Tunnel, the gatehouse is rectangular in plan, orientated east-west across the northbound carriageway of the tunnel approach road and is of two storeys plus attic. The ground floor consists of the archway. The floor above is reached via an internal stair from a door in the east wall of the archway. The four rooms above the archway consist of a scullery and living room on the east side of the building off a central corridor with two bedrooms on the west side. Above these in the attic are a cistern room and third bedroom, both on the east side of the building. The remainder of the attic floor originally comprised a single space, presumably used for storage, now partitioned into two rooms.

EXTERIOR: built in an Arts and Crafts Scots-Baronial style, the gatehouse has irregular banding of red and yellow sandstone with a moulded stone eaves cornice. The carriageway is framed by a large round arch with moulded detail. The vault of the arch is covered with glazed terracotta tiles set between stone ribs. Fenestration is of timber casements set in square headed openings with moulded surrounds and mullions. On the south, principal, elevation is a row of seven windows, over the date ‘1897’ and ‘Blackwall Tunnel’ in relief flanked by shields bearing the arms of Surrey and Kent. At the four corners of the building, engaged towers with square-headed lancet windows are topped with distinctive octagonal turrets with ogee cupolas and buttoned spike finials. Between the turrets on the east and west side elevations are broad chimneys with indented caps. The steeply-pitched, near-pyramidal, roof has small, hipped, dormers on the north slope, with larger dormers with triple timber casements on the south slope. A door on the upper level of the west elevation, enlarged from an original window, is accessed via a later C20 metal fire-escape and ladder.

On the east wall of the archway is a bronze dedication plaque by Singer & Son of Frome. The inscription recording the opening of the tunnel is flanked by bare-breasted female figures. At the top is a bearded head of a river god. Below the text, a section of the tunnel with construction work in progress is shown.

INTERIOR: a timber post and rail stair gives access to the first floor. Original four-panel doors, architraves and skirting survive on the first floor. Concrete arches give access to the four corner turrets. There is a brick chimney breast in the original living room but the surround has been lost. Some of the lathe and plaster ceilings have been lost exposing the joists.

The attic floor is lined with matchboard panelling with ceiling panels set in a timber frame. Some of these panels have been lost in places, revealing the boarded roof structure.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: running north from the gatehouse on either side of the carriageway, with a narrow section to the gatehouse, are walls* faced with concrete panels in the late-1960s. These walls are excluded from the listing.

* Pursuant to s1(5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the aforementioned feature is not of special architectural or historic interest.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Smith, D, Civil Engineering Heritage: London and the Thames Valley, (2001), 15-16
British History Online: Survey of London: Volumes 43 and 44, Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs, ed. Hermione Hobhouse (London, 1994) - The Blackwall Tunnel , accessed 20 March 2018 from
Public Monuments & Sculpture Association - Blackwall Tunnel Commemorative Plaque and Relief, accessed 20 March 2018 from
Transport for London, General Inspection Report - Old Blackwall Tunnel House (February 2011)
Transport for London, Principal Inspection Report - Old Blackwall Tunnel House (November 2008)


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

The listed building is shown coloured blue on the attached map. Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’), structures attached to or within the curtilage of the listed building (save those coloured blue on the map) are not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act.

End of official listing

Images of England

Images of England was a photographic record of every listed building in England, created as a snap shot of listed buildings at the turn of the millennium. These photographs of the exterior of listed buildings were taken by volunteers between 1999 and 2008. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Date: 29 Feb 2004
Reference: IOE01/11903/04
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr Richard M. Brown. Source Historic England Archive
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