Inside London’s hidden tunnel that no one knows exists

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London is renowned for its quirks and peculiarities — from the incredible tales of its most notorious residents, to the centuries of history-shaping events that have taken place on its very streets. And while you’d expect that all of the untold truths of one of the planet’s most visited destinations were by now known to all, one running right through its heart, or more accuratelty its feet, has been kept largely secret. Here, takes a look at the hidden tunnel buried beneath the capital.

Underneath London runs the tube system, a creation often hailed as a hallmark of Britain’s best engineering. But among the tunnels that make up the network is one which carries out a rather dirty role.

The London Underground spans some 250 miles (402km) of track beneath the city, transporting millions of commuters and tourists throughout its network every year.

As well as passengers, the tunnels also help move water and sewage. Its deepest point on the grid is at Hampstead station, where the tube operates at around 59 metres below.

But in East London, a further 21 metres down, is another tunnel that many are unaware exists. Known as the Lee Tunnel, and the Stratford to East Ham deep tunnel, it runs for around 4.3 miles (seven kilometres).

The tunnel was opened in 2016, and runs between Stratford’s Abbey Mill Pumping Station to Beckton Sewage Treatment Works.

Estimates suggest the Lee Tunnel transports some 16 million tonnes of sewage each year, where it will then join the Thames Tideway Tunnel, beginning in Acton.

Air Technology Systems Limited, a design and project management specialist, were enlisted to help with the project’s ventilation by Thames Valley, and the project is set to be completed in 2025.

On its website, the firm described the “biggest challenge” on the project as being able to “safely complete the installation”. It continued: “Conventional methods such as scaffolding and man riders were considered, but it was impossible to use this method because of the space available and of course would have a larger environmental impact using two cranes.

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“Installation via rope access was devised as the ideal solution as it allows access to install pipework, electrics, and ventilation systems within areas where scaffolding would traditionally be required, but would be inappropriate, prohibitively expensive, or unsafe.”

It noted that while this was happening “necessary permissions to erect scaffold would have meant costly delays to the project” but solutions were found to ensure the job was kept on time.

The post added: “Combining two existing skills is a major innovation in construction that has led to ATS being able to solve problems and provide solutions on both small and very large scales.

“The Air Technology Systems rope access team is the only one in the World that can install the huge ventilation system on The Lee Tunnel Project, in the required location.”

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There are other amazing feats of engineering all around London that remain out of the public’s eye. 

This includes a secret river located underneath King Charles III’s home in Buckingham Palace — which once burst and flooded the royal residence.

Centuries ago, canals and rivers helped make London work, though many of them are now no longer visible, hidden beneath its streets and roads.

Among these was the River Tyburn, which ran between Hampstead, flowed beneath Buckingham Palace, and then joined with the River Thames in Westminster. Initially, the rivers were destroyed due to their foul smell on account of the sewage being inhaled by the upper classes of Westminster.

However, the river that remains under the Palace is untouched and continues to flow to this day.

Alex Werner, head of history collections at the Museum of London, said: “Wherever you live, not far from your doorstep, you can probably track down a hidden river you never would have guessed would be there.”

Author Paul Talling, who wrote a book on the lost rivers, added: “It’s a shame so many rivers were buried – today they would enhance the landscape.

“But at the time it was necessary – in pre-Victorian times, they were used as open sewers.”

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