Constructed for fifteen years by the engineer Marc Brunel, the tunnel was supposed to be a passageway for horse-drawn carriages but had been undone by the cost, and instead became a tourist attraction. During its construction, Brunel's son and other workers nearly drowned in one of the floods.
During the 19th century, the tunnel became home for traders, mystics, prostitutes, animal handlers, clowns, street dealers, homeless, fugitives, and beggars. They kept a strict hierarchy in the place: tradesmen took their places at the mouth and made sure the place was free of vagrants and kept the place's sanitation. The homeless and derelict came further with the criminals even further along. Pedestrians were required to pay a penny to pass through the tunnel. At night, the turnstiles were closed but those who lived in the tunnel just climbed over. Due to this, outlaws would often prey upon the residents of the tunnel.
Sometime in the mid-19th century, the Assassin Jayadeep Mir, working undercover as Bharat Singh, made the Thames Tunnel his temporary home. Arriving here, he disposed off and killed the outlaws of the tunnel and made acquaintances with the street urchin Charlie, a beggar named Jake and the Tunnel Mother Maggie. As well as personally helping the residents, Jayadeep served as the border guard of the tunnel against miscreants and fugitives of the darker region.
On ground level, the Thames Tunnel's entrance is shaped like a spired, octagonal marble building. The entrance was adorned with mosaic floors and contains a side building acting as a watch house. The inside of the shaft contained a spiral marble stairs leading to the grand rotunda, eighty meters underground. Here, statues were erected and alcoves were set in stucco walls. This leads to the four hundred meter length tunnel illuminated by lamps.