The Thames Tunnel, connecting Rotherthithe and Wapping, was the first of its kind – the only tunnel up to that point to have been excavated beneath a navigable river. Construction on it began in 1925, by Marc Isambard Brunel and his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The two used a new invention created by the older Brunel and his associate Thomas Cochrane, called a tunneling shield. The shield’s purpose is to prevent mud, water or other liquids from flooding the tunnel.
Even with this shield, the tunnelling took years – by the time it finally opened to the public in 1843, after floods and other delays, many had given up on it. But the tunnel proved to be a wonder of its era. It was intended for horsedrawn carriages, but attracted so much pedestrian traffic that it was used solely by pedestrians until 1869. In that year, it was purchased by a railway company and tracks were laid. Services still run through the tunnel today.
Happy Land nightclub had been ordered closed for building code violations during November 1988, including the lack of fire exits, alarms or sprinkler system. These faults were never remedied, and fire exits were later found to have been deliberately blocked (to prevent people entering without paying).
The evening of the fire, Julio González had argued with his former girlfriend, Lydia Feliciano, a coat check girl at the club, urging her to quit. She told him to leave, and when he refused, she called the bouncer. González tried to fight back into the club but was ejected by the bouncer. He was heard to scream drunken threats in the process. Later that night, González returned to the establishment with a container of gasoline which he spread on the staircase that was the only access into the club.
In the resulting fire, 87 people lost their lives. González was convicted of 87 murders and 87 charges of arson, and sentenced to 25 years to life on every charge (a total of 4350 years), although he will be eligible for parole in March 2015 (the sentences for multiple murders are served concurrently under New York state law).