From 1890 to 1896 three tunnels each some 5m in diameter, were constructed between Tunnel Street in Finnieston and Mavisbank Quay for the Glasgow Harbour Tunnel Company. One, at a higher level, was reserved for pedestrians while the other two below carried north- and southbound horse-drawn vehicles. At either end the domed rotundas covered 24m deep shafts containing hydraulic lifts and stairs to take users to and from the tunnels. Originally, three-storey red and white brick towers stood alongside them, containing the hydraulic accumulators that powered the lifts, but these have been demolished.
The tunnels were never financially successful and were eventually taken over by the City as a service. Water tended to ooze through creating some spectacular ‘stalactites’ hanging from the roof. When the passenger tunnel fell into disuse people began to use the vehicle tunnels. In 1932 local writer, James Cowan, described his smooth quiet descent by lift ‘among a bewildering medley of wheels and cables’ and, then, ‘walking a little ahead of my equine companion, whose clattering hoofs echoed loudly in the confined space’ while the electric lamps lent ‘a certain beauty’ to the passage ahead.
During the 1939-45 War all the lift metalwork was removed for the war effort. The tunnel reopened to pedestrians in 1947 and continued in use until 1980.