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  • Writer's pictureErin

Discover - The Thames Barrier

Updated: Feb 14, 2021

Ok so this is going to be a pretty geeky blog post, but the Thames Barrier has always fascinated me, and I hope there's a few of you out there who feel the same way.

Make your way down the River Thames, towards Woolwich, and you'll be faced with this, I think it's beautiful, but I fully accept that to some it won't be. It's the Thames Barrier, and like it or not, we have a lot to thank it for. It basically prevents the floodplain of most of Greater London from being flooded during exceptionally high tides and storm surges moving up from the North Sea. When it's needed, the barrier is raised at high tide.

After the disastrous North Sea Flood in 1953, which caused major flooding, destruction and loss of life throughout England, Scotland, Belgium and the Netherlands, it was realised something needed to be done. The idea of gates being installed in the River Thames was by Charles Draper, later to be designed by Rendel, Paler and Tritton, and installed here because of the relatively straight banks, and hard underlying chalk riverbed (and cost a staggering £534 million, over £1.5 billion in today's terms).

Officially opened in 1984 by Queen Elizabeth II, it stretches 520 metres across the Thames, and divides the river into six sections, with ten gates having the ability to raise and lower when needed.

The closure of the defence is triggered when high tides are forecast in the North Sea and high river flows at the tidal limit further upstream at Teddington weir exceeding 4.87 metres in Central London.

If you're interested in seeing it doing its thing, you can! And it doesn't mean making your way to the barrier during a severe weather warning, the annual full tide test closure is coming up on Sunday the 29th of September if you fancy it! But apart from the yearly test, it's closed over 184 times (6-7 times a year), most importantly on the 9th of November 2007 after similar weather conditions to those in 1953.

Not from London but can't quite work out where you recognise the Thames Barrier from? Perhaps you saw it on Spooks, when an environmental group threatens to blow it up, or the Doctor Who Christmas special when the doctor accidentally drained the Thames. Jeremy Clarkson drove a racing boat through it on an episode of Top Gear and even more impressive, Take That rowed through it for their music video, The Flood ;)

Heard in London

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