Much of London lies in the floodplain of the Thames and its tributaries - the Brent, Fleet, Lea, Roding and many others. Because of this, the city has always been vulnerable to flooding.
|Tilbury under water in 1953. © NMM |
On 31 January 1953 Britain and the Netherlands suffered one of the worst floods in their history. Huge waves battered the east coast, and a devastating tidal surge rushed up the Thames, with sea levels 3 metres above normal in some places.
London was very fortunate to escape the worst of the flooding. The Thames and the Lea burst their banks and damaged more than 1100 houses in Silvertown and Canning Town, but the floods did not reach central London. Although London escaped disaster in 1953, the floods showed just how vulnerable the city could be.
Had the tidal surge reached central London, the outcome would have been horrendous. Over a million people would have been in danger. The likely damage to London's infrastructure - water and sewage systems, and power, gas and phone lines - would have disrupted life in the capital for months and cost a fortune to repair.
|One of the many failed proposals for a Thames Barrier. © NMM |
After the floods, an enquiry was set up to work out ways of protecting London in the future. As the old system of embankments was clearly no longer adequate, the enquiry recommended the construction of a flood barrier across the Thames.