1928 Thames flood

1928 Thames flood

The 1928 Thames flood was a disastrous flood of the River Thames that affected much of riverside London, England, on 7 January 1928, as well as places further downriver. Fourteen people were drowned in London and thousands were made homeless when flood waters poured over the top of the Thames Embankment and part of the Chelsea Embankment collapsed. It was the last major flood to affect central London and led to the implementation of new flood-control measures, culminating in the construction of the Thames Barrier in the 1970s.

Causes of the flood

During Christmas 1927, heavy snow fell in the Cotswolds in central England, where the Thames has its source. A sudden thaw occurred on 31 December 1927 and 1 January 1928, followed by unusually heavy rain, doubling the volume of water coming down the river. The sudden rise in water level coincided with a high spring tide and a storm surge caused by a major extratropical cyclone in the North Sea. The storm surge raised the water levels in the Thames Estuary, measured at Southend, to 1.5 metres (4 ft) above normal.H. H. Lamb, Knud Frydendahl, "Historic Storms of the North Sea, British Isles and Northwest Europe", p. 158. (Cambridge University Press, 1991)]

The funnelling of the water further up the river caused its level to rise even further. The situation was worsened by capital dredging which had been carried out between 1909 and 1928, deepening the river channel by about 2 metres (6 ft) to allow deeper-draughted vessels to access the Port of London. This had the side-effect of making it easier for water to access the Thames, increasing the flow on a mean tide by about 4% and raising the tidal range by about 0.7 metres (2 ft). [M. B. Abbott, Weston Andrew Price (eds.), "Coastal, Estuarial, and Harbour Engineers' Reference Book", p. 619. (Spon Press, 1994)]

This produced the highest water levels ever recorded in the Thames in London. The flood peaked at about 1.30 a.m. on 7 January when a level of 5.55 metres (18 ft 3 in) above the datum line was recorded, nearly a foot higher than the previous record."Thames Flood Disaster. Safeguards Against Repetition., Official Conference." "The Times", 17 January 1928] Extensive flooding resulted as the river overflowed the Embankments from the City of London and Southwark up to Putney and Hammersmith. Serious flooding was also reported in Greenwich, Woolwich and other locations further downriver, causing major property damage."Floods In The City. Embankment Covered., Excitement At Midnight., Homes Vacated., House Of Commons Flooded." "The Times", 7 January 1928] "Thames Valley Floods. Water Subsiding In Upper Reaches." "The Times", 8 January 1928]

Damage resulting from the flood

A considerable area of the city centre was flooded by this unprecedented combination of events. The most serious incident occurred at Millbank, where a 75-foot (25 m) section of the Chelsea Embankment collapsed, sending a wall of water through a generally poor and run-down area. Fourteen people were drowned, unable to escape from the basements in which they were living. Another 4,000 people were made homeless as water filled the streets to a depth of four feet (1.2 m). Elsewhere, the Tate Gallery was flooded to a depth of between five and eight feet (1.5 to 2.8 m), causing extensive damage to its collections. [http://www.tate.org.uk/archivejourneys/historyhtml/flood.htm Tate History: The Flood] , Tate Gallery, 2003. Retrieved 6 November 2006] Westminster Hall and the House of Commons were also flooded, as were the London Underground stations and lines along the riverside. The moat at the Tower of London, which had been empty for over 80 years, was refilled by the river, and the Blackwall and Rotherhithe Tunnels were submerged."The South Side. Damage In Tooleystreet Area." "The Times", 9 January 1928] The "Manchester Guardian" described the scene on the morning of 7 January:

cquote|Remarkable scenes were witnessed all along the Embankment. At the Houses of Parliament the water "cataracted" over the parapet into the open space at the foot of Big Ben. The floods penetrated into Old Palace Yard, which shortly after one o'clock was about a foot under water in parts.

Flooding was worst at Charing Cross and Waterloo bridges, where the river sweeps round. Water poured over the Embankment, and the road was covered in a depth of several inches.

At intervals along the Embankment stood tramcars derelict and deserted. Later attempts were made to tow them through the floods by means of motor-lorries. Taxicabs and motor-cars splashed along the far side of the road. The public subway, Westminster Bridge, was flooded to a depth of four feet. There were miniature waterfalls at Cleopatra's Needle and the Royal Air Force Memorial, and the training ship "President" floated at street level. [" [http://www.guardian.co.uk/fromthearchive/story/0,,1117160,00.html Whole Country Swept by Gale] , "Manchester Guardian", 7 January 1928]

The flood was short-lived, and the waters subsided by the end of the day. However, it took considerably longer to drain the many roads, tunnels, basements and cellars that had been inundated."The London Flood. Death-Roll Of Fourteen., Gallant Rescues., Great Damage To Property." "The Times", 9 January 1928]


The damage caused by the flood took several years to repair. The most seriously affected area, in Millbank, was largely rebuilt from scratch; the run-down dwellings and warehouses that had characterised the area were so badly damaged that they had to be demolished. They were replaced with modern office blocks and apartment buildings. The current headquarters of MI5, Thames House (designed by Sir Frank Baines, the Principal Architect of the Government's Office of Works), was one of the new buildings constructed in the area in 1929–30. [" [http://www.mi5.gov.uk/output/Page415.html Thames House] ", MI5] Imperial Chemical House, built to a very similar (though not identical) design, was constructed on other other side of Horseferry Road to form a landmark pair of office blocks facing the river.

A new bridge, Lambeth Bridge, was constructed to replace its dilapidated predecessor and Horseferry Road was widened to afford access to the bridge. The height of the Embankments was raised and the river wall was strengthened along substantial parts of the river. Proposals were made for the construction of a Thames flood barrier but these came to nothing, due to concerns that such a barrier would impede shipping access to the London docks.

The flood of January 1928 was the last major flood in the city centre, although the North Sea flood of 1953 came within millimetres of overtopping the Embankment and did flood Bermondsey and some other low-lying parts of the city. Another flood affected the lower Thames in 1959. In response to the threat of such floods happening again, plans were made in the mid-1960s to build a flood barrier on the Thames to guard against the threat of storm surges. By then, much of London's shipping had moved to Tilbury further downriver, greatly reducing the navigational difficulties that a barrier would present. The Thames Barrier project finally got underway in 1974, with the barrier officially opening in 1984.

See also

* 1947 Thames flood


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