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IN THE NEWS
TOUR OF THE MONTH
ON THIS DAY IN LONDON
Thames Flood Barrier
This is one of the biggest flood defences in the world.
Location: Unity Way, Woolwich, SE18 5JN
Description: The Thames Barrier has been described as the eighth wonder of the world. It is certainly a very impressive work of engineering.
High water level at London Bridge has risen about two and a half feet per century, due to the melting of the polar ice caps and the activities of Man. However, the main possible cause of flooding in the London area is surge tides. These originate in the North Atlantic, and generally pass to the north of the British Isles. Occasionally, however, northerly winds will force them down into the North Sea, sending millions of tons of extra water up the Thames. One and a quarter million people were at risk, spread over 45 square miles.
In 1953 a particularly disastrous flood occurred. Over 300 people drowned and about 160,000 acres on Canvey Island, near the mouth of the Thames, were covered in sea water. The government appointed a committee to look at the flood problem. One of the recommendations was that a barrier be erected across the Thames. The main problem was that the volume of shipping using London Docks was at its peak, and that ships were getting bigger.
Finally, work on building the barrier started in 1974. It was designed for the Greater London Council by Rendel, Palmer and Tritton, and was officially opened by H.M. Queen Elizabeth II on 8 May 1984. The 1716 feet width of the river is divided by nine reinforced concrete piers, to form six openings for shipping and four other openings. The piers are founded on solid chalk, over 50 feet below the level of the river. The four largest steel gates are 200 feet wide and weigh 1500 tonnes each. 4,000 men and women were engaged in the building work, which cost nearly 500 million pounds. In addition, eleven and a half miles of the river, to the east of the barrier, were protected by new walls, to a new defence level of 23 feet. New walkways and amenity areas were created. This further work cost around 100 million pounds.