Thames Barrier

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The Thames Barrier

Thames Barrier
Unity Way
London SE18 5JN

Thames Barrier - copyright Graeme Webb

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. This meant that an opening in the barrier of around 1400 feet would be required. A number of schemes were put forward, but failed to come to fruition.

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Spectacular view of the Millennium Dome from the Thames Barrier

Then the whole system of sea transportation began to change. Cargo began to be shipped in containers on purpose-built ships, and a new container port was opened downstream at Tilbury. The old London Docks became redundant. It was decided that openings only 200 feet wide, the same as Tower Bridge, would be sufficient, and the site of the barrier could be further upstream than originally envisaged. Thames Barrier Visitor Block - copyright Graeme Webb

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 (c. 523m) 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 (c. 15.25m) below the level of the river. The four largest steel gates are 200 feet (c. 61m) 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. Similar work was carried out by other Water Authorities, improving the defences to the mouth of the estuary.

It is worth visiting when the barrier gates are being tested. See the Programme of Closures of all the Barrier Gates - details on the Official Thames Barrier website

Photos 1 - Thames Barrier, 2 - Visitors Centre © Graeme Webb 1996 | Text by Alan Palmer

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Greenwich England is where East meets West at the Greenwich Meridian (0° Longitude); World Time is set Greenwich Mean Time. Remember the new millennium started in 2001.

Greenwich lies on the River Thames, a few minutes by rail or tube, or a short river cruise from central London.  If you want to visit Greenwich and information on visiting London, England then see Greenwich Info.  There is the famous Cutty Sark to visit and the Royal Naval College.  Just down river is the Thames Barrier which is close to London City Airport

The Royal Observatory at Greenwich is in Greenwich Park along with the National Maritime Museum and the Queens House (on which the White House in Washington DC, USA is based).  For information on astronomy visit Greenwich Star

The London Marathon starts in Greenwich Park every Spring.

Greenwich has a long heritage; it was the birth place of King Henry VIII and his daughters Queen Mary (Bloody Mary) and Queen Elizabeth I (The Virgin Queen).  All the English monarchs can be found at Royal History.

It has seen many famous visitors from Peter the Great through Charles Dickens to Bob Hope.  This and a lot more in Greenwich Past.

For information on all the other places in the world called Greenwich including Greenwich Village, New York City, USA then visit Greenwich Town.

Visit the Greenwich Book Shelf where you can buy titles old and new.

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