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January 11, 2021

Historic Photographs From 1928 Thames Flood

The 1928 Thames flood was a disastrous flood of the River Thames that affected much of riverside London on January 7, 1928, as well as places further downriver. Fourteen people died and thousands were made homeless when floodwaters 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, along with the disastrous North Sea flood of 1953, helped lead to the implementation of new flood-control measures that culminated in the construction of the Thames Barrier in the 1970s.

During Christmas 1927, heavy snow fell in the Cotswolds in central England, where the Thames has its source. A sudden thaw occurred over the New Year’s Eve of 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 extra-tropical cyclone in the North Sea. The storm surge raised the water levels in the Thames Estuary, measured at Southend, to 1.5 meters (4 ft) above normal.

The funneling of the water further up the river caused its level to rise even higher. The situation was worsened by capital dredging which had been carried out between 1909 and 1928, deepening the river channel by about 2 meters (6 ft) to allow access for deeper-draughted vessels to the Port of London. This had the side-effect of making it easier for seawater to flow up the Thames on a high tide, increasing the flow on a mean tide by about 4% and raising the tidal range by about 0.7 meters (2 ft).

This produced the highest water levels ever recorded in the Thames in London. The flood peaked at about 1:30 am on January 7 when a level of 5.55 meters (18 ft 3 in) above the datum line was recorded, nearly a foot higher than the previous record. 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.

Below are some historic photos from the 1928 flood:


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