Hollandsche Beton Maatschappij
Dam and spillways
Type of dam
Far view of the
River Thames Flood Barrier
Thames Barrier prevents the floodplain of most of Greater London
from being flooded by exceptionally high tides and storm surges moving
up from the North Sea. It has been operational since 1984. When
needed, it is closed (raised) during high tide; at low tide it can be
opened to restore the river's flow towards the sea. Built
approximately 3 km (1.9 mi) due east of the Isle of Dogs,
its northern bank is in
Silvertown in the
London Borough of Newham and
its southern bank is in the
New Charlton area of the Royal Borough of
The report of Sir
Hermann Bondi on the
North Sea flood of 1953
affecting parts of the Thames Estuary and parts of London was
instrumental in the building of the barrier.
1.1 Design and construction
1.2 Predictions for operation
1.3 Barrier closures and incidents
1.4 Ownership and operating authority
3 In popular culture
5 See also
7 Further reading
8 External links
Design and construction
Diagram showing how the gates work, though the barrier actually rises
further than this to allow water to 'underspill' under the barrier in
a controlled fashion
The concept of the rotating gates was devised by (Reginald) Charles
Draper. In 1969, from his parents' house in Pellatt Grove, Wood Green,
London, he constructed a working model. The novel rotating cylinders
were based on the design of the taps on his gas cooker. The barrier
was designed by Rendel, Palmer and Tritton for the Greater London
Council and tested at the Hydraulics Research Station, Wallingford.
The site at
New Charlton was chosen because of the relative
straightness of the banks, and because the underlying river chalk was
strong enough to support the barrier. Work began at the barrier site
in 1974 and construction, which had been undertaken by a
Costain/Hollandsche Beton Maatschappij/Tarmac Construction
consortium, was largely complete by 1982. The gates of the barrier
were made by Cleveland Bridge UK Ltd at Dent's Wharf on the River
In addition to the barrier, the flood defences for 11 miles down river
were raised and strengthened. The barrier was officially opened on 8
May 1984 by Queen Elizabeth II. Total construction cost was around
£534 million (£1.6 billion at 2016 prices) with an additional £100
million for river defences.
Built across a 520-metre (570 yd) wide stretch of the river, the
barrier divides the river into four 61-metre (200 ft) and two,
approximately 30 metre (100 ft) navigable spans. There are also
four smaller non-navigable channels between nine concrete piers and
two abutments. The flood gates across the openings are circular
segments in cross section, and they operate by rotating, raised to
allow "underspill" to allow operators to control upstream levels and a
complete 180 degree rotation for maintenance. All the gates are hollow
and made of steel up to 40 millimetres (1.6 in) thick. The gates
are filled with water when submerged and empty as they emerge from the
river. The four large central gates are 20.1 metres (66 ft) high
and weigh 3,700 tonnes each. Four radial gates by the riverbanks,
also about 30 metres (100 ft) wide, can be lowered. These gate
openings, unlike the main six, are non-navigable.
Predictions for operation
Thames Barrier flood defence closure is triggered when a combination
of high tides forecast in the
North Sea and high river flows at the
tidal limit at Teddington weir indicate that water levels would exceed
4.87 metres (16.0 ft) in central London. Though Teddington marks
the Normal Tidal Limit, in periods of very high fluvial flow the tidal
influence can be seen as far upstream as
East Molesey on the
The barrier from
Silvertown on the north bank of the river during
normal operation looking across to New Charlton.
Barrier closures and incidents
Closures per season
From tidal flooding
From fluvial flooding
During the barrier's entire history up to October 2017, there have
been 179 flood defence closures. The barrier was closed twice on 9
November 2007 after a storm surge in the
North Sea which was compared
to the one in 1953. The main danger of flooding from the surge was
on the coast above the Thames Barrier, where evacuations took place,
but the winds abated a little and, at the Thames Barrier, the 9
November 2007 storm surge did not completely coincide with high
On 20 August 1989, hours after the Marchioness disaster, the barrier
was closed against a spring tide for 16 hours "to assist the diving
and salvage operations".
The barrier has survived 15 boat collisions without serious
On 27 October 1997, the barrier was damaged when the dredger MV Sand
Kite, operating in thick fog, hit one of the Thames Barrier's piers.
As the ship started to sink she dumped her 3,300 tonne load of
aggregate, finally sinking by the bow on top of one of the barrier's
gates where she lay for several days. Initially the gate could not be
closed as it was covered in a thick layer of gravel. A longer term
problem was the premature loss of paint on the flat side of the gate
caused by abrasion. The vessel was refloated in mid-November 1997.
The annual full test closure in 2012 was scheduled for 3 June to
coincide with the Thames pageant celebrating Queen Elizabeth II's
Diamond Jubilee. Flood risk manager Andy Batchelor said the pageant
Environment Agency "a unique opportunity to test its design
for a longer period than we would normally be able to", and that the
more stable tidal conditions in central
London that resulted would
help the vessels taking part.
Ownership and operating authority
The barrier was originally commissioned by the Greater
under the guidance of Ray Horner. After the 1986 abolition of the GLC
it was operated successively by
Thames Water Authority and then the
National Rivers Authority until April 1996 when it passed to the
The barrier was originally designed to protect
London against a very
high flood level (with an estimated return period of one hundred
years) up to the year 2030, after which the protection would decrease,
while remaining within acceptable limits. At the time of its
construction, the barrier was expected to be used 2–3 times per
year. It is now being used 6–7 times per year.
This defence level included long-term changes in sea and land levels
as understood at that time (c. 1970). Despite global warming and a
consequently greater predicted rate of sea level rise, recent analysis
extended the working life of the barrier until around 2060–2070.
From 1982 until 19 March 2007, the barrier was raised one hundred
times to prevent flooding. It is also raised monthly for testing,
with a full test closure over high tide once a year.
Released in 2005, a study by four academics contained a proposal to
Thames Barrier with a more ambitious 16 km
(10 mi) long barrier across the Thames Estuary from
Kent to Southend in Essex.
In November 2011, a new Thames Barrier, further downstream at Lower
East Tilbury in
Essex and Cliffe in Kent, was proposed as
part of the Thames Hub integrated infrastructure vision. The barrier
would incorporate hydropower turbines to generate renewable energy and
include road and rail tunnels, providing connections from
Essex to a
major new hub airport on the Isle of Grain.
In January 2013, in a letter to The Times, a former member of the
Thames Barrier Project Management Team, Dr Richard Bloore, stated that
the flood barrier was not designed with increased storminess and sea
level rises in mind, and called for a new barrier to be looked into
Environment Agency responded that it does not
plan to replace the
Thames Barrier before 2070, as the barrier was
designed with an allowance for sea level rise of 8 mm per year
until 2030, which has not been realised in the intervening years.
The barrier is around halfway through its designed lifespan. The
standard of protection it provides will gradually decline over time
after 2030, from a 1 in 1000 year event. The
Environment Agency are
Thames Barrier for its potential design life under
climate change, with early indications being that subject to
appropriate modification, the
Thames Barrier will be capable of
providing continued protection to
London against rising sea levels
until at least 2070.
In popular culture
McCallum, a British television series that was produced by STV
Productions (Scottish Television) and ran from 1995 to 1998 showed an
arial fly over of the
Thames Barrier at night, during the opening and
The 1986 rock music video for "Cross That Bridge" by UK Band "The Ward
Brothers" was filmed both inside & outside
Thames Barrier #1.
In the 1982
Alexei Sayle track "'Ullo John! Gotta New Motor?" the
barrier is mentioned in the lyrics, "He works on the Thames barrier
– he works on the Thames barrier!"
The climax of Lois McMaster Bujolds 1989 novel Brothers in Arms takes
place in and near the Thames Barrier.
In series 5 episode 7 (1992) of firefighting drama London’s Burning,
Blue Watch are called to the
Thames Barrier to rescue a maintenance
In the tenth episode of Series 5 of Spooks, broadcast in mid-late-2006
an environmental group threatens to blow up the Thames Barrier.
Thames Barrier appears in the 2006
Doctor Who Christmas special,
"The Runaway Bride". The Doctor and his companion
Donna Noble emerge
from the barrier after defeating the Empress of the
Racnoss and her
children by flooding her secret underground lair, only to find out
that they have accidentally drained the Thames.
In 2007 in season 10, episode 5 of Top Gear co-host Jeremy Clarkson
drives a racing boat through the
Thames Barrier while racing James
May, Richard Hammond, and
The Stig to
London City Airport.
The barrier features as one of the main locations of Flood, a 2007
British disaster film, directed by Tony Mitchell It features Robert
Carlyle, Jessalyn Gilsig,
David Suchet and Tom Courtenay. It is based
on the 2002 novel of the same name by Richard Doyle.
The barrier features near the end of the music video for Take That's
2010 hit single, "The Flood".
One of the gates in underspill
Thames Barrier Pier 6
Gate in maintenance
Maintenance close up
Pier close up
Tunnel underneath the
Thames Barrier between piers
Barrier Gardens Pier
Delta Works with the Oosterscheldekering
Saint Petersburg Dam
Saint Petersburg Dam Flood Prevention Facility Complex
Crossings of the River Thames
^ 1953 floods in Canning Town, Accessed 30 December 2010 Archived 20
November 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
^ "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry for Herman Bondi,
accessed 30 December 2010".
Environment Agency Archived 17 September 2008 at the Wayback
^ Cleveland Bridge UK projects:
Thames Barrier Archived 19 June 2012
at the Wayback Machine.
^ "Benring limited:
Thames Barrier – subcontracted to Cleveland
Bridge UK Ltd". Benring.co.uk. Retrieved 2 May 2013.
Thames Barrier project pack 2010" (PDF). Environment Agency.
Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 August 2011. Retrieved 17
^ Tom de Castella (11 February 2014). "How does the Thames Barrier
London flooding?". BBC News. Retrieved 25 February 2014.
Environment Agency (24 May 2010). "
Thames Barrier closures –
indicator two". Environment Agency. Archived from the original on 15
December 2012. Retrieved 28 December 2012.
^ BBC report, accessed 8 December 2007
^ Surge of 9 November 2007 Archived 21 February 2012 at the Wayback
Machine. The Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory (POL), (a part of the
Natural Environment Research Council)
^ "Part III". Report of the Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents into
the collision between the passenger launch Marchioness and MV Bowbelle
with loss of life on the
River Thames on 20 August 1989 (PDF)
(Report). UK Department of Transport Marine Accident Investigation
Branch. 5 June 1990. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
^ a b Hanlon, Michael (18 February 2014). "The
Thames Barrier has
London – but is it time for TB2?". Daily Telegraph. London.
Retrieved 3 March 2014.
^ Report of the Inspector's Inquiry into the collision of MV Sand Kite
with the Thames Flood Barrier on 27 October 1997 (PDF) (Report). UK
DETR Marine Accident Investigation Branch. April 1999. Retrieved 24
^ a b "
Thames Barrier test closure to be on Jubilee pageant day". BBC
News. 6 March 2012. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
^ Foundation, Internet Memory. "[ARCHIVED CONTENT] UK Government Web
Archive – The National Archives".
webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk. Archived from the original on 6
^ Predicting and Managing the Effects of Climate Change on World
Heritage, A joint report from the World Heritage Centre, its Advisory
Bodies, and a broad group of experts to the 30th session of the World
Heritage Committee (Vilnius, 2006) UNESCO, p. 29
^ ThamesWeb Archived 23 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
^ Times Online 9 January 2005
^ "Thames Hub: An integrated vision for Britain" (PDF). Thames Hub: An
integrated vision for Britain. Foster+Partners, Halcrow, Volterra.
Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 November 2011. Retrieved 6
^ "Letters to the Editor: Thames Barrier". The Times. London. 3
January 2013. Retrieved 13 January 2013.
Thames Barrier engineer says second defence needed". BBC News. 5
January 2013. Retrieved 13 January 2013.
^ Cole, Margo (10 January 2013). "
Environment Agency rejects calls for
new Thames Barrier". New Civil Engineer. Retrieved 13 January
^ a b "
Thames Barrier Project Pack 2012" (PDF). Environment Agency.
Retrieved 2 September 2013.
^ Eduardo Montenegro (18 August 2014). "The Ward Brothers – Cross
That Bridge (1986)" – via YouTube.
^ Phase 9 Entertainment, "Flood" production details Archived 9 March
2013 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved 11 January 2011
Stuart Gilbert and Ray Horner. The
Thames Barrier Telford 1984
S Gilbert. The Thames Barrier. Thomas Telford Ltd. 30 June 1986. 216
pages. ISBN 0-7277-0249-1.
Ken Wilson. The Story of the Thames Barrier. Lanthorn. 1984. 32 pages.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Thames Barrier.
Thames Barrier page at the Environment Agency
Animation showing how the Barrier works
"Time-lapse video showing
Thames Barrier operating in flood
conditions". Daily Telegraph. 5 January 2014.
Streetmap of Thames Barrier
Thames Barrier Information and Learning Centre – on south side of
Thames Barrier Park – park by the Barrier on north side of the
Londons flood defence system
Map of associated flood barriers
Risques VS Fictions n°8, filmed interview (subtitled in French) with
Steve East, technical support team leader of the real barrier about
the depiction of the barrier and scientific accuracy of Flood.
Crossings of the River Thames
Emirates Air Line
Hungerford Bridge and Golden Jubilee Bridges
Empire, Leicester Square
Odeon, Leicester Square
Wembley Stadium (national stadium)
Craven Cottage (Fulham)
The Den (Millwall)
Emirates Stadium (Arsenal)
Loftus Road (Queens Park Rangers)
London Stadium (
West Ham United)
Selhurst Park (Crystal Palace)
Stamford Bridge (Chelsea)
The Valley (Charlton Athletic)
White Hart Lane
White Hart Lane (Tottenham Hotspur)
All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club
The Championship Course
The Championship Course (rowing)
Crystal Palace National Sports Centre
Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
The Oval (cricket)
Twickenham Stadium (rugby)
Royal National Theatre
Royal Opera House
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane
Theatre Royal Haymarket
Royal Albert Hall
Royal Festival Hall
10 Downing Street
Bank of England
Palace of Westminster
Royal Courts of Justice
Imperial War Museum
Museum of London
National Maritime Museum
Natural History Museum
Royal Academy of Arts
Tower of London
Victoria and Albert Museum
Places of worship
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
Bevis Marks Synagogue
Methodist Central Hall
Regent's Park Mosque
St Paul's Cathedral
Fortnum & Mason
The Mall Wood Green
One New Change
Petticoat Lane Market
Westfield Stratford City
Partly occupied by
the Royal Family
St James's Palace
Hampton Court Palace
The Queen's Gallery
Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
1 Canada Square
8 Canada Square
25 Canada Square
1 Churchill Place
20 Fenchurch Street
St George Wharf Tower
30 St Mary Axe
Crystal Palace transmitting station
Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain
Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain ("Eros")
Charing Cross station
Clapham Junction station
King's Cross station
Liverpool Street station
London Bridge station
St Pancras station
Victoria Coach Station
Emirates Air Line
Emirates Air Line cable car
Battersea Power Station
St Bartholomew's Hospital
Hampton Court Park
St. James's Park
Horse Guards Parade
Charing Cross Road
Kensington High Street
Tottenham Court Road
London Borough of Newham
Stratford (East Village,
Stratford City and Maryland)
Brick Lane Music Hall
London City Airport
Woolwich foot tunnel
London Aquatics Centre
The Old Spotted Dog Ground
Upton Park F.C.
West Ham United F.C.
Parks and open spaces
Beckton District Park North
Beckton District Park South
Forest Lane Park
King George V Park
Little Ilford Park
Three Mills Green
West Ham Park
Tube, rail and DLR stations
Custom House for Excel
King George V
London City Airport
Pudding Mill Lane
Stratford High Street
Grade I and II* listed buildings