Continuing our series on Great Feats of British Engineering, here we take a look at the innovative Thames Barrier, whose purpose is to protect the city of London and its residents from flooding.

The city of London is vulnerable to flooding due to heavy tides, and for most of its history the city lacked protection from the waters of the River Thames. There have been a number of historic instances in which the city flooded, and according to some contemporary reports, when the Thames overflowed its banks back in 1928, the streets were filled with water up to 1.2 metres deep.

A further flood in 1953 caused the River Thames to burst its banks, damaging 1100 homes in east London in the process and claiming the lives of 300 people.

Whilst central London had a lucky escape from the floodwaters, had the flood reached this part of the city, the loss of life and damage caused to the city’s infrastructure would have been catastrophic. Consequently, the need for a flood defence system became strikingly apparent, and plans were subsequently set in motion to see such a defence built.

A government committee was established to work on the project, and it was decided that a barrier capable of controlling the river’s tides should be built across the Thames. A number of different sites were considered for the location of the barrier; however, the decision was ultimately made to build the barrier on the eastern side of the capital at Woolwich due to the straightness of its banks.

Work began on the barrier back in 1972 and took a total of 8 years to complete. The barrier cost a staggering £500 million and was officially opened in 1984.

The barrier consists of a series of moveable steel gates which span a 17,000 foot stretch of river. Since its completion, the Thames Barrier has become a London icon and is one of the city’s most recognisable landmarks, thanks to its striking, innovative design.

How Does it Work?

The Thames Barrier has been in operation since 1982, and its primary purpose is to prevent the floodplain of Greater London from being flooded by high tides and storm surges.

When in an open position, the barrier’s gates lie flat along the river bed, allowing the river to flow freely and ships to pass through. However, when the barrier closes, these gates are rotated into an upright position until they block the river, effectively creating a solid steel wall that prevents water flowing towards the capital.

These gates each weigh 3,200 tonnes and are capable of holding back an impressive 90,000 tonnes of water.

Since its opening, the barrier has now been closed 174 times and has had a vital role to play in protecting the city of London and its inhabitants.

According to predictions from the Environment Agency, and if sea levels were to continue to rise, then without the protection of the barrier, London landmarks such as the houses of parliament and Tower Bridge would all be flooded.

The Thames Barrier is a fantastic example of a great feat of British engineering. Here at Airedale Springs we’re leading spring suppliers and are proud to be a part of the engineering industry here in the UK. For more information about our range of spring products, please don’t hesitate to contact us today by giving us a call on 01535 643456 and a member of our friendly team will be happy to help you with your enquiries.