In this watery winter of drenched discontent The Baron is considering whether we should all commence on the Ark. Counting our lucky stars at The Barons and hoping the skies clear and ground drains for those suffering at the hands of the current flood waters, it is high tide and time to look back on two Twickenham floods in history that overwhelmed areas of Richmond around
In 1774, the manmade lake at Virginia Water burst its banks, and there was flooding along the Thames to Richmond. Horace Walpole reported the discomforts of the deluge on 27 September:
“It has rained this whole month, and we have got another inundation. The Thames is as broad as your Danube, and all my meadows are under water. Lady Browne and I, coming last Sunday night from Lady Blandford’s, were in a piteous plight. The ferry-boat (from Richmond to Twickenham) was turned around by the current, and carried to Isleworth. Then we ran against the piers of our new bridge, and the horses were frightened.”
It is an interesting reference to the historic Richmond ferry, which ceased operating when the Richmond Bridge was completed three years later. You can track down a stone marking the historic flood level in the garden wall at St Mary’s Church, on Church Lane, across from Eel Pie Island, just above the aptly named Flood Lane.
More recently, St Margarets flooded on 7 January 1928, after a ‘perfect storm’ of combined events reminiscent of recent times. Heavy Christmas snows in the Cotswolds at the source of the Thames, combined with a sudden thaw and heavy rain at New Year to double the amount of water rushing down the river. Meantime, a high spring tide combined with a storm surge in the North Sea to funnel a wave of water up the river. Water levels reached their highest point on record, and overflowed the embankments. Fourteen people drowned in Lambeth, and thousands were made homeless. The House of Commons and the Tate Gallery were flooded and the Tower of London moat was filled for the first time in 80 years. Both the Thames and the Crane flooded in St Margarets, and the Richmond and Twickenham Times reported:
“The water… encroached upon the gardens of houses in St Margarets Grove and reached the bottom of South Western Road through the passage. In some places it was nearly three feet deep… and the water was only a few inches from the top of the arches of the bridge near Hill View Road.”
Looking at those streets on a map offers a sense of the flood, and you can track down markers recording the 1928 flood level at Richmond Lock and Footbridge and at the Slug and Lettuce pub in Water Lane, Richmond.
Despite global warming and rising sea levels, the Thames Barrier that began operating in 1982 today presents a powerful sea-wall. Spanning 520 metres across the Thames at Woolwich, it is one of the largest moveable flood barriers in the world, standing as high as a five-storey building. It has been raised over 100 times to defend London.
After the 1928 floods, Lord Desborough, chairman of the Thames Conservancy Board, wrote prophetically in the Richmond Herald: “Not even the Thames Conservancy, or the Port of London Authority, can stop the water coming in from the North Sea. The only way I can see is the one that was suggested, and which I recommended 21 years ago. That is, to put a barrage from Tilbury to Gravesend, with locks in it.”