All river traffic through London’s Thames Barrier was halted for ten hours last Sunday, as the gigantic flood-defence machine was given its annual test closure.
I went along to Woolwich to watch the event. The barrier is a truly awesome sight, spanning half a kilometre across the River Thames with a series of ten moveable gates. The largest four gates (each with an opening the width of Tower Bridge) are giants: each weighs 3,700 tonnes.
The barrier has protected London from disastrous flooding since 1982. But that was a long time ago. The frequency of barrier closures is on the rise each year and, taking into account the effects of climate change (including ocean warming, melting ice caps and stormier weather), London’s flood risk is increasing.
A couple of years after the barrier opened, we commissioned a working scale model of one of its gates, now in store out at Wroughton and pictured here:
The Environment Agency (who operate the barrier) replaced its electro-mechanical control room with modern computerised kit in about 1996. They then gave us a section of the original control panel, which is a great example of how big industrial machinery was controlled before everything was replaced by computer screens.
It’s in our store in West London (one of my favourite places on Earth), but unfortunately it’s sealed up awaiting a move to Wroughton, so I couldn’t get a picture. Apologies!