I suppose with the announcement that 2012 was the wettest year on record it was no surprise that the Thames Barrier’s flood defense systems should be activated for the first time in two years. The gates were due to be raised on New Year’s Day at 1 pm so off I went to see this. It was a bright but cold day and there was a small crowd waiting. Just as scheduled the sirens went off and the gates began to rise. It was interesting that they do not move simultaneously. The gates close by rotating them up from the river bed so that they stand up vertically against the current and block the river. When raised, the main gates stand as high as a five-storey building and each weighs 3,300 tons. One of the World’s biggest flood barriers it is a remarkable testimony to modern engineering.
The Barrier was constructed by the Greater London Council between 1974-82. It spans 520 metres across the River Thames and protects central London from flooding caused by tidal surges. It may also be closed under periods of high flow over Teddington Weir to reduce the risk of river flooding. There is a visitor centre on the south bank on the Thames Pathway close to Woolwich. In addition, there is a learning centre and a small cafe.
On the north bank there is the Thames Barrier Park which opened in 2000. A sunken channel runs through the centre of the park from north to south. The topiary of the yew hedges resemble waves and are a reminder of the dockland heritage. When I visited the Pavilion of Remembrance was cordoned off. It is in memory to the Newham’s citizens who have been victims of war. The small park is surrounded by housing and on the western side there is a distinctive white building which is designed as a reminder of a large ocean cruiser. However, the most dramatic feature of the park is the view of the river and the Thames Barrier.
There is no public access across the Thames Barrier. Access can be by way of the crossings at Woolwich (Free Ferry or foot tunnel) or to the west the Emirates Cable Car, Jubilee Line or Thames Clipper.