The Floods of 1762
While the flooding along the Thames in Surrey and West London in the last few weeks has been truly awful, we can at least be thankful that the Thames Barrier has at least been earing its keep by keeping central London safe from flood tides. The barrier has been raised more times this winter than in all previous years combined. A sobering description of the dangers London might face without the Thames Barrier can be found in “The History and Survey of London and Its Environs: From the Earliest Period” an 1806 book by B Lambert. It describes a damaging and deadly flood tide that took place on 27th September 1762. It had rained heavily for several days before a very high tide combined with gale force winds raised the rivers within twenty miles “to the height of which had never been known in the memory of man; the damage sustained, most especially on the River Lea was almost incredible”
Damage to farmland along the Lea was severe – the floodwater was covered with the bodies of drowned cattle and pigs, while haystacks and woodpiles vital to surviving the winter were swept away. Horses drowned in their stables. Human loss of life occurred too. Inhabitants of Stratford had to climb onto their roofs, a gentleman in a post chaise was drowned along with a post-boy and the horses. A woman on horseback on the high road at Bow was swept away by the flood tide. Part of the bridge at Buntingford collapsed and a boy carrying post was washed into the river. Luckily he was saved and his post bag found – after drying in front of the fire some of the letters were even delivered.
There was damage too to industries along the Lea – the calico printing grounds were inundated, the water carrying off rolls of finished linen, while the china works at Bow was badly damaged by Floodwater. The Gentleman’s magazine estimated damage at £10,000 saying that many people would be ruined by such a loss. The River Lea was by no means the only river affected, most of the Thames tributaries had some problems. Later in the year another tidal surge caused Westminster Hall to flood. It certainly makes you glad for the Thames Barrier – an engineering feat that most Londoners take for granted.