Address: 1 Unity Way, Woolwich, London SE18 5NJ


Time: Visitor Centre from 10.30am

Phone: 0208 305 4188

Entry Price: £3.75 to Visitor Centre


1200m from Charlton

2500m from Woolwich Arsenal

The Thames Barrier is a flood defence system built at Greenwich to protect London in the event of an extremely high tide. High tides occur periodically, but every so often certain weather conditions come together to produce tides vastly higher than normal. For London this can occur at the time of a normal high tide, but coupled with extreme low pressure in north Scotland which can produce a surge down the North Sea into the bottleneck towards the English Channel which forces the water up the Thames. If the wind is then in a certain direction things all come together, maybe only every hundred years, but the effects are devastating.

London had 11th and 13th century floods. In 1663 Pepys wrote about flooding in Whitehall. There were more problems in the 19th century which prompted the Flood Act and in 1928 fourteen people drowned in basements. But the event that prompted action was the Great Flood of 1953 when 307 people died in the UK. The Waverley Report recommended a barrier, but as London was a port that needed access by huge vessels it seemed impossible to build one. But as containers began to be used more and more and the main port trade was transferred downstream to Tilbury it did became possible to build one, and further up the river than first thought.

Work began in 1974 and the barrier became operational in 1982, being opened by the Queen in 1984. It cost over £500m at the time.

The barrier is divided into ten gates which are supported by two riverbank abutments and nine piers in the river. The middle four gates are the main openings and the four gates (two each side of the river) nearest the riverbanks are non navigable. The gates are of a circular design and rotate up or down to close or open the barrier.

With sea levels slowly rising, a committee is now in place to prepare for the changes needed for the year 2100. There is a visitor centre on site.

The Thames Barrier is amongst the landmarks on the east side of London with the O2 Arena and the Greenwich Museums being closest.

Click on the pics below for an enlarged view and use the arrow towards the right edge of each pic to go on to the next.