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Thames Barrier

The Thames Barrier has been described as the eighth wonder of the world. It is certainly a very impressive work of engineering. In 1907 and in 1928 a barrage at Gravesend was proposed, but it was as a result of the 1953 floods during which over 300 people were drowned and 65,000 hectares (160,000 acres) of farmland were flooded with salt water, that the Government appointed a committee under the chairmanship of Lord Waverley. Several schemes were proposed and rejected and it was only after the formation of the Greater London Council (GLC) in 1965 that government consent was given to build a barrier. The design was chosen from 41 proposals because it minimises interference with the natural flow of the river, does not pose a headroom restriction for shipping, is attractive and practical. Charles Draper was the engineer whose idea for radial gates which are normally parked flat below the bed of the river, evolved from the working principle of a domestic gas-tap. The high water level at London Bridge has risen by about 75cm (two and a half feet) each century, due to a combination of melting Polar ice caps, the tilting of the British Isles towards Europe (the south of England is sinking at a rate of 30cm (1 ft) per century), and by man who has progressively built out into the river. Currently, due to global warming, some authorities now suggest that sea levels are estimated to start rising globally at about a metre (just over 3 ft) per century. However, the major flood threat to central London, which the Barrier was designed to prevent, is from surge tides, which occur during or immediately after severe meteorological conditions. Since its completion in 1982, the Thames Barrier has been raised more than 25 times, largely as a precaution, to protect London from flooding. The gates are raised monthly for a two and a half hour test period at low tide (always on a weekday) and annually for a full day to test the effects of a full tide (at the weekend). The closure dates are set a few months in advance, so you can plan your trip to include a demonstration of the gates (phone 020 8854 1373 for dates). Nearby is the Thames Barrier Visitor Centre, where a multimedia presentation gives details of the flood control problems, and shows how the barrier was designed and constructed. There is also a pier served by riverboats from London and Greenwich. Car parking is available at the Visitors Centre for which a charge is made.

Located at: 1 Unity Way, London, SE18

Telephone: 020 - 8305 4188

Opens: daily from 10am-5pm

Cost: Adults 3.40, 2.00 concessions

Closest Subway Station: N/A (Click to see more atrraction at this station)