Tides and floods: New research on London and the tidal Thames from the middle ages to the twentieth century

James A. Galloway
Institute of Historical Research
Subject Areas


The Thames has long been seen by historians as a key factor in London’s success as an economic, political and cultural centre. Much emphasis has rightly been placed upon the Thames as a trade route, linking London to markets in England, continental Europe and the wider world. However, the tidal Thames was much more than this, affording London a source of milling power, a water supply, a site of industry and a source of food through its rich
fisheries. The marshlands adjoining the tidal river and its estuary provided a wide variety of natural resources and, when embanked and drained, could be converted into highly productive agricultural land. As well as constituting a resource, however, the tidal Thames posed a recurrent threat to London and the smaller settlements bordering the estuary. Floods, especially the irregular but potentially devastating North Sea storm surges, could lead to loss of life, devastation of fertile farmland and serious damage to the life and fabric of the capital itself.

The papers in this volume arise from a conference held in October 2009 and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. Written by archaeologists, historians and historical geographers, they present up-todate work on the flood threat from the later middle ages to the twentieth century, focusing upon the changing political, institutional and economic response to this environmental challenge. Also included is a preliminary report on two of the most exciting archaeological finds of recent years, the tidal mills uncovered at Greenwich and Northfleet, and a consideration of their implications for our understanding of the medieval tidal regime.

The volume concludes with an overview of the multi-faceted work of the Thames Discovery Programme, which is increasing our knowledge of many aspects of the Thames’s past, from medieval fish traps, through nineteenth-century shipbuilding, to the Blitz, which posed a new and very real flood threat to the mid-twentieth century metropolis.