The warning signs were in the local newspapers for all to see…
- “Kew Garden sustained greater damage by the recent frost and snowfall than had been experienced for 40 years”
- “Owing to the strong steam it took three tugs to tow and push two coal lighters through the centre arch of Richmond Bridge on Tuesday.”
- “Twenty three degrees of frost were registered at Kew Observatory at 7.00am last Saturday - a record low temperature for 1927.”
- “The thaw was accompanied during the night by the wind which at times rose to gale force. These heavy gusts, together with the thud of snow falling from the roofs, kept many Londoners awake.”
Aidan Clarke, a columnist with the Richmond and Twickenham Times, didn’t get much sleep either:-
“I heard no bells when New Year 1928 came in, except the striking of the clock. I don’t say that there were no bells, but their sound did not reach me… When I opened the door (according to my invariable custom) at a minute before midnight; lifeless, rawly cold, the thaw proceeding; drip, drip, drip, most melancholy… silence, plus the drippity, drip, drip, drip of the melting snows of yester-year.”
Heavy snow had fallen over the Christmas holiday followed by a sudden thaw on New Year’s Eve and then unusually heavy rain. The amount of water coming down the Thames doubled, coinciding with a high spring tide and a storm surge coming up the river. Water levels in the Thames Estuary rose to 4 feet above normal. Further up stream as the river narrowed water levels rose even more. At 1.30am on the morning of 7th January 1928 the river reached 18’3” above the datum line - the highest water level ever recorded. At Teddington Lock water was pouring over the weir at 9,000 million gallons every 24 hours. From Greenwich to Twickenham and up the tidal reaches of the River Crane the embankments holding the torrent began to fail. Around 2.00am on the morning of Saturday 7th January 1928 flood water poured into St Margarets, Richmond and East Twickenham. Later that same day “The Richmond and Twickenham Times” reported the story…
“Residents roused at 2.00am! The highest tide in living memory came up into the roadway, invaded the shops on the Twickenham side of Richmond Bridge and held up car traffic and pedestrians. From midnight until four o’clock the roadway was under water to a depth of over a foot… All the ground floors of the flats were flooded and for over 200 yards along the Richmond Road water was level with the shops ground floors.”
Meanwhile in St Margarets…
“The Duck’s walk was inundated and the water cut off Cambridge Road. Occupants of the lower apartments adjoining the Duck’s walk made haste to make their doors secure, and much knocking of nails could be heard by the stranded pedestrians from the roadway.”
Old Deer Park disappeared under about 3 feet of water as did Ranelagh Drive and the towpath through Richmond to Kew - and at Moor Mead Park…
“The rapid overflowing of the river Crane and the effects of the thaw quickly inundated the Mead… for the first time for many years the path leading from the bottom of Godstone Road to Cole Park Road was impassable. The water extended well onto Bandy Close and was even trickling through the gates into Moor Mead Road… (it) encroached upon the gardens of houses in St Margarets Grove and reached the bottom of South Western Road through the passage. In some places it was nearly three feet deep…and the water was only a few inches from the top of the arches of the bridge near Hill View Road… Number 93 St Margarets Grove, occupied by Mr and Mrs Moore was surrounded by water… When Mr Moore returned home from work he had to wade knee deep to get to the front door… In order to do some shopping Mrs Moore had to climb through the front windows of the house, walk along the sills where her husband carried her over the fence of the next garden to dry land…
Blame for the widespread flooding of Moor Mead was attributed to ‘mischievous’ children who during the snowy weather over Christmas had used the embankment holding back the river Crane for tobogganing…
“Considerable damage was done…by children who used the sloping bank as a run-off for their slides and the bushes to check them on returning. So frequently have been the floods at Moor Mead recently that in several paces the bank has been washed away, and it is at these spots that the water makes its incursion.”
The children had already earned the wrath of the park keeper earlier that week when they had uprooted the goal posts!
The Mayor of Twickenham, Councillor Wm. C. Robinson immediately set up a Relief Fund…
“I am exceedingly thankful to be able to report that the distress caused by the recent, disastrous flood, is not so serious as we feared. Still there is suffering and loss. It is in East Twickenham that the loss is greatest. Along Park Road and the neighbourhood of Richmond Bridge most basements are flooded out and practically everything in them spoiled. In some cases people were sleeping below and they narrowly escaped with their lives. The vicar of the parish, Rev. H. Martyn Sanders, MA and I have visited the area and we have come to the conclusion that a minimum of £100 is necessary to help those who have suffered heavily.”
One week later, on the 14th January 1928 the Richmond Herald was pleased to announce that the Mayor’s Relief Fund had already received over £504 in donations.
The “Richmond Herald” also had this report tucked away in a corner:- Lord Desborough, chairman of the Thames Conservancy Board, stated at a meeting on Monday:-
“What happened the other day was that a high tide, amounting almost to a bore, came up the North Sea. That is the cause, and not altogether the Thames water. Not even the Thames Conservancy, nor the Port of London Authority, can stop the water coming in from the North Sea. The only way I can see is the one that was suggested, and which I recommended 21 years ago. That is, to put a barrage from Tilbury to Gravesend, with locks in it.”
Lord Desborough’s words were important and prophetic. It took 56 years to happen but in 1984 the Thames Barrier was officially opened.
Markers recording the height of the flood waters of the 7th January 1928, can be seen on the wall surrounding All Saints Church in Isleworth, on the side of Richmond Half Tide Lock and outside the Slug and Lettuce pub at the bottom of Water Lane in Richmond.
Credits: The postcards showing the floods in Kew came from “Richmond and Kew - Archive Photographs” compiled by Richard Essen. The photographs of the flood markers were taken by Amanda Day
– from Martyn Day