When the River Lea turned into an inland sea

It is 194 years ago this week that the River Lea burst its banks in the Stratford area leading to an ‘inland sea’ forming on nearby marshland.

Days of heavy rain that started on the 12th sent the water rising to record levels, the height was 2.5 inches higher than the devastating flood of 1809.

Luke Howard, in an entry in The Climate of London, had measured nearly three inches (74mm) of rain by the 16th and was expecting a flood:

“Towards evening the waters rose suddenly in the Lea and passing over all the banks of the level soon filled the marshes and in the course of the night rose to an unprecedented height being two inches and a half higher than in the flood of 1809.

The houses in the marshes south of the road were filled nearly to the chamber floors and some of the inmates removed with great difficulty. The flood remained stationary for nearly 24 hours. On the 17th in the afternoon it began very gradually to subside and on the 18th in the morning was much abated; the marshes still presenting the appearance of a sea the tops of the trees appearing in places only.”

Though there are no reanalysis charts from the time Howard’s daily entries state that pressure was low with the wind in the north-east, a classic pattern where depressions can move along the Channel before getting ‘stuck’ in the North Sea. A similar pattern with an almost identical amount of rain caused severe flooding in June 1903.

There was some 96mm of rain recorded during May 1824, locally the 11th wettest back to 1797. There have been wetter Mays since but, thanks to massive investment in the River Lea Navigation , prompted by more devastating floods in 1947, widespread flooding is a thing of the past.

w factory
The area around where Luke Howard’s factory once stood

 

w marshes
Walthamstow Marshes were flooded to a depth so great that many trees briefly disappeared

 

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