London and the tidal Thames 1250-1550: marine flooding, embankment and economic change

Tidal Thames screenshot

The lands bordering the tidal river Thames and the Thames Estuary have historically been highly vulnerable to marine flooding. The most severe of these floods derive from North Sea storm surges, when wind and tide combine to drive huge quantities of water against the coast, as happened to devastating effect in 1953. This project seeks to understand the occurrence of storm flooding in the past, and to explore the ways in which people have responded to the threat.

The project draws upon rich surviving documentary sources to study the impact of storm flooding upon the reclaimed marshlands bordering the tidal Thames and its estuary during the period c.1250-1550. Year-by-year accounts of the management of riverside properties have been examined and the degree to which reclaimed land was lost to the sea during the later Middle Ages assessed. The impact of population decline and agrarian recession upon the economics of coastal and river-side defence has been considered. The flood threat to medieval London’s low-lying suburbs has been investigated and the possibility that the long-term flooding of lands down-river spared the city the worst effects of North Sea storm surges explored. Parallels have also been sought in the modern policy of managed retreat or realignment.


James A. Galloway and Jonathan S. Potts, 'Marine flooding in the Thames Estuary and tidal river c.1250-1450: impact and response', Area 39 (2007), 370-9, available to subscribers via Blackwell Synergy. Podcast of discussion between James Galloway and Dr Jan Oosthoek (University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne) arising from paper given at the "An End to History? Climate Change, the Past and the Future" conference (Birmingham and Midland Institute, Birmingham, 3 April 2008) on the impact of storm surges on the lands bordering the Thames Estuary during the fourteenth century: Exploring Environmental History podcast, No. 17 Archaeology, History and Climate Change, 11 April 2008 (Discussion begins at 8:00 mins); James A. Galloway, 'Storm flooding, coastal defence and land use around the Thames estuary and tidal river c.1250-1450', Journal of Medieval History, 35 issue 2 (June 2009), 171-88, available to subscribers via Science Direct. James A. Galloway, ' "Piteous and grievous sights": the Thames marshes at the close of the middle ages' in James A. Galloway (ed.), Tides and Floods: New Research on London and the Tidal Thames from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century (Centre for Metropolitan History, Working Papers Series No. 4, 2010), 15-27. James A. Galloway, '"Tempests of weather and great abundance of water": the flooding of the Barking marshes in the later middle ages', in Matthew Davies and James A. Galloway (eds.), London and Beyond: Essays in Honour of Derek Keene (Institute of Historical Research, London, 2012), 67-83. James A. Galloway, 'Editorial introduction', Environment and History, 19 (2013), 127-31; James A. Galloway, 'Coastal flooding and socioeconomic change in eastern England in the later middle ages', Environment and History, 19 (2013), 173-207; James A. Galloway, 'Storms, economics and environmental change in an English coastal wetland: the Thames Estuary c.1250-1550', in E. Thoen, G.J. Borger et al (eds.), Landscapes or Seascapes? The History of the Coastal Environment in the North Sea Area Reconsidered (Brepols: CORN publication series no. 13, Turnhout, 2013)

Data files compiled in the course of the project have been deposited with the UK Data Service under study no. 6710. The data includes marsh expenses and an annual count of Royal Commissions de walliis et fossatis.


James A. Galloway, Crown Estate-Caird Fellowship: Marine Flooding and Storm Events in the Thames Estuary c.1250-1450 (2006); End of Award Report to the ESRC; Impact Report to the ESRC

Project details

Principal Investigator/Researcher: James Galloway M.A., Ph.D.
Funded by: ESRC (Ref: RES-000-22-2693) (1 March 2008-28 February 2010)
Amount Awarded: £83,254.
The project's end of award report was graded 'Very Good'