back to article The Great Barrier Relief – Inside London's heavy metal and concrete defence act

Last time London flooded was 1953. Three hundred lives were lost, 30,000 evacuated and the damage totalled a considerable £5bn in today’s money. Given how London has expanded since then, the record-breaking wet winter of 2014 would have been worse had it not been for the presence of 51,000 tonnes of metal and 210,000 cubic …

  1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

    Balanced article

    +1 for use of "screen dialogue" instead of "dialog"

    -1 for use of "labor relations" instead of "labour relations"

    1. Antonymous Coward

      Re: Balanced article

      Very balanced.

      +1 for use of "HM the Queen"

      -1 for abuse of "meters" when attempting to discuss measurements rather than measuring instruments.

      1. Roger Gann

        Re: Balanced article

        Another -1 for the use of "hand break" !

        1. choleric

          Re: Balanced article

          @Roger Gann

          That's torn it. Man the pumps!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Balanced article

      +1 comprehensive

      -1 for tonnes as units of force

    3. Kubla Cant Silver badge

      Re: Balanced article

      -100 for use of "a VAX running PDP 11".

      Does the author think "PDP 11" [sic] is some kind of software? If so, it was very prescient of DEC to write "PDP 11" in 1970, seven years before they invented a VAX to run it on.

    4. The First Dave Silver badge

      Re: Balanced article

      -2 for: "The Thames Barrier's signature are a set of seven, silver-coloured domes on boat-shaped piers that straddle the river and resemble a fleet of yachts with the wind behind them, in flight into the center of London."

    5. Phuq Witt

      Re: Balanced article

      +1 for interesting article

      -1 for not enough photos of machinery [although doubtless photography is banned due to 'terrist' hysteria]

      -10 for 'center', 'labor', 'meter', 'defenses', etc.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Balanced article

        Why worry about the machinery when it comes to terrists? Its probably the easiest thing to take out - I dont think terrorist were thought of when it was built but taking out just one of the gates at the right time would cause a huge amount of damage and be nigh on impossible to stop.

      2. cray74

        Re: Balanced article

        -10 for 'center', 'labor', 'meter', 'defenses', etc.

        Bah, +10 you mean! Use of the proper spellings of those words is clear proof of success by what I call Operation Microsoft-McDonalds, the ongoing correction of quaint Britishese to proper American English by indirect cultural subversion. Thatcher might've stopped the direct plan to rewrite textbooks in 1982 (...never should've hired Texans to rewrite textbooks, too busy blathering about cavemen riding dinosaurs to pay attention to Parliament's security systems...), but the US learned a thing or two from the Rooskies about playing a long game.

        We can wait. Set the language defaults in the OS's you buy to American, print the menus in American, keep it up for a few decades and you'll see long-form "billion" falling out of use in the British media, 'r' and 'e' being reversed, and then one day while everyone's wondering what nation the US will invade next for oil you won't be ready for the real plan: NFL expansion! Manchester United will slap on some helmets and pick up a pigskin! Britain and the entire Continent are just empty of gridiron football franchises, it's a growth market!

        It's all there sheeple, just look at the donations from the National Football League and Microsoft to every winning Presidential candidate.

        1. Phuq Witt

          Re: Balanced article

          "'ll see long-form "billion" falling out of use in the British media..."

          Oh. they've been doing that for years

          "...NFL expansion! Manchester United will slap on some helmets and pick up a pigskin!.."

          They tried that a few years back. Channel 4 started coverage of the NFL complete with sad wanker English commentators referring to 'AWW-fence' and 'DEE-fence'. I think it was watched by about the same number of people who use WiPhones.

          Don't forget the sartorial front as well. Britain is chock full of sad twats wearing sweatshirts emblazoned with the names of American universities and colleges. Somehow I suspect the number of 'Merkins proudly sporting "Stockport College" on their chests is somewhat smaller.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Balanced article

            "Somehow I suspect the number of 'Merkins proudly sporting "Stockport College" on their chests is somewhat smaller."

            Dartford College on the other hand...

          2. Kubla Cant Silver badge

            Re: Balanced article

            Somehow I suspect the number of 'Merkins proudly sporting "Stockport College" on their chests is somewhat smaller.

            But there do seem to be quite a lot wearing "Oxford University" sweatshirts. Maybe they're just Rhodes Scholars.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Balanced article

      And at the risk of being seen as picky about an otherwise fascinating article I'm sure the banks of the Thames have been inhabited for more than 1500 years.

    7. Kubla Cant Silver badge

      Re: Balanced article

      -1 for "The Bakelite and white-coat era systems were phased out in the 1990s".

      I'd be astounded if an installation opened in 1984 used Bakelite. I know that 1984 seems like ancient history, but Bakelite belongs to an earlier era. It was invented in 1907 and by 1993 was old enough to be designated as something called a National Historic Chemical Landmark.

    8. Bilby

      Re: Balanced article

      All the talk of 'peers' and 'damns' was more reminiscent of heated debate in the Lords than of civil engineering.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ah thanks for that - I love going round there especially around wintery sort of time so nice to hear about what's inside!

  3. GrumpenKraut Silver badge

    Great article, pleasure to read

    Thanks from a Kraut!

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. DropBear Silver badge

      Re: Great article, pleasure to read

      Thoroughly enjoyed. Humble suggestion for next stop: Falkirk wheel...?

      1. Seanmon

        Re: Great article, pleasure to read

        Falkirk wheel was done a while ago IIRC.

        But yeah, any chance of a Complete geek's guide ebook any time, chaps? Or at least a header link up there, for easier reference?

  4. W Donelson

    Wonderful article, thanks!

  5. Bob Wheeler

    Silly Question Time

    An awesome engineering monument.

    I've always wanted to know how concrete sets under water?

    1. Andy 73

      Re: Silly Question Time

      Concrete sets through chemical reaction, not drying. It'll happily set under water.

    2. phil dude

      Re: Silly Question Time

      It is a chemical reaction, not a "loss of water" or cooling down setting you might be used to. e.g. jelly (cooling) , pots (loss of water).

      Generally, the slower concrete sets, the stronger it becomes.


      1. Annihilator

        Re: Silly Question Time

        It's also an exothermic reaction. For example, if the Hoover Dam had been poured in one continuous pour, it would still be emitting heat today.

        Concrete (or cement technically) actually *needs* water to set.

        1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

          Re: Exothermic

          Interesting. Has anyone run the maths on how much heat is emitted to the atmosphere from the concrete used in things like dams and windfarms versus the amount of heat "saved" by not burning fossil fuel to generate power?

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Exothermic

            Compared to the amount of CO2 released to turn CaCO3 into CaO it's bugger all

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Exothermic

              > Compared to the amount of CO2 released to turn CaCO3 into CaO it's bugger all

              ...and the amount of amorphous C required to turn FePOSHSiWhatever into Fe

              ...or the amount of CH4 to drive the turbine to electrolyse the Al out of a vat of mud


          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Exothermic

            Concrete production is a significant source of CO2 emissions.

            Eventually (centuries), some of the CO2 is reabsorbed as the cement goes back to limestone.

        2. john.w

          Re: Silly Question Time

          The Hoover dam used chilled water pumped thorough it ensure the concrete set properly, it can get a bit warm in the desert.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Silly Question Time

      As others have said concrete will happily set underwater but you do have to be a little careful about it. If the water is able to rush past it then it will wash away before it sets. Generally this isn't a problem because the formwork protects the concrete while it dries. You need to be careful about leaks in the formwork due to inrushing water etc etc.

  6. Stoneshop Silver badge

    The only computers were a VAX running PDP 11

    That's like "a Vauxhall driving a Morris".

    The PDP11 is a computer system, not an OS, as is the VAX. The PDP is 16-bit, and can run RSTS, RSX-11, RT-11 or various flavours of Unix. The 32-bit VAX runs VMS or Ultrix (or some other Unix variant)

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: The only computers were a VAX running PDP 11

      True, but VMS VAXen can also run 16-bit RSX-11 applications in a compatibility mode, and so were often used to replace aging PDP11s. This may be what the authro was trying to convey.

      1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

        Re: The only computers were a VAX running PDP 11

        Not all VAXen can run PDP-11 Code but the 11/780, 11/750, 11/785's can certainly do that. Later VAXen had the PDP-11 capability removed. If my memory serves me well the BI-Bus VAXes were the first to have it removed.

      2. Stoneshop Silver badge

        Re: The only computers were a VAX running PDP 11

        @ Phil O'Sophical

        true, but if the PDP was used to control the gate machinery I'd expect it to have been running RT-11. With a number of third-party interfaces hooked up to all kinds of actuators and sensors. A VAX won't cut it there. Also, early '80's PDP11's were widely available and a fair bit cheaper than your average VAX.

        (where's the cobwebs icon?)

        1. JPL

          Re: The only computers were a VAX running PDP 11

          It was a VAX 11/750 running ordinary VMS code for data collection, modelling & analysis. It did not actually control the gates.

  7. wyatt
    Thumb Up

    I remember being taken to see this by my parents probably about 1985. Impressive is an understatement! The best thing about living in Luton was a family rail card and the fast train to London. I only hope I can do the same living in the middle of the country for my family in a few years, show them the capital and all it has to experience.

    1. Dabooka Silver badge

      RE: 'show them the capital and all it has to experience'

      Good lord, why would you want to do that?! The best thing London is the Kings Cross express back up north!

      Joking aside it's a nice enough place to visit, but I'm bloody glad I don't live there. Thankfully work rarely sends me there now, I get to experience Manchester and Coventry instead.

      Oh, wait....

    2. Phil Endecott Silver badge

      I also remember visiting in the 80s; I think there was a special bus. It was very impressive, and I still have the souvenir guide!

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

        "I think there was a special bus"

        I remember those, although I don't seem to recall seeing any sunshine buses recently :(

        1. john.w

          Had the full tour, including tunnels and pier, on a Brunel University engineering trip in 1984(ish). A memorable day and had a great guide, could have been the very same Bachelor. When asked about the extensive acoustic treatment of the backup generators we were told it was in consideration of the neighbours after 10 years of pile driving.

  8. GBE

    How does the barrier defend against heavy rains?

    I don't understand the refereneces to the wet winter and heavy rains. Isn't the barrier _downstream_ from London in order to defend against high tides and storm surge? In order to defend against heavy rains, it would have to be upstream from London to hold back the rainwater that's coming down the river.

    1. Dabooka Silver badge

      Re: How does the barrier defend against heavy rains?

      Now go back and read the article. Go along now.

      I'm sure you'll see the reasoning if you actually bother reading it.

    2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: How does the barrier defend against heavy rains?

      it would have to be upstream from London to hold back the rainwater that's coming down the river.

      It doesn't hold it back, it stores it. By closing the barrier at low tide the sea rises on the downstream side, but the basin 'behind' the barrier (upstream) remains low, so all the rainwater flooding into the Thames can be stored, instead of adding to the inflow from the sea. Then at low tide the barrier is dropped again to let the water out. It prevents the sea surge + rainfall adding together.

      1. GBE
        Thumb Up

        Re: How does the barrier defend against heavy rains?

        Thanks for actually answering my question rather than acting like a 9-year-old.

        1. Dabooka Silver badge

          Re: How does the barrier defend against heavy rains?


          'Thanks for actually answering my question rather than acting like a 9-year-old'

          Actually that's exactly what I would tell a nine year old to do; go back and READ IT to find the answer rather than not bothering. You did imply by posting you had read the article, otherwise say as much in your post.

    3. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: How does the barrier defend against heavy rains?

      I think a listening too of an old Goon show might be in order!

      1. Glenturret Single Malt

        Re: How does the barrier defend against heavy rains?

        The last Goon Show I listened to, they were bringing water from Brazil in brown paper bags.

        I'm not sure if the Thames Barrier could act as a defence against such madness.

  9. Sir Sham Cad

    And when you've finished

    Carry on west up the Thames Path a short way and have a pint in the Hope and Anchor pub. Good beer and they were child friendly last time I was there (disclosure: fecking years ago) Then continue west and have another pint at the Pilot Inn.

    This area has been massively developed since I lived down that way so the Pilot gets very busy but that was a classic Saturday walk.

    1. Dabooka Silver badge

      Re: And when you've finished

      What's that you say, 'pub' and 'child friendly'? Two of my favourite things right there!

      I'll probably be down back end of the summer with the wife and toddler so might have a look as I've never been. It would do us good to get out the centre for once.

      Now if I can try and figure out a route via Bletchley....

      1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

        Re: And when you've finished

        Sorry - 'pub' and 'child friendly' should not exist in the same sentence. The pub is that hallowed temple of all things hoppy where one goes to escape from children.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: And when you've finished

      Good shout for the Hope and Anchor. Its about halfway between the barrier and the Woolwich ferry. The visitor centre is worth a look for the large concrete and steel scale models of the workings.

      The ferry is a bit of fun too, though the crew now turf you off at each end. You can get back on again but its hardly the same. When I was younger I used to sit on the boat and go back and forth while having my lunch.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Maybe it's just me, but those silver towers are jncredibly ugly. :(

    1. wyatt

      A/C to express an opinion? You like what you like..

    2. Hollerith 1

      Have you seen them IRL?

      From the water, the towers are beautiful and strong and say something about the practical intelligence of humans. I was moved by them.

      1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge

        Re: Have you seen them IRL?

        From the right angle, they look like the Sydney Opera House has fallen apart.

  11. ckm5

    "largest flood moving flood barrier in the world"

    I don't think so. The Dutch have a moving flood barrier that is 9km long - the Oosterscheldekering

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: "largest flood moving flood barrier in the world"

      It should probably read the "largest navigable moving flood barrier in the world". The oosterscheldekering (probably the The Eastern Scheldt barrier he is referring to) isn't navigable. It just lets water through.

      The author does seem to be completely ignoring the existence of the Maeslantkering in the Nieuwe Waterweg near Rotterdam. Which is larger than the Thames barrier by some margin. And better looking IMHO.

  12. keith_w


    I thought London had been there since before Roman times - much more that 1500 years.

    1. Hollerith 1

      Re: Londoninium

      No, there was no town or even real settlement on the site of the City of London. The marshier south bank (around Borough) was settled before the Romans by bands of fishers and those who harvested the goodnesies in the shallow waters. So far, nothing has been found within the City of London to suggest anything permanent pre-Roman. Further up the river, yes, and obviously in places here and there in the Thames valley, but the Roman/medieval city is centred on the Walbrook, a short stream that arises in what was a boggy area monorth of Moorgate --a stream too short to take you anywhere interesting, unless you like boggy areas. So Londinium was a New Town. Ah, those upstarts, so artificial, so over-planned...

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    great series. when are you getting around to the rest of the planet?

    I really enjoy the series - any plans for global expansion? Y'know, Hoover Dam, Moscow subway, Indian railways. Lots of very geek-friendly things out there beyond the scepter'd isle. Though seeing the UK projects does remind me how frickin' awesome British engineering can be.

    1. harmjschoonhoven

      Re: great series. when are you getting around to the rest of the planet?

      Delta Works and Maeslantkering for a detour?

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: great series. when are you getting around to the rest of the planet?

        See my posts in the previous geeks guide forum for some extra suggestions in the Netherlands: (Page 2, starting with "Cathedrals of Steam")

  14. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

    Soooo ermmm

    Not to sound like a broken record but any chance some more northern geeks guides could get done? How about the Humber bridge? Or RAF Fylingdales (though it's not the same since the golf balls went). Or the manc's science museum (I'd also advise a brief detour to the pen museum too if your in the area). I'm sure there's other things too well worth a nosy that isn't in the south of the UK... Just saying.

    1. Joel 1

      Re: Soooo ermmm

      Still got golfballs at Menwith Hill....

      1. Knoydart
        Black Helicopters

        Re: Soooo ermmm

        I think you are missing an icon there

        1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

          Re: Soooo ermmm

          I posted it from the m. Site no icons to had (which is quite annoying but hey ho).

          But hey I've fixed it with the reason the balls were made in the first place.

  15. Jan 0

    Manual operation?

    I'm intrigued by these sentences:

    "The barrier's gates rely on a simple system of industrial plant with multiple levels of redundancy. In a nightmare scenario of lost power and computers, it is possible to operate the gates manually out on the barrier."


    "One last thing to see: down and into a narrow side chamber housing a single piece of gear that looks like a piece of massive drill: an 11-foot screw shaft black with grease and with a series of levers at one end. .... In the event of a total hydraulic failure, operators could also use this to lift the gate from the water."

    This suggests that the crew^H^H^H^Hstaff could manually turn the screw shaft, presumably with a giant capstan, to quell the flood. If so, just how many puny humans are needed to open or close each gate?

    1. Red Bren

      Re: Manual operation?

      "how many puny humans are needed to open or close each gate?"

      Just the one, if it's Chuck Norris, but don't call him puny...

  16. Ru'

    I know I'm a bit late for the points awarding, but +100 for the use of "trunnion"

  17. moonrakin

    TE2100 + Climate Change + Design

    Thanks for the article - appreciated.

    Anorak point - in "Muddy Bottom" section I rather suspect 1,100 volts should read 11kV - it being a standard distribution voltage.... never seen 1,100 volts.

    Slightly jarring note there on climate change. The Environment Agency's enthusiasm for Climate Change does not extend to exposing the design constraints for the TE2100 project - a matter about which they are notably reticent - well actually silent - the numbers being reputedly based on UKMO UKCP09 which has - to put it mildly - been criticised as a work of imaginative fiction (see HERE)

    I've zero problem with robust evidence being used to justify enormous public works - in fact for something like the TE2100 project I'd say it's an obvious core requirement. The fact of the matter is that the EA has been deliberately withholding the technical case document (it exists and is referenced multiple times....) for this project for several years......

    They wouldn't be bigging up and boondoggling something so important with their mates would they ? nah..... Entirely happy to be proved wrong in this - I'd shut up if there was evidence - say from the array of mm accurate water level recorders that festoon the Thames estuary f'rinstance....

    1. ian 22

      Re: TE2100 + Climate Change + Design

      I've read somewhere (I can't be arsed to find it) the Dutch have begun studying plans to adapt the dikes for sea-level rise. Something to do with Climate Change I think.

      Not being nautical, though knowing naval architecture has moved on a bit since 1973 (see Panama Canal widening), does TE2100 planning consider the larger beam of modern vessels? Does the Barrier limit vessel size now?

      Excellent article!

      1. moonrakin

        Re: TE2100 + Climate Change + Design

        yep ... OK... and if you go look - the Dutch (+ Belgians...) generally endeavor to be open and transparent about it. This is categorically not the case for the EA.

        My personal climate views aside - I expect the data and the analysis to be published alongside the plan. That the EA seek to evade scrutiny likes this immediately raises the suspicion that the case for what they plan to build and spend is not evidenced and robust. As one section is titled "No medals for the wrong decision" - anybody with half a brain would take that as mandating a strong analytical basis and transparency - that has NOT been the case with TE2100 + The EA.

        Really - it's not exactly like they've no prior for wasting monstrous amounts of public money on misconceived and miserably executed schemes while sloshing piles of dosh at their chums is it?

        BTW - the facility in the article was overseen by the altogether more competent and honest National Rivers Authority (the clue is in the name) which predates the EA.

  18. Putters

    Operational since 1982 but not "Continuously"

    For all the back-ups etc, the Barrier was not a barrier for several days in October 1992 (just in time for the high autumn tides and bad weather, note) courtesy of the MV Sand Kite.

    From Wiki : "On 27 October 1997, the barrier was damaged when the dredger MV Sand Kite, operating in thick fog, collided with one of the Thames Barrier's piers. As the ship started to sink she dumped her 3,300 tonne load of aggregate, finally sinking by the bow on top of one of the barrier's gates where she lay for several days. Initially the gate could not be closed as it was covered in a thick layer of gravel. A longer term problem was the premature loss of paint on the flat side of the gate caused by abrasion. One estimate of the cost of flooding damage, had it occurred, was around £13 billion.[14] The vessel was refloated in mid-November 1997."

    1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge

      Re: Operational since 1982 but not "Continuously"

      Once upon a time, Clarkson passed through the Thames Barrier "at speed".

      He managed to miss the hard bits.

  19. A K Stiles

    +10 for the article, -100 for the noisy advert

    Really enjoyed the article, thanks for the writeup (typos and alternative spelling aside) but dear $DEITY, please do something about the ridiculous flash video advert with the flying geese that starts autoplaying with sound! (Bottom of the right hand column for me).

    Yes, I am aware of ABP and so on, but I like the Reg and appreciate that they are paid for by the adverts that get loaded, just quit it with the noisy ones eh?

    1. Justin Clift

      Re: +10 for the article, -100 for the noisy advert

      Why do you have flash set to auto play on any site?

      Doing that is a security hole, as most places get their ads through brokers and don't control them directly. This has been a successful exploit vector in the past, and still likely is.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Studied there ...

    at Thames Poly, 1984-1988. And, with typical local laziness, never visited it until last year, with the good lady wife on a nostalgia trip.

    Local area has change out of all recognition - quite gentrified. Amazing what Crossrail is doing.

    Since this is a nerdfest, is it worth mentioning that Woolwich was wired for cable TV in the 1960s ?

  21. Cuddles Silver badge


    "Funding was finally split between the government, 75 per cent, and the customer, the Greater London Council"

    ... who are (or at least were) also the government. Funding was 100% taxpayer, the government just decided to split it between a couple of different departments.

    As for the 1500 years, as mentioned above Londinium was established at least 2000 years ago. However, the Romans rebuilt it as a new town after Boudica destroyed what was described as an important city only about 15 years after they arrived, so there was almost certainly a signification settlement before the Romans arrived. It was also an important trade hub in the Bronze age, but was largely abandoned for unknown reasons during the Iron Age. And of course there's plenty of evidence for settlements on other parts of the Thames going back to the Neolithic and earlier. So no matter how you look at it the 1500 years given in the article is rather short-changing things. At absolute minimum it's 2000 years, and could be 4000, 6000 or anything up to 100,000 or so depending on exactly what you count as "human settlement around the river".

    1. JimmyPage Silver badge

      Re: Government...

      It was also an important trade hub in the Bronze age, but was largely abandoned for unknown reasons during the Iron Age.

      Probably climate change. There are a few sites in the UK where archaeologists (among others) have linked changes in habitat to changes in human activity. Long before the industrial revolution (although our ancestors way of clearing forests for crops by burning them might be a factor ?).

  22. Microbe

    History Fail

    Last time London flooded - 1953. Almost 200 people were made temporarily homeless, 1 life lost - died of exposure to gas from a damaged pipe.

    Elsewhere in the UK, yes, the UK is not just London, the total death toll on land is estimated at 307 - 38 died at Felixstowe in Suffolk. In Essex, Canvey Island loss of 58 lives. 37 died at Jaywick near Clacton.

  23. This post has been deleted by its author

  24. ian 22

    Is this part of ....

    ... The National Barrier Asset?


  25. Keef

    How do I get a tour like this?

    The visitor centre doesn't seem all that appealing.

    Any way for us plebs to get a proper tour as described?

  26. ecofeco Silver badge

    Excellent article


  27. Winkypop Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Barriers down

    Thumbs up

    Great article, most enjoyable.

    My first visit to London was 1982.

    I remember I just had to go and see the [new] barrier, then the usual tourist spots.

  28. davylifer

    The mechanical hardware is more important than the computers

    This was an excellent article, giving a much better understanding of the huge scale of the project than most I have read, but in common with several websites dealing with the subject, the actual method of raising and lowering the gates seems to defy description. The "Engineer", RPT, was responsible for the concept of the barrier gates and the mechanisms to raise and lower them, but as seems to apply to all websites describing the Thames Barrier, the firms who actually did the work seldom get a mention. I was Technical Director at Davy McKee (Sheffield) when we bid in the mid 1970s & obtained the order to manufacture the mechanisms that raise & lower the gates. We were somewhat surprised that we were also required to make both the design and the manufacturing drawings and take full responsibility for the design of the several thousand tonnes of machinery involved. Indeed we found that the schematic for the special latching devices, (that were also the "last resort" for raising the gates if all else failed) which are deployed to enable the gates to be raised clear of the water for inspection and maintenance, would not work "as designed" we had to make a small scale model to prove the point before RPT would accept the changes we proposed. Such design work was not out of the ordinary for the firm (normally rolling mills and forging presses), but at the time we were looking for work for the factory rather than work for the 300-strong design office. A sister firm in the group, Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Company, on Teesside, fabricated the gates which were then "floated" down the East Coast to the barrier site. The mechanisms and gates were ready several years before the complex civil works were ready to receive them, so a new building had to be provided in Sheffield to store the equipment. The actual cost of the mechanisms, at £18m, was a only tiny part of the near £600m cost of the whole project, but they were the key to the continued success of the scheme and can be expected to work until the 2070s with nothing more that routine maintenance. During the 2014 floods, when the gates were being raised on many consecutive tides, the national press was full of stories that the mechanisms would soon wear out. Not so. For example the 470 tonne, 12,000HP Davy steam engine now in Sheffield's Kelham Island Industrial Museum drove an Armour Plate rolling mill in Sheffield from 1905 until the 1980s and still runs "in steam" on a daily basis. This is the most powerful steam engine in Europe (and probably in the World) still in operation. It was one of five supplied in the 1900-1905 period to drive the mills that rolled the armour plate for the Dreadnought series of Battleships.


    1. old man

      Re: The mechanical hardware is more important than the computers

      I remember seeing that steam engine in kelham island and seem to remember being told that no one knew where 3 of them had gone but that being as Germany also started building dreadnoughts soon after they had their suspicions.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019