Thursday, 31 January 2013

60 years on: remembering the North Sea Flood of 1953

Today is the 60th anniversary of the most catastrophic flood that struck the UK in the twentieth century. The North Sea Flood and the associated storm system, which occurred on 31st January - 1st February, 1953, was responsible for over 400 deaths in the UK and nearly 2000 in the Netherlands.

The scale of the devastation caused that fateful January night forced the government to investigate wider flood and disaster protection measures in the UK, leading to many major features of today's flood defences and disaster policy, including both the National Severe Weather Warning Service and the Thames Flood Barrier (clued up readers will note the error in the 1st paragraph of the Wiki article I link to, if you do leave me a comment!)

To commemorate the 60th anniversary of such a catastrophic and influential event, I have created the below video which introduces the harrowing events from 1953 and revisits some of the afflicted regions today.

As seen in the video, the below images from Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk highlight how little has changed in some of the regions worst effected by the flooding in 1953:

The harbour at Well-next-the-Sea, Norfolk, 1st February 1953 and today 
(Left: from Pollard 1978 © Walmsley & Webb. Right: Alexander Hall © 2013)

The Great Wall along the western side of the harbour at Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk in early February 1953 and today (Inset: Steers 1953 © Jon Wiley & Sons. Main: Alexander Hall © 2013)

If you have any questions about the floods, or memories of events, please leave them in the comments section below. More about the 1953 North Sea Floods can be found at the following places:
  •  Some rare footage of the floods released by the Environment Agency to coincide with the anniversary.
  • A pdf of the Farmers Weekly special flood edition from February 1953, complete with shocking images of dead livestock and lots of figures on how hard farmers in the region were hit.
Today, as the events of 60 years ago settle a page further back in the annals of British history, I hope my video and short blog post have made you take a few minutes out of your busy day to reflect upon the catastrophe that beset so many communities around the North Sea that fateful January eve. For whilst at present engineers, scientists, and government agencies may continue their attempts to  reduce the risk from large scale flood events, as the population continues to expand into at-risk areas and with sea levels predicted to rise, if society as a whole does not remember the events of late January 1953, we are at risk of letting hubris, cost-benefit-analysis, and myopic planning policy take control of our disaster preparedness and resilience.


  1. Very interesting.

    However, I am surprised that you do not list the book 'North Sea Surge' (sorry, cannot remember author) as further reading. My dad had a copy but it has got lost. Last time I looked, it was over £70 on Amazon!

    Also, one of his old friends who lived in Walton-on-the-Naze used to tell how the high tide the evening before the floods, never went out but stayed up all oily and balck, He siad it was calm but so very wierd.