A Brief History of the Thames Estuary

»«Sunday 13th February 2011

The Cruiser Fleet was treated to Peter Willet’s talk on a short history of the River Thames. Pete ran through a mere 10,000 years from the end of the last ice age, which presented us with our playground of the southern north sea and eastern channel by cutting the land bridge between Essex and the continent to the present day with the problems of global warming, rising sea levels and squeezed budgets for coastal defences around the Thames Estuary.

Our journey took in the influence of the Vikings and then the Romans on the names of well-known places such as St Peter's on the Wall, thought to be built on the foundations of an important Roman fortification, and well-travelled highways such as The Wallet. We were also transported to the golden age of the Thames as a major highway to and from London and as a focus of a great Empire.

On a more poignant note, which touched the lives of many families in Burnham and the surrounding area, Peter related the terrible events of 1953 when the results of the land sinking due to the ice age combined with unfavourable tides and weather systems caused a deluge of sea water to break through the inadequate sea walls, flooding low lying land and how the members of the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club played an honourable part in helping to save lives. The club was used as a command post by the civil defence authorities and as a refuge, with many local people taking shelter from their flooded homes. A chilling postscript to this story is the fact that the same conditions will occur again and are we any better prepared?

The members were taken through this helter-skelter at breakneck speed as 10,000 years in 1 hour is a significant feat of editing and I am sure many of us were inspired to follow up with a more leisurely look at what has shaped our cruising ground.

Graham King