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Composite image showing flooding in various areas around the UK. Two cars and a litter bin are submerged in water and a red sign reads 'Road Closed Due To Flooding'

The 5 worst UK floods in modern history

Image: | Above: Composite image showing flooding in various areas around the UK

In recent years, flooding in the UK has, unfortunately, become a lot more common. There have been at least seven notable events since the beginning of the 21st Century and this figure will inevitably rise as the world continues to warm.

The subsequent damage to homes and infrastructure caused by flooding has a devastating effect on thousands of people’s lives and can also lead to numerous deaths.

Thames Flood of 1928

Who’d have thought that an event about 80 miles west of London would cause a disaster in the capital? When heavy snow in the Cotswolds, the source of the Thames, thawed in early January 1928, it doubled the water volume and the turning tide caused an upstream surge.

On 7th January, water breached parts of the Thames embankment, flooding local homes and forcing residents to swim for their lives. Not everyone made it. At least 14 people drowned and another 4,000 were made homeless.

The most severely affected area of the city was Millbank, just south of Westminster. The water around the Tate Britain was so deep it reached the top of the ground floor doors and caused millions of pounds worth of damage to several paintings

Lynmouth Flood of 1952

Such was the severity of the Lynmouth Flood, the former lifeboat station was re-imagined as a memorial hall to honour the 34 residents who lost their lives.

Intense rainfall flooded Exmoor in Devon and then poured into the small village. As the water flowed through it accumulated debris that smashed into buildings, bridges, and vehicles, thus perpetuating the carnage. The damage was so severe that Lynmouth had to be virtually rebuilt.

52 years later, almost to the day on the same stretch of coastline, a similar event occurred 65 miles south in Boscastle.

Great Flood of 1968

6,250 square kilometres of land - stretching roughly from Hampshire and Sussex across Surrey, Kent, and Essex - was hit with over 100mm of torrential rainfall during July and September 1968.

Further west it claimed the lives of eight people in Bristol and flooded 3,000 local properties with many regions surrounding the city also affected. Most of the London borough of Lewisham was submerged and the town’s mayor jumped in a dingy to help evacuate residents.

Boscastle Flood of 2004

About one billion litres of water crashed through Boscastle in Cornwall on 16th August 2004. Two rivers, Valency and Jordan, burst their banks due to 75mm of rain falling in just two hours. The damage to the picturesque fishing port was unprecedented, with the Environment Agency describing the flash flooding as 'among the most extreme ever recorded in Britain’.

Shops, pubs, and homes were flooded and at least 50 cars were washed away. A major rescue operation - that saw the deployment of helicopters, lifeboats, and the fire brigade - was coordinated with such efficiency that not a single loss of life was recorded.

Destroyed buildings and vegetation after the Boscastle flood
Image credit: Benjamin Evans

UK Floods of 2007

The May to July period in 2007 was the wettest since records began in 1776. June was one of the wettest months on record with double the national average rainfall across the whole of the country. Most areas in the south and east were largely unaffected as well as parts of Wales, Scotland, and the Midlands.

However, the rest of the country saw flooding so severe that both civil and military sources declared rescue efforts as the biggest in peacetime Britain. A total of 13 people died during the floods, a figure that would have been considerably higher without the aid of emergency services.

Millions of households were affected by power and water cuts and the medieval market town of Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire (famed for its part in the War of the Roses during the late 15th Century) was turned into an island by flooding from both the River Severn and Avon.