1928: The Year the Thames Flooded (2023) Movie Script

JAYE GRIFFITHS: 'January 1928.
'In the dead of night,
the icy River Thames
'lashes out at London...'
They were all asleep
when it happened.
They had no idea what was coming.
'..In the worst flood to strike
the city in the 20th century...'
I remember my grandad saying once,
"You wanna watch out for it, mate,
"it's more dangerous than you think,
the Thames."
'..Killing people in their beds...'
My great-grandfather could hear
the cries of the children in there.
And being trapped in that
environment, terrifying indeed.
And the impact of that
was gargantuan.
'..Making thousands homeless
'and tearing up
entire districts of the city.'
It couldn't have been
a worse situation.
'Amidst the destruction,
'communities pull together
to save countless lives.
'Through the voices of those
who experienced the flood
'and their descendants...'
She smashed a window
and swam out through the window.
That's really emotive.
It kind of really brings it home.
'..This program me will reveal
the incredible story
'of the flood of '28
'and the cautionary tale it tells
for the future of this great city.'
London is a beautiful metropolis.
'Multi-million-pound penthouses
and riverside entertainments
'line the shining River Thames
that snakes through the city.
'In 1928,
London is also a boom town.'
MAN: You've got the Roaring '20s
going on.
There was a lot of things happening
in and around London.
It was a sort of melting pot.
The capital of the world, really,
because people in London
had connections all over the world.
they were part of this most
exciting city in the world.
"But in the 1920s,
London has one foot in the future
'and one foot
in the Victorian past.'
I think we have to think of London
very much as two cities
in the 1920s.
On the outskirts,
it's the London of, you know,
electric lighting
and motorcars
and the North Circular.
The other London is the Victorian
and Georgian city at the centre,
increasingly given over
to working-class families.
'And life in the centre
by the River Thames could be tough.'
Well, back in 1928,
the banks of the Thames were home
to a lot of working-class people,
working in local industries,
working on the Thames.
And a lot of the scenes
around there,
the little dingy streets,
were very Dickensian.
Especially along the river,
the city is at its most Victorian.
All the buildings are built in the
19th century, some of them before.
They're often no more than
workmen's cottages
running down to the river.
'South London-born-and-bred
Arthur Smith
'remembers the stories of old London
told to him by his grandparents.'
My grandad's brother
lived in a basement
with all his family.
People lived in much more
constricted circumstances then.
London was the centre of the
world, and yet at that same time,
it was still struggling to get rid
of its Victorian roots.
'London in the late 1920s
is a city of two halves.
'And the poorer half that lives in
Victorian squalor down by the river
'is about to suffer a natural
disaster on a biblical scale.
'Late December, 1927.
'Everyone in London
is about to experience a Christmas
'like no other in living memory.
'For some, it will be magical.
'For others, it will become
an absolute nightmare.'
WOMAN: Looking at the charts
through that time, 1927 December,
it was a similar set-up
to the Beast From The East.
There was a lot of snow.
It was freezing cold.
And that cold
extended through a few days.
Like the Beast From The East,
it was disruptive.
'In deepest South London,
snowdrifts grow
to an astonishing 17 feet.'
People said,
"We're cut off from the world!"
Food had to be brought in
by sledges.
In some places,
it was dropped from aeroplanes.
I mean, it was a very dramatic,
very beautiful,
very white Christmas.
'This is an extraordinary weather
event across Southern England.
'With snowdrifts topping out
at 20-feet deep,
'it is some of the heaviest snow
ever recorded in Britain.'
It was incredible, really,
if you think about how extensive
the snowfall was and how...
how intense it was as well.
'For wealthy Londoners, this is
the perfect Christmas weather
'for the classic
yuletide celebration.'
It's holiday season,
so people weren't battling
to get to work.
They could enjoy this dump of snow,
whether they attempted to ski,
or they were throwing snowballs.
'Like today, London boasts
around eight million inhabitants.
'Many are young, middle class,
'and looking forward
to a fun-filled Christmas.
'Like 20-year-old
Marjorie Franckeiss.'
She studied music at a school.
She was a mezzo soprano,
and she was very serious
about her music.
She loved dancing. She went out
to dances and to parties.
WOMAN: There's this one video of her
that I've seen,
and she was, like, in this dress
and this furry long coat,
and she was very happy, I remember.
I think she was pretty trendy,
you know.
"Marjorie enjoys a cosy Christmas
in upmarket West London.'
I know Christmas was a big thing
in the family,
and they would make
Christmas pudding,
and they'd put coins and thimbles
and things into the pudding.
It was a chance for families
to enjoy themselves
singing a few Christmas hymns.
# I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day
# I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas Day in the morning. #
Yeah, and you could probably see
three ships
come sailing in on Christmas Day
in the morning back then.
'But as the middle classes
enjoy a chocolate-box Christmas
'at the best addresses in the city,
'the poor of London
living near the river
'have to cope
with extremely low temperatures.'
So, despite the pristine,
snowy conditions,
there is a darker side to this.
Minimum temperatures
dipped down to minus eight.
Imagine not having
any central heating.
Imagine running out of coal or wood
to just keep your home warm.
And that probably would have
happened to the poorest people
along the river there.
So, they probably
weren't celebrating as much
as those on the periphery
in the suburbs,
where it looked
absolutely beautiful.
'As the big freeze grips London,
'one family is trying
as hard as it can to stay warm.
'Downriver to the east, in the
riverside slums of Westminster,
'the Harding family
has been saving up for Christmas.
'Arthur Harding and his wife,
'work at poorly paid odd jobs
like labouring and laundry work.
'They do what they can
to bring some money into the family
'for the festive season.
"52-year-old Mike Harding
has been researching
'his great-grandfather Arthur's
family story.'
MIKE HARDING: My great-grandfather
was a cab washer.
But I also know
he had a lot of other
kind of menial-type kind of work.
I would say they were
extremely working class,
from what I know about
where they lived.
Looking at the pictures
from back in that time,
I mean,
it looks kind of pretty grim.
'The Hardings live in
a tenement flat
'at number eight Grosvenor Road
in Westminster.
'Even though they are very poor,
Arthur has put enough cash aside
'for a simple Christmas treat
for the family.'
I think people then would have
celebrated Christmas,
not with great big presents,
unless you were fairly rich,
but probably with a Christmas tree
and the hymns.
'But in the plunging
Christmas temperatures,
'the house is bitterly cold.
'Formerly a Victorian
middle-class neighbourhood,
'the big houses have been converted
into tenements for the poor.
'And the basements, formerly
staff lodgings and kitchens,
'have become flats.'
MIKE HARDING: They lived on
two floors of this kind of dwelling.
The younger ones actually
went to sleep in a huge dresser,
where the drawers
were pulled open at night
and little kind of
cot-like arrangements made.
And the children would
sleep in there.
JERRY WHITE: This is the London
of no bathrooms,
no running hot and cold water,
with outside loos,
with 100,000 people living
in basement rooms at the time.
It must have been quite tough,
because there were lots of
little alleyways and small roads,
and people living in basements,
crowded in.
And people lived by the river in
tiny little houses, and tenements,
whole families to a room.
So there was a lot of poverty.
'Like thousands of Londoners,
'the Hardings live a stone's throw
from the river,
'a source of work for the family
that will soon be a deadly threat.
'At 215 miles long,
'the Thames is the longest river
in England.'
So, the Thames is a very big
river catchment in England.
And it starts up in the Cotswolds,
and it snakes its way through
Reading, where I come from,
all the way down to London.
'In London, the fast-flowing Thames
'broadens to dominate
the centre of the city
'as it heads towards the sea
in the east.
'Today, many enjoy Thames-side views
and walks.
"But in the late '20s, the Thames
is far from a picture postcard."
JOHN CRAVEN: It was a bustling,
working riverside in those days.
Not a nice area to go for a stroll
and take in the sights.
You could have a job
in the docks,
but then that might not be going
still, later in the year,
depending on the grain coming
in and out, and whatnot.
So you might have to go
from one job to another,
do whatever you could.
And sometimes, gorblimey,
it was a right old pea-souper,
gov'nor, in those days.
It was a lot foggier in London then.
CLARE NASIR: And that was one thing,
you know, the air pollution.
You know, you'd have snot
coming out of your nose,
and it would be dark,
it would be blackened.
'In the late 1920s,
many Londoners are river people.
'But a central part of this
watery London life is flooding.
'15% of London is built on
the flood plain of the River Thames,
'and the city
has always been prone to floods."
Well, I've stood,
and I think many of us have,
on the banks of the Thames
and watched it flow past,
and realised just how quickly
that river moves.
I remember my grandad saying once,
"Yeah, well,
you wanna watch out for it, mate,
"it's more dangerous than you think,
the River Thames."
London is a bit of a water land.
So, when we think about the Thames,
we tend to think about
the main stem of the channel,
the big kind of watery snake
that goes through London.
But it's also under the ground
as well.
All of that
is part of the Thames system.
So, it's like this hidden,
giant river system beneath our feet.
'Living in what is effectively
a water land
'has made Londoners
very conscious of the river
'that runs through their city.
'Even the lion heads
on the embankment walls
'have been immortalised
in an old London rhyme.'
And, of course,
they used to have that poem.
And they'd say, er...
"When the lions will drink
London will sink."
"When it's up to their manes
We'll go down the drains."
'The huge embankments
that boast the lion heads
'were all built in response
to increasingly serious floods
'throughout the 19th century.'
If you walk through London
and you look at the embankments
along the side of the Thames,
there's really old ones, then there
is slightly newer ones built on top,
and then slightly newer ones.
Allin response to different
flood events, effectively,
just trying to protect London.
'The highest embankment
was built after the floods of 1881."
And everybody thought, basically,
London was safe
at its point of biggest population
in the centre.
"But the floods of 1881
would be nothing in comparison
'to what was coming on the heels
of the white Christmas of 1927.
"By New Year's Day,
the heaviest snow
blankets the Cotswolds
to the west of London.
This is the source
of the River Thames.'
So, Christmas 1927,
we had huge snow accumulations
across the Thames catchment,
particularly in the Cotswolds.
People were out,
you know, taking photos of it.
So we have evidence of how really
quite high these snowdrifts were.
So, it's all very well saying,
"Yes, this is beautiful landscape.
But, at some point,
the weather's going to change.
And, in fact,
it was like a switch flipping
to something which was mild,
wet and windy.
And that's when the trouble started.
'Snow may be beautiful and fun,
'but these millions of cubic tonnes
of ice
'will soon turn to water.'
So, if you think about all that snow
falling across the whole catchment,
all of that water
just sitting on the landscape,
white, crystalline water
just sitting there
waiting to run off into the Thames.
"By New Year's Day,
the snow gives way to heavy rain.'
So, you had water falling
on melting snow.
So, the cumulative effect of that
was gargantuan.
The rivers were already high,
and you've got all of this water
going into the rivers
from the melting snow
and the rainfall as well.
"And all that water
needs to go somewhere."
And where is all that water heading?
Well, it's heading
to the River Thames in London.
JAYE GRIFFITHS: 'New Year, 1928.
'After exceptionally heavy snow,
'the weather has turned
wet and windy.'
The temperature rises
into the early days of 1928.
So, that's snow,
and there was a lot of snow,
a huge amount,
record-breaking snow was melting.
The floodgates opened.
'Along the fast-flowing Thames,
'water surges towards London
in the first week of January.
"But that's not all
that is heading for the city.'
A few hundred miles
o the north-east, in the North Sea,
'another threat
is approaching London.'
So, low pressure was firmly in
charge across the whole of the UK.
If pressure is low,
that's the air sitting across
the surface of the water.
The surface of the water
is going to rise
because there's less pressure
pushing it down.
We also get near-gale-force winds
coming in from
a north-easterly direction.
So, all of this contributes
to how much water
was then funneling
into the Thames Estuary.
You've got yourself a perfect storm,
and that's really
a perfect storm surge.
'Nowadays, Londoners live
secure in the knowledge
'that a storm surge
approaching from the North Sea
'can be stopped in its tracks...
"..by simply raising
the Thames Barrier.
'But this is 1928.'
So, in the late '20s,
there was no Thames Barrier,
And lots of people were living
right, close to the river
on the flood plains,
and lots of those people
were very poor.
'Without the barrier,
'London is exposed
to the full force of a storm surge
'coming in from the North Sea.
'But in the first week of January,
'London already has a problem
with rainwater
'rushing down the Thames
from the west.
'If these two flood events combined,
'the results will be catastrophic.
'It is the evening
of the 6th January, 1928."
You've got a lot of water
coming from the west.
The river levels in the main Thames
were very high.
'At Teddington Lock in West London,
'water is pouring over the weir
'at a rate of 9,000 million gallons
every 24 hours,
'twice the normal flow
for that time of year.
'But most Londoners are oblivious
to the approaching threat.
'In West London,
Marjorie Franckeiss
'and her younger brother, Peter,
stay with the wWatsons,
'family friends
who live near the river.'
Peter wanted to spend...
You know, have a sleepover
at his friend's house.
So, Nanny went with him.
I think they were going to go
for a couple of days or something.
ANASUYA VAIDYA: I do remember
her saying that it was really cold.
You know,
it had been a dark, rainy, cold...
...gloomy-ish sort of day.
"Marjorie and Peter are staying in
the basement flat of a mansion block
'a mere 100 feet
from the swollen Thames.
'Downriver in the densely populated
riverside tenements of Westminster,
'the Harding family
is going to bed.'
The Harding family occupied a house
with at least three floors.
And Arthur Harding, the father,
had moved the four girls
in the family,
or four of the girls,
down to sleep
in the basement front room.
They'd been complaining of the cold.
Florence, who was 18.
Lillian, Rose.
Doris was two and a half.
And Arthur last saw them
at about 11:30 on that night.
'As Londoners drift off to sleep
across the city,
'something awful is about to happen
to the Thames.
'A phenomenon which will turn
a bad situation into a disaster.'
'With river levels
four feet higher than normal,
'as water streams in from the west,
'the storm approaching
from the North Sea
'brings a wall of water
up the Thames.
'A storm surge.'
You've got a howling wind,
gale-force winds coming in
from a north-easterly direction,
pushing the volume of water
into the Thames Estuary.
And then this surge of water,
this almost wall of water slowly
propagates up the River Thames.
So, you have got this double threat.
'The alignment of storm surge
and flash flood
'will raise the levels of the Thames
'higher than has ever been recorded
in the history of London.'
It met in the middle of London.
The perfect scenario
for a natural disaster.
'The first sign
that something is terribly wrong
'appears at the ancient seat
of royal power,
'the Tower of London.
'The moat at the Tower
has been dry for almost a century.
'And then,
something abnormal happens.'
They notice that the
Tower of London moat
begins to fill
just around midnight.
And the river continues to rise.
JOHN CRAVEN: The moat flooded.
For the first time in eighty years,
or something.
A night watchman was on duty there,
he just couldn't believe his eyes
as the water level rose
in that dry old moat.
ARTHUR SMITH: And then, so when
that started getting flooded,
the moat there, that would have been
really the sign that,
"We've got some trouble
coming here."
'This gradual drip, drip, drip
of water
'is soon replaced by a sudden panic,
'as the enormous River Thames
begins bursting through the banks.'
And this is all happening
when it was dark,
when it's noisy, when it's stormy,
when there's water just lashing
anyway because of the rain.
It is just a mess.
A roaring mess of water.
'Despite the surge of water,
no-one is hurt at the Tower.
'But just around the bend
in the river,
'the most vulnerable Londoners
are in the firing line.'
Night-time floods
are really, really dangerous.
There's nobody on the street
to go and warn people.
There was no early warning
system in those days,
no long-term weather forecasts,
no London barrier.
It would have just been
this kind of monstrous killer
coming through doors and windows
and up through the floor,
filling basements
with the river water.
They'd already gone to bed, and they
were all asleep when it happened.
So they have no idea
what was coming.
'As the storm surge
pushes past the Tower of London,
'the bend in the river
around Blackfriars hoves into view.'
London is incredibly vulnerable
in 1928.
'In sight are the many
small-scale businesses
'that line the river banks.'
So, you've got businesses
which depend on
people loading things
from the river,
you know, onto low wharfs where
they can take material off barges.
It's very vulnerable.
'As the floodwater churns over
the banks in the Blackfriars area,
'wharf-side businesses
are swept away.'
It must have been terrifying
for the people
on the banks of the River Thames.
'Entire livelihoods
are washed away in an instant.'
is very, very destructive.
It is very powerful.
'Many riverside businesses
are destroyed
'in the Blackfriars district.
'But as the storm surge
speeds towards
'the densely populated boroughs
of Lambeth and Westminster,
'it will soon be waking up
the Harding family.'
the area around Lambeth Bridge
'is very high-end.
"MI5 and the clothing store Burberry
call this area home.
'But in 1928,
'Grosvenor Road
and the Lambeth Bridge area
'is very poor indeed.'
There are a lot of small, shabby,
little housing places
by the river then.
There was a time
when Londoners were river people,
and everyone used to live
much nearer to the river
than they do now.
'Basement flats are common
in the Grosvenor Road area
'along the riverside.
"Poorer families
living up to eight to ten people
'in tiny underground rooms
'that will turn into death-traps.'
One of the biggest risks in a flood
scenario is that you are trapped.
And some of that is because
doors can get pinned
by the pressure of the water.
Imagine living in a basement
close to the river,
and, suddenly,
without any kind of warning,
you are faced with death...
...because the water was gushing in.
And you couldn't open the doors
because of the force of the water.
"And it is the people
living in these cramped flats
'that are hit by a sudden rush of
ice-cold water in the early hours.
'In one house on Grosvenor Road,
'nine members of the Harding family
are asleep.
'The four youngest Harding girls
'are aged from two and a half
to 18.
'While carrying out independent
research into his family history,
'Mike Harding discovers
that the Harding sisters
'are his great-aunts.'
So, I began to look into
my family tree over the internet.
And the names of six siblings
came up.
'Despite most of
the old family photos
'having been lost
in the flood of 1928,
'a photo of the second youngest
girl, Rose, still survives.'
I mean, maybe, you know,
not many pictures were taken
of families back then.
So, that may be the only picture
that kind of exists of her.
And it's quite sad, actually,
to know that
perhaps that was the last one and
that there wouldn't be any others.
"Realising his connection to this
family from almost a century ago
'set Mike off on a journey
of discovery.'
When I did find out
this kind of huge event,
it really resonated with me.
'After kissing the girls good night,
'the father, Arthur,
is woken just before 2am
'by shouts and screams.'
It all happened extremely quickly.
It was the middle of the night.
As we know, the river,
you know, silently,
was rising in front, as it were,
of his front window.
But he knew nothing about it.
But the river came into the house.
He knew what that meant
for the girls in the basement.
The basement areas of these
kind of houses along Grosvenor Road,
they filled up extremely quickly.
I just can imagine those girls
being trapped in that scenario.
It must've been utterly terrifying,
and there was nowhere to escape.
'The account of the incident
is disturbing reading."
"When he got out of bed, he found
water on the floor up to his knees.
"He thought he heard crying
in the basement,
"but he could not get down
to his daughters.
"Lillian was crying out,
'Dad, save me!"
"But he could not get near her."
You know, my great-grandfather
could hear the cries of the children
in there,
but he wasn't able
to kind of open the door.
'With the door held shut
by the water pressure,
'neighbours helped to try and find
another escape route
'from the basement.
'But a grim twist of fate
sees any rescue attempt
'hitting a brick wall.'
Along all of these basements, they
all had little windows at the front,
but they were all barred,
and no-one
could force these bars apart,
nobody could get in.
And so these people
were just caught
in a dreadful trap,
and there was no saving them,
and there was nothing he could do.
I mean, it must've been, you know,
incomprehensibly awful.
Their cries
just kind of came to an end.
It's really emotive, actually.
I mean, I don't think
I've read that before.
You know, it's really...
it kind of really brings it home.
He could do nothing.
And the girls drowned, they say,
within 16 to 20 seconds.
When eventually
the bodies were recovered,
it looked as though
they put up no struggle at all.
'As Arthur Harding tries in vain
to rescue his daughters,
'residents throughout the area
struggled to save their neighbours.
'It is pitch-black, freezing,
'and there are no emergency services
on the scene.
'London is in the grip
of a disaster.
'The flood of 1928
was particularly devastating
'because no-one saw it coming.
'Even today, a sudden, massive flood
can be deadly
despite our present-day technology,
'like satellites and smartphones,
'like the floods of 1928,
'these floods in Germany
were unexpected, too.'
The water stays at two metres...
...over there.
No warning. Nothing else.
REPORTER: A trail of destruction
now lines the River Aar.
The normally calm flow of water
rose to heights never seen before
after two months of rain in
as many days flowed into the valley.
The worst natural disaster in
the country for almost six decades.
Several hundred people died
in Germany and other
European countries in July 2021
with some very serious
flash flooding in the summer.
'In summer 2021,
'slow-moving rainstorms
become blocked over Europe.
'Intense rain fell on an already wet
landscape in the Alps of Germany,
'causing apocalyptic floods."
Across the Rhineland region,
it was pretty much like a shower
just that got stuck on.
That low-pressure system sat there.
The rain just kept on falling
because it couldn't go
anywhere else.
'For Hannah Cloke,
these floods are an example
'of just how overwhelming
a disaster like this can be
'in a built-up area.'
HANNAH CLOKE: There are lots of
differences between what happened
in London
and what happened in the Aar Valley.
But there are lots of similarities,
You know, people being surprised
in the middle of the night.
And people having to try and climb
out of windows and things like that.
People not having warnings.
Well, these days, we do have regular
and proper warning
of any potential disaster
on our way.
For some reason, that didn't happen
in the Aar Valley area of Germany,
and nobody knew
it was going to happen.
And lots of people died.
So, the similarities there
are really quite stark,
in that people
were taken by surprise,
you know,
and then sadly people died.
'Like the Aar Valley floods of 2021,
'the Thames floods of 1928
'are testament to the deadly power
of an unexpected flood.
'But they also reveal
the heroism of ordinary people.
'When no help is coming,
'many will put their life
on the line for their neighbour.
'In the Grosvenor Road area
'on the north side of the Thames
in Westminster,
'many people are caught by
the floodwaters in basement rooms.
'As the floodwaters swirl
into people's homes,
'neighbours take action
to save lives.'
I think there was a much bigger
sense of community back then,
one did love thy neighbour.
'19-year-old clerk Frank Wilshire
'has heard the commotion
and arrived to help.'
Don't forget,
it was in the dark.
There was a lot of community spirit
showed itself.
You know, tremendous
acts of bravery
as people tried to respond, diving
into this freezing-cold water
to try to get people
out of basements.
'Frank begins rescuing people
from flooding basements,
'retrieving valuables from flats.'
"But his luck runs out,
'and he is caught
by a new influx of water
'as another section of embankment
When the river came over,
it was a catastrophe.
It must have been the most
terrifying experience
to drown in the soiled waters
of the River Thames.
And so these people were just caught
in a dreadful trap,
and there was no saving them.
So people were just trapped,
It's amazing, really,
that not more people
lost their lives.
'Early on the freezing morning
'of the 7th January, 1928,
'the River Thames is violently
flooding the city of London.
'As the poor fight for their lives
'in the basements
of Westminster tenements,
'a few streets away,
the art of Britain is under threat.'
Of course,
it was mainly working-class people
who'd been flooded
and had the damage done.
But there also was the Tate Gallery.
The river broached
the walls of the Tate and rushed in.
'The Tate has a real fight
on its hands.
'The water is not only coming over
the shattered embankment,
'but up through
the basement floors.'
You know, the Tate was
actually built on Millbank Prison,
and these basement areas
were not tanked,
they weren't sealed off
from the ground water.
So, what happened in the Tate,
part of that was the water coming up
through those basement areas
and filling up the pool like this.
'Home to the nation's greatest
art works from Turner to Constable,
'the Tate is in major trouble.'
This is not just river water.
It's foul water from the sewers.
And so, that's going into
the basement of the Tate as well.
Despite its huge reputation,
nowhere was immune,
nowhere could keep itself protected
from this force of the water that
came up from the sewers of London
and pollutes everything around it.
'The Gallery staff rushed to save
the work of the cream of British
artists from the floodwaters.'
Well, it wasn't just the artworks
that had to be rescued from
the flooded basement of the Tate.
So did the director.
He was helping to rescue
his precious paintings
when he fell down a manhole...
...which he couldn't see because it
was covered by three feet of water.
So, not only was he up to his waist
in water,
he was suddenly down below his head
in water,
and they had to pull him
out of the manhole.
'Priceless works of art are moved
upstairs and away from the floods.
'But one artist is left
to the mercy of the deluge
'in the gallery basement.'
John Martin,
he was a contemporary of Turner,
but his paintings were very much
meant to be a kind of entertainment
to appeal to the masses.
"Despite being a superstar
in the mid-1800s,
'John Martin's dramatic Victorian
disaster paintings
'were out of fashion by the 1920s."
SARAH MAISEY: He couldn't compete
with an artist like Turner.
He's seen as a populist,
he's seen as entertainment,
it's not seen as high art.
'Painted in 1822,
'The Destruction Of Pompeii
And Herculaneum
'is over 2.5 metres wide,
'but is not on display.
'It's in storage
in the gallery basement.'
So, it was not a loved painting,
And what happened was, the basement
and lower galleries of the Tate
were completely submerged.
The painting was down there.
It came off its stretcher,
so it was a loose canvas.
It was obviously
very badly buffeted around,
it was full of tears.
The remains
were split into two pieces.
'John Martin's masterwork
is lost to the flood,
'but will one day
be brought back to life.
'The flood is damaging property
and taking lives.
'But it is only just getting started
on its path of destruction
'across the embattled capital.
"Pushing on past the poor riverside
slums in Lambeth and Westminster,
'the surge of floodwater arrives
in middle-class West London."
The momentum behind this storm surge
as the water snakes up the estuary
towards Fulham and Battersea.
This storm continues
to really pack a punch,
and the impact of that
is that flooding continues
all the way up the Thames.
It just went on and on, it seemed.
It would never stop,
this outrage of water
that was just covering
the whole of London.
'Still reeling from the shock
of the floods,
'emergency services
have yet to arrive on the scene.
'Londoners have to save themselves.'
There was a lot of community spirit
showed itself.
A lot of people were rescued
by their neighbours,
people who happened to live a little
bit higher up above the watermark.
'Upriver in a mansion block
in affluent Fulham, West London,
"Marjorie Franckeiss is sleeping.
'She is with her kid brother, Peter,
'on a stay over
at his friend Billy Watson's house.
'In an adjoining room,
Billy's mother is fast asleep
'with his sister, Irene,
and cousin, Dorothy."
So, she went and stayed.
I think they were going to go
for a couple of days or something.
They had already gone to sleep
that night.
'In the dark of the night,
'Marjorie wakes to find the room
she shares with the other children
filling with water.'
And just, like, realised that...
...furniture was floating
in the room
and the room
was filling up with water.
It's hard to imagine
what it must have been like
if you lived in a basement
along the banks of the Thames.
Because there was no way out.
"Marjorie sees the Watson girls
struggling in the rising water.
'One of them tries telephoning
for help,
'while the other flounders
in the rushing water."
Dorothy was sleeping in the same
room and was a strong swimmer.
She got out into the passage.
'With water pressure
locking the door tightly shut,
'Madge has a brainwave.
'Unlike the windows
of the Hardings' basement flat
'in the poor neighbourhoods
of Westminster,
'the windows of this flat in Fulham
have no bars across them.'
She smashed a window
and swam out through the window.
Her first instinct was to find Peter
and save him somehow.
"Buffeted by swirling water,
"Marjorie bravely swims in and out
of the rapidly filling basement,
'rescuing her brother and
two members of the Watson family.'
And it was very frightening,
you know,
and she just kept swimming
in and out of the room
and trying to get people out.
She was a good swimmer.
She loved swimming.
So... thank goodness!
"Marjorie saves Billy Watson
and his mother.'
Those minutes, erm...
...would have been overpowering,
you know,
and it was just literally
living in that moment,
living in that second, actually,
of getting in, getting out,
pulling somebody out.
And she couldn't see people
because it was absolutely dark.
'But the Watson girls
are nowhere to be found.'
I think that was...
That was one of the great traumas
for her of that incident.
Losing those two girls, erm...
And I think she always wished
she could have saved them.
"Both girls lose their lives
to the flood.
'The power of the water washes
Dorothy's body out into the street.
'Irene is found in the room
that had filled to the ceiling
'with cold river water.
And, finally,
she didn't even realise it,
but she'd cut her feet quite badly,
and I think her arms,
swimming through broken glass.
You know, it was a very frightening
and a very traumatic experience.
And I think that experience, er...
shaped her character
in a very big way.
'Anasuya and her daughter Yashna
have been investigating the story
'of their ancestor's
incredible bravery.'
ANASUYA VAIDYA: Two or three
years ago, my daughter, Yashna,
I told her the story about
Nanny's bravery and her heroism.
I was the same age as her
when the incident happened.
It resonated with me a lot.
It was definitely
a big part of her life.
I think it did shape her life
to some extent after that.
This was a day
when Big Nanny was very happy.
This was Pappa on my wedding day.
She was really happy on this day.
And very colourfully dressed,
as you can see.
She really enjoyed the day.
"Marjorie's descendants
hope to commemorate her memory
'at the West London address
'where the Thames rose up
and caused so much damage.
'Leafy riverside residential areas,
like Fulham,
'and further up the Thames,
like Windsor and Marlow,
'are beautiful places to live
and relatively exclusive.
'But living on the flood plain
of the Thames can be risky."
In parts of Surrey and Berkshire,
it's now difficult to see
where the River Thames ends
and the flooding begins.
'Across the winter of 2013 to 2014,
'the Thames flood plain
truly lived up to its name.
Although this is a road,
we've actually got the Thames
flowing down it.
So, we're battling against
the tide of the Thames,
which is quite fast flowing.
MAN: What goes through your mind
when you see your home like this?
We've been up two days,
four o'clock in the morning,
moving things upstairs.
It's just a nightmare.
Thanks, chaps!
You're great.
Thank you very much.
From December 2013
to February 2014,
there were at least 14 major storms
that hit the UK.
HANNAH CLOKE: The landscape,
you know, it was just soaking.
The sponge of the soil
was completely full.
There was nowhere for that rainwater
to go when it did fall.
It just swept down the Thames and
over the bank into people's homes.
The flooding was just extensive.
And it was relentless.
And it kept coming back.
And it affected millions of people's
lives and livelihoods
for a long, long time.
I mean, the imagery coming out
at that time was just incredible.
"Relentless rain
from slow-moving storms
'causes the wettest
December-to-January period
'since 1876.
'The 2014 floods were devastating.
'But there is a crucial difference
to 1928.
'In 2014, we knew what was coming
before it happened.'
Of course, we have
good forecasting systems in place,
so there was some warning.
'Without the early warning systems
we have in place today,
'London and its people
'were in for a much rougher
and deadlier ride in 1928.'
And there was no warning,
"A bad flood is coming,
you need to get out of the way."
None of that was there.
All of those people are surprised
by the flood and put in harm's way.
'As the tidal surge
expends its energy further upriver,
'it's clear
that many lives have been lost,
'people have been displaced,
and property destroyed.'
So many people
ended up homeless,
it's heartbreaking to imagine it.
Around the banks of the Thames
would have been people
trying to load up their
possessions and save them.
JOHN CRAVEN: And don't forget,
this was the middle of winter.
And people who had escaped
were wet through,
only in their nightshirts often,
you know, and shivering and shaking
and scared to death.
'Dawn will reveal the true toll
of this terrible event
'on this great city and its people.'
over a shattered London.'
I think any bystander
would have been totally staggered,
by the sight that they saw.
Because the flood
had been merciless.
It had destroyed people's lives
and their homes.
'Alongside the destruction,
water is everywhere.
'And not just water.'
JERRY WHITE: Everywhere along
the river, the mess, the stink.
All of this...
You know, the water
is heavily polluted with sewage.
So, what is left in people's rooms
is essentially dilute sewage.
'With the roads around the Thames
'flooded up to ten feet
in some places with filthy water,
'the community
is still helping those in danger.'
There was a massive
communal response.
The first port of call
was your neighbour.
Hundreds of people were taken in
by neighbours.
"As news spreads of the flood,
'wealthy Londoners
from unaffected neighbourhoods
'arrive at the water's edge
to gawp at the destruction.
And in fact it became
an attraction.
Crowds were there
on the banks of the Embankment,
to see what the level was like,
they were worried
that it might rise again,
and they wanted to be there
to see some of the action.
'The floodwaters begin pulling back
by midday.
'Thankfully, the flood is over.
'But now, the accounting
for the damage to the city
'and Llives lost begins.
14 lives are lost overnight,
'with ten dying in Lambeth alone."
There was
an absolute wave of sympathy
for the victims of the floods,
and it was epitomised, really,
in terms of the response to
the tragedy of the Harding sisters.
'And with the family
being on the edge of poverty,
'the community comes together
to support them.'
There was a collection
from the local area
to help pay for the funeral
and provide them with a headstone.
Lots of people had chipped in
to help with it,
I think there was a much bigger
sense of community back then.
The funeral was quite a big affair.
Lots of people came out
from the local area
to give them a send-off, I guess.
'The four Harding daughters
are laid to rest in a single grave
'in a cemetery in Finchley.'
MIKE HARDING: It feels fitting
that they were all buried together
and all their names and their ages
on this big headstone.
It needs a bit more of a tidy-up,
but, yeah, that's something
I'm aiming to do with my family
in a couple of weeks.
It's a nice...
It's going to be a nice thing to do.
'Further to the west, wealthier
boroughs had also lost lives.
'Like the Watson girls.'
The papers were full of the story
for the whole of that January,
The flood and its victims,
you know, were front-page news.
'In a Fulham hospital,
Marjorie Franckeiss recuperates
'from her night rescuing her friends
from the floods.
'A week later,
she emerges to a hero's welcome.'
There was a ceremony where
the Mayor gave her a certificate,
and it was something
that meant a great deal to her.
That whole experience
was a highlight of her life.
'Then the City of London
grants Marjorie a wish.'
The Mayor asked her,
"Is there something
that you'd really like
"which we could do for you?"
And she said, "I want to hear
Josephine Baker sing."
So, apparently,
they got together funds
and sent her off to Paris
to hear Josephine Baker.
She met her briefly. And so
that was like a dream realised.
"Marjorie's life will lead her
to marry an Indian academic
"and settle in New Delhi,
'where her family will become
successful in the arts.
'Today, her descendants are in talks
to commemorate Marjorie's memory
'with a blue plaque in Fulham.'
She should be commemorated
in a more memorable way,
and I really want to see
her plaque unveiled.
And, hopefully,
it'll happen this year.
"Almost a century has passed
since the flood.
'But incredibly, the clean-up
after the disaster is still ongoing.
'And John Martin's huge painting,
'torn in two by the flood
in the Tate Gallery basement,
has a shot at redemption."
The painting in question
was John Martin's
Destruction Of Pompeii
and Herculaneum,
which had been kind of languishing,
rolled up
at the time of the flood in 1928.
It was declared a ruin.
'In a major 2011 retrospective
on John Martin's disaster paintings,
'Sarah Maisey is asked
to restore the painting
'that had been so badly damaged
in the flood.'
Then I went about cleaning it.
Removing this really sort of
encrusted, filthy, dirt layer
of the type that you just
don't really see on paintings.
I was so conscious that
I was cleaning this material off
that had got on the painting at
that very particular point in time
when this really dramatic thing
'After several days of careful work
on the massive canvas,
'the painting of the eruption
of Vesuvius destroying Pompeii
'begins to come back to life.
'But the missing section
is a major problem.'
SARAH MAISEY: Unfortunately,
the bit that was missing
was the volcano itself.
'Using reference images made before
the flood damaged the canvas,
'Sarah restores the painting.'
Seeing it go back up on the wall
was a really fantastic moment.
But, actually, if you get up close,
you can see what's original
and what's not.
But you stand back, you see
the full impact of Martin's work.
'Now fully restored, John Martin's
apocalyptic disaster scenes
'can continue to inspire art lovers
"with a taste
for visions of catastrophe.'
It sort of honours the history
of the flood, erm...
...I hope!
'The exclusive area of Millbank
'with the MI5 building
and expensive shop fronts
'was all created in the aftermath
of the destruction of 1928.'
It certainly was an opportunity,
as it were,
presented by the flood,
because Westminster were concerned
to demolish a large part
of the housing around Millbank,
which was old, small, Victorian.
A lot of impressive new buildings
took the place
of those old slum dwellings.
And there was a big social demand
for something to be done
for the poor victims,
who'd lost their homes in the flood.
"But change always means
that something will be lost.
'A part of old London
is gone forever.'
There were a lot of small,
shabby little places
by the river then,
and a lot of them got cleared
in the slum clearance,
and then they started building
other buildings, quite posh places.
In some sense,
it cleansed that part of London.
But it cleansed it of the working
people who used to live there.
'But there will be an upside
to the slum clearances.'
And so new housing estates
were built
to get better accomodation
for the poor people of London.
I suppose you could say
that's one bonus,
that new housing was provided to
replace the slums.
the reshaping of Millbank,
'one of London's greatest bridges
gets a complete make over.
'Opened by the King in summer 1932,
'the new Lambeth Bridge
is built for the age of the car.
'Within a few years of the flood,
London is shiny and new again.
'But for many, the flood
has marked their lives forever.'
I remember my grandad
telling me one day, though,
that the floods of 1928
had flooded his brother's house,
who lived in a basement.
And his brother had left London,
gone up north,
and he never saw him again.
You know, the 1928 flood made him
disappear to somewhere else.
And this is before
the welfare state, so it was, er...
it was very hard times.
'The shocking impact
of the flood of 1928
'has Londoners asking
a crucial question,
""How do we stop this
ever happening again?"
A week after the disaster,
'calls appear in the press
for something to be done
'about the floods.
'The concept of a barrier
across the Thames
'has been discussed and debated
'since the big floods
of the 19th century.'
And that whole sort of...
The debate about a barrier
in the Thames is reignited.
'A location is put forward
for a vast tidal barrier
'downriver from the city
by the old Tilbury Docks.
What a great idea.
But let's think about the times.
Was there any money in the economy?
Were we heading
for another world war?
No-one could really
get their heads round
about the practicability
of doing it.
How do you stop this enormous river,
which is still in 1928,
you know,
the busiest port in Europe?
And so that disappears
into the long grass.
You know, it remains
in the "too difficult" category.
'It took another terrifying
storm surge in 1953
'to force London's authorities
to take action.
'Built in 1982,
'the Thames Barrier
protects the people of London
'from the threat of storm surge.'
Well, the Thames Barrier
effectively puts a wall of steel
across the river
at its location in Charlton,
520 metres in width.
'The barrier has protected London
for four decades.
'But the big question is,
""Will climate change expose London
to a new threat?"
'Like 1928, recent years have seen
wet weather systems get stuck
'with devastating consequences.'
REPORTER: The death toll in Germany
has risen to at least 157 people.
Almost 30 others have died
due to flooding in nearby Belgium.
This is a catastrophe here.
All of...
This is the equivalent...
This is Germany's Hurricane Katrina.
'Climate scientists are worried
about extreme wet weather systems
'unloading too much water
too quickly
'onto the Earth's surface.'
These low-pressure areas
can't go anywhere, they're blocked
on all sides by high pressure,
and then the rain
just continues to fall.
And it's exactly what we saw
during the Rhineland floods,
where the damage was extensive
and intensive.
And there was nothing
anyone could do.
'Flood experts like Hannah Cloke
'are investigating the link
between these damaging floods
'and our rapidly warming climate.'
HANNAH CLOKE: We know that
our world is getting warmer.
There's more energy in the system.
And that means we're going
to get heavier rainstorms
where the air can hold more water.
There is some evidence to say that
those types of slow-moving
kind of stuck systems
are going to become
more likely in the future, too.
So, you've kind of got
this double problem
of heavier rainfall
and slower systems.
'The primary purpose
of the Thames Barrier
'is to protect London
from tidal surges
'that threaten the city
from the east.
"But river flooding from the west,
'a major component
of the terrible 1928 floods,
'is a problem that
the Thames Barrier
'is not specifically designed
to cope with.'
During the winter of 2013, 2014,
the barrier closed 50 times.
And many of that
was just trying to regulate
the river water in London
depending on the state of the tide
to cope with both of these
different types of flooding.
The barrier was not designed
to be shut 50 times in one year.
You know, that's beyond
what it was supposed to do.
'In an uncertain future,
'can London and its barrier adapt
to protect the city in time?
Do we know
how stormy it's going to get
as we head into
the second half of the 21st century?
Do we know how much rain is going
to fall in one weather event?
And when you get a perfect storm,
like we saw in 1928,
with snowmelt, rain,
and then a storm surge,
will the Thames Barrier,
say, in 2070
be able to cope
with that amount of water?
'The Thames Barrier is expected
to protect London from flooding
'until the year 2070.
"But the authorities
in charge of the barrier
'will be keeping a close eye
on any new challenges that arise
'through climate change.'
We know from the latest data
that climate change
is impacting on sea-level rise.
And we know that by 2100
sea levels will be a metre higher
than what they are now.
So, the plan will adapt accordingly
to what actually happens.
London is a thriving global city.
'But most Londoners have no idea
'that the great river
that winds through the city
'once lashed out.'
It's really weird, actually.
It's 95 years ago, but
when I found out about
this big event,
it certainly really
resonated with me
that back then, there was this
difficult, sad thing that happened.
There may have been a lot of mental
health problems,
but people didn't really
recognise it then,
it was just, yeah, stiff upper lip.
"Yeah, OK, that's happened,
let's get on to the next thing.
'The story of the London flood
of 1928
'will soon be overshadowed
'by the most devastating event
in the capital's history.'
One factor,
in terms of losing this event
in the collective memory
of the city,
you know,
is 1940 and the Blitz.
This tremendous attack on London
and the Londoner.
'The Blitz claimed an appalling
43,000 victims in London.
'But perhaps the lack of profile
of the Thames flood of 1928
'is not due to when it happened,
but who it happened to.'
I think because
the people it affected mainly
were working-class people,
so it didn't have the story
that the papers would have liked.
If a royal or something
had been washed away,
then we'd all
still know about it now.
"But as our world heads into
a future of an uncertain climate,
'the story of the Thames flood
of 1928
'is one that should be remembered.'
More and more,
you actually need to think about
flooding from heavy rainfall,
because it can happen anywhere.
And we know it's going to get wetter
in the future.
With the changes in the climate
and whatnot, who knows?
Sea levels rise, and London
may be all flooded again.
So let's enjoy the Thames
whille we can.