Heavy snow in the Cotswold Hills melted at the same time as a storm surge in the North Sea. Add an exceptional high tide and it all combined to cause a wall of water surge up river in the early hours of January 7, 1928.
As the water receded in the pale light of dawn, and the streets were left full of sickly smelling slime, a large number of people took shelter in churches.
There was no food or heat, no dry clothes were to be had, and dejected children were seen standing naked on street corners.
There were many examples of heroism that fearful night. Numerous lives were saved by the brave action of Mr J W Leader, who went from house to house in Grove Street, Deptford, giving the alarm.
He was waist deep in icy water and clinging to railings as barrels, huge floating out of the victualing yard where the 17ft-tall wall had collapsed, threatened to crush him.
Mrs Hudson, of 146 Grove Street, woke up feeling cold and got out of bed to shut the window and plunged into 3ft of water.
Terrified by the sudden shock, she screamed, waking her husband, who promptly caught hold of her and carried her to an upper room where they stayed until morning.
Nearby Mr Kent, a coal man, battled through the flood to save his pony in the stable behind his shop.
The pony was led to safety but the pressure of water was such that three tonnes of coal piled in the stable were swept away without a trace.
By Deptford Creek, water covered the road to St Alfege’s Church, Greenwich, marooning a late tram car, the solitary passenger and crew spending the night on the aptly named upper deck.
In Deptford, the homes of 200 people were entirely ruined, with 300 in Greenwich and a smaller number in Woolwich.
Daylight on Saturday revealed a shocking scene of furniture coated with a thick film of creosote and oil.
Countless tar barrels, smashed household utensils, girders and timber swept from the wharves were piled in the streets. Pumps were in action all day.
Council workmen tried to clear up what seemed a hopeless mess, and housewives spent the cold day scraping the slime off their pots and pans.
In the days and nights that followed, the inhabitants of the low-lying places by the river lived in fear of a repetition of the disaster as spring tides increased in height until the Tuesday, but thankfully the water never reached the levels of the previous Friday.
Now the Thames Barrier holds the high tides in check, but down the river is the of wreck of the American ammunition ship stranded in shallow water on a sandbank near Sheerness.
The S.S. Richard Montgomery has been lying there for 75 years, loaded with 1,400 tonnes of bombs and ammunition.
This corroded material could explode at any time and generate a 16ft high tidal wave which would sweep up the Thames, causing devastation in riverside communities such as Canvey Island and Thamesmead.
Fingers crossed that this never happens.
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