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Remembering the Belvedere floods, 60 years on

PUBLISHED: 13:54 24 January 2013 | UPDATED: 13:54 24 January 2013

The River Thames breaking through the gap near Callenders Jetty at Erith

The River Thames breaking through the gap near Callenders Jetty at Erith

Bexley Local Studies and Archive Centre

Around 1,700 gipsies were left with nothing when the worst flooding of the 20th century hit the Belvedere Marshes in January 1953 - an area which had been their home for so many winters before.

The Queen arrives in Erith after the floodsThe Queen arrives in Erith after the floods

So severe was the damage that the soon-to-be crowned Queen Elizabeth visited the area to pay her respects to the travellers.

Pictured here arriving at the Belvedere and Erith marshes as a glamorous young woman in a fur coat, she would have cut a stark contrast to the gipsies who had been left with no possessions.

In total, 2,551 people were killed by the flood in Holland, Belgium and the east of England and Scotland on the night of January 31 and February 1.

Of course it wasn’t just the gipsies who were affected – the water flooded houses and roads too in Bexley.

Kent Fire Brigade engine stuck in the floods at Lower Belvedere in 1953Kent Fire Brigade engine stuck in the floods at Lower Belvedere in 1953

And even though only one person died in Belvedere, it was an event which continues to have a profound effect on the community.

Sylvia Howe, who was living in Overton Road, Belvedere, aged 15 at the time, recalls: “I remember it being very scary. We had no electricity for about a week and the house was pitch black and damp.

“Thankfully our house was quite high so our possessions weren’t destroyed but the area as a whole was decimated.

“It took months for it to get back on its feet and in some ways, it was never the same again.”

Iconic pictures were taken of residents coming together to repair burst river walls and vehicles floating down the street.

Daniel Francis, of Belvedere Community Forum, said: “It was the biggest flood of the 20th century and it’s the main reason the Thames Barrier was built.

“Belvedere was affected massively. The banks of the Thames broke 11 times and it’s important for younger generations to understand what the town went through 60 years ago.”

Sixty years on, the community is coming together to mark the event which changed Bexley forever.

Belvedere Community Forum is holding a history talk on Saturday, February 2 at Belvedere Community Centre in Mitchell Close from 2-4pm. For more details call 01322 435840 or email belvedereforum@virginmedia.com.

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