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15 August 2022

In this blog Hull Maritime white badge tour guide, Don Knibb writes about the Tidal Surge Barrier across the River Hull. The images are by Olwen Evans-Knibb


The tidal surge barrier was completed in 1980 at a cost of around £4.3 million. The architects were the Shankland Cox Partnership and the engineers were McDonald and partners.

It is the second largest flood barrier in the UK – the largest being on the Thames. The gap between the two towers is 98' and the height when the barrier is raised is around 85' allowing shipping to pass underneath. It was refurbished in 2010.

Prior to its installation Hull – especially the old town - was frequently flooded by high Spring tides and tidal surge events. Particularly bad were September 1966 and 1969 when the water rose over 16'.

Since 2017 the barrier has enjoyed the status of Grade 2 listed building.

The tidal barrier is a Grade 2 listed building.

The steel gate weighs 223 tons and when high tides are predicted is lowered into the River Hull to prevent water from the Humber flowing into it.

It locks into a sill in the river bed. It has been described as looking like – and operating in a similar manner to – an up-and-over garage door.

This does mean that when it's down water can't flow out of the Hull into the Humber, but these flows are pretty small and the River Hull valley has so far always been able to cope.

It can be deployed within 30 minutes of a flood warning and is motorised, but can be cranked into position by hand should the motors fail.

It has been used in earnest at least 30 times since it was built saving the city the trouble and expense of frequent flooding. It stood firm during a serious tidal surge in 2013 even though there was some flooding in docks to the East and West of the city.

The barrier is lowered to protect the area

During Hull's inaugural year as UK City of Culture in 2017 the barrier formed part of an installation called The City Speaks.

Members of the public could speak into a microphone located at the far end of Humber St and see their words scroll up one of the barrier's towers.

The organisers made strenuous efforts to block words which were rude or offensive but were defeated by a six year old boy who was delighted to find that he could repeatedly shout 'Poo!' into the microphone and see the word scrolling on the barrier in all its glory!

Tidal Barrier at night