The Westminster Thames Tide Recorder

Usually not given a second glance, the Thames Tide Gauge Hut distinct in its bluish-green weathered copper has been a fixed part of the Thames landscape for many years. Yet the instruments set up inside are up-to-date and functional, with computerised measuring instruments and digital displays, sending information on the depth of the river at Westminster Bridge, to the Thames Barrier every fifteen minutes. The live data goes straight to the Control Room, then published online and on third party websites or apps.
Experienced skippers navigating the Thames, will know that the readings of the levels from the Westminster tide gauge are measured from the mean sea level rather than the river bed, so do not necessarily represent the actual depth of the water.

View across the river from the South Bank

The Hut is set on the Grade II listed Victoria Embankment wall. Its exterior upkeep is the responsibility of Westminster City Council and the tide reading equipment is maintained by the Environment Agency.

Looking down from Westminster Bridge
Tide hut seen from above with view across to Westminster Pier
The tide hut with Westminster Bridge in the background

Previously daubed with ugly little stickers, fly posters and graffiti, the Thames Tide Gauge Hut has recently undergone a complete exterior repair and clean by the Structures Department of FM Conway Ltd. Supervisor Jason Critchell explained in an article, published by Construct, the company’s magazine: “It had become worn over time […] In some areas the copper was down to 1 mm but we only replaced the door and one minor section.” The copper cladding had to be sanded down to remove any damage, and any replacement needed had to be “like for like, including replicating the patina of the copper”. The work was finished off by the application of a protective wax coating which will ease the Tide Hut’s future preservation and maintenance.

An image from The Wonderful Story of London; ed. Harold Wheeler; Odhams Press Ltd., London, c. 1937

Having discovered this image in the book above, I have tried to find out – and so far failed – who designed the tide monitoring hut and when it was installed. It is possible that it was set up during the construction of the Victoria Embankment, built as part of the massive development by Joseph W. Bazalgette of a sewerage system for London in the 1860s. What is certain is that it was in place by 1937…

View from steps above
Clouded windows make it difficult to read the instruments within
The Westminster tide hut part of the Thames landscape, its copper exterior maintained by Conway.

Sources and further Information
See River Levels UK and live readings at Westminster
Flood Forecaster on Twitter @AlanBarrierEA
Responsible for maintenance FM Conway Ltd
FM Conway, article in Construct Magazine
The Wonderful Story of London, ed. Harold Wheeler, Odhams Press, Ltd., c. 1937.
Film with a section on the Thames Tide Recorder showing it covered in stickers.