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Stoke Newington flood
Photograph: Leon Neal / Getty

Why Stoke Newington flooded so badly yesterday

Stokey is built over one of London’s hidden rivers, it transpires

India Lawrence
Written by
India Lawrence

Yesterday, after a week of immense heat, Stoke Newington saw some unreal scenes after torrential rainfall caused flash flooding. Chaos ensued as water gushed on to roads, pavements and parks, flooding local shops, pubs and homes. 

Yesterday the Met Office put out an amber weather warning across London and parts of south-east England, meaning that there could be a threat to life. It warned there were likely to be floods, power cuts and travel disruptions. 

Videos shared on Twitter showed water rapidly taking over N16.

Amber Middleton is a manager at The Three Crowns pub on Church Street. ‘When I was walking to work there was an insane amount of water in the road, all the drains were blocked, I couldn’t cross the street because there was so much flooding,’ she said. 

‘The whole pavement and road were taken over by this gigantic river. People were struggling to drive through it and it was a nightmare walking. At work, the cellar where we keep the spirits had leaked. Loads of boxes of stuff were ruined by the water. There are six flats above the pub: they were all leaking so much [the residents] had to find new accommodation. We almost ended up closing the pub for the day but luckily we managed to work around it.’

Why is Stoke Newington prone to flooding?

While some people will tell you flash floods are a sign of the impending apocalypse, there’s actually a scientific reason behind why places like Stokey are more prone to being submerged.  

According to this map, Stoke Newington has a high risk of flooding from surface water. This means that its chance of flooding every year is greater than 3.3 percent. Surface-water flooding happens when there is so much rainfall that it overwhelms storm drains and the water isn’t able to flow away. This gets worse after a heatwave, as dried-out ground is much slower to absorb liquid.  

Earlier this week, meteorologist Dr Rob Thompson from the University of Reading tweeted a demonstration of what happens when water tries to penetrate drought-baked ground.

He explained to the PA news agency: ‘Experience around the world has shown what can happen when heavy rain follows a very dry and hot period that has baked the soil hard. The water can’t soak in easily, most of it just runs straight off the surface, which can quickly turn into flash floods.’

Intriguingly, Stokey also sits above a hidden river called Hackney Brook. It’s one of London’s 12 subterranean streams – Thames tributaries that were built over, mostly in the nineteenth century, to allow for the construction of roads, railways and housing. Back in the day, the brook ran through Islington and Hackney before joining the River Lea at Old Ford in Tower Hamlets. When heavy rainfall adds to this underground river, the water can be forced back above ground, further contributing to the flooding.  

The clean-up from the floods is still taking place across London, as Victoria Station and the Houses of Parliament were also hit by torrential rainfall. We seem to be in the clear for now, as there is no more rain forecast for the rest of the week. In the meantime, though, it might be time to apply for planning consent for that ark. 

London is allegedly the greenest city in Europe.

Meanwhile, the source of the Thames has actually dried up.

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