Urban flooding in Britain: An approach to comparing ancient and contemporary flood exposure

T. E. O’Shea*, J. Lewin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (SciVal)
90 Downloads (Pure)


Using modified UK Environment Agency Flood Estimation Handbook techniques, inundation extent and likely flood hydrographs for 0.1% probability annual return periods are compared for twelve Roman town sites in the UK, both at the present day and for simulated Roman catchment conditions. Eight of the study sites appear to have suffered minimal urban flood liability as occupied in the Roman period. The exceptions were Canterbury, York, Leicester, and Chichester. It is reasonable to expect flood characteristics to have changed subsequently in response to transformations in catchment land use, urban expansion, wetland reclamation, and floodway engineering. However, modelling results suggest limited differences in flood flows attributable to such factors. Greater present-day urban damage liability essentially results from floodplain urban extension. There are also contrasts between sites: those Roman towns lying on floodplains themselves, rather than on slightly elevated terraces (Canterbury, Chichester), are dominated by groundwater regimes with attenuated flood peaks. Taken together, these results suggest some Roman awareness of the actualities of urban flood liability at the time. Site sensitivity has not been carried forward as urban expansion has flourished, especially from the nineteenth century with suburban and industrial expansion. The straightforward mapping approach here suggested should in future take account of multiple century-scale hydroclimatic changes, morphological river channel and floodplain transformations over similar time periods, and on-going improvements to inundation modelling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)581-591
Number of pages11
JournalNatural Hazards
Issue number1
Early online date24 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 01 Oct 2020


  • Evolution of risk
  • Flood inundation
  • Hazard perception
  • Historical vulnerability
  • Roman settlements


Dive into the research topics of 'Urban flooding in Britain: An approach to comparing ancient and contemporary flood exposure'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this