Townsend, Charles Edward Clifton 1908 - 1993

(1908-1993) River Engineer

Charles Edward Clifton Townsend was a river engineer most well-known for his work for the Port of London Authority and the improvement in the Thames’ water quality this brought about.

Born in 1909 he began his engineering career at the Southern Railway in 1931, a company he continued to work for until the outbreak of the Second World War. During this conflict he spent some time with an anti-aircraft searchlight battalion before being transferred to the Royal Engineers in June 1941. As part of this he served in North Africa and Italy as well as being involved in the construction of the Mulberry Harbour for the Normandy landings in 1944.

In 1948 he joined the Port of London Authority as River Engineer. At the time the Thames was heavily polluted with various chemical to such an extent that parts were totally devoid of oxygen. As a result, the river was unable to support fish or other marine life and in some cases was actually poisonous. Following several studies in the 1950s the government passed responsibility for pollution control to the Port of London and this resulted in the 1963 establishment of the Thames Estuary Study Group and the 1965 establishment of the Clean Thames Consultation Panel, both of which had Charles Townsend as secretary. The resultant clean-up of the river was considered a world first for a heavily polluted metropolitan estuary and a major environmental advance. Although many of the result took a great deal of time to become apparent even by 1969 improvements had been reported, with 41 species of fish being caught compared to zero ten years before. Much of this work would continue after Townsend’s retirement as River Conservator and Principal Pollution Control Officer in 1970.

Charles Edward Clifton Townsend died on 29th June 1993 in Tangmere, Sussex.