his paper analyses consolidation with radial drainage to concentric inner and outer fixed drainage boundaries. An analysis in which coupling between flow of pore water and effective stress change is ignored gives results that are not physically reasonable. An exact closed form solution can be developed to the equation of radial pore water diffusion in an elastic material and the results of this analysis are compared with a third, finite element analysis, using an elastic-plastic description of the soil. Elastic and elastic-plastic analyses are compared in terms of isochrones of pore pressure, radial displacement and stress change within the sample, and in terms of the strain and stress paths followed by different soil elements in the consolidating clay. Non-uniformities of effective stress state, and hence of soil stiffness, can develop during consolidation; the pattern of deformations that develops is completely dominated by the occurrence of plastic strains. The oedometer should not be regarded as a single element test. The results of the analyses are in principle specific to the boundary conditions assumed, but some general aspects of soil behaviour are identified and observations are made on the implications of the results for geotechnical design.