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A Brief Introduction to Grays Thurrock

Grays Thurrock is situated in South Essex and is an area of approximately 65 square miles. The River Thames runs along the southern edge whilst east London forms the western side and Basildon’s urban sprawl to the east. Thurrock is a region comprising low-lying marshland in the south, the steep rise of Langdon Hills in the north, with rich farmland and fens at the heart.

One Tree Hill, a local beauty spot, offers a southern vista over the ‘Ockendons’ comprising North and South Ockendon and Aveley, originally smallholdings and farms which have now changed to ‘new’ estates primarily built for the London homeless after the last war. There are some rural pockets still left, the fine St Nicholas church with an unusual round tower built in 13th century and the 15th century Royal Oak both stand on the village green at South Ockendon. North Ockendon and Aveley are largely unspoilt and the modern shop fronts at Aveley are below buildings that look like they were built over a century ago.

The village of Bulvan - which means fortified fen - is now spelt Bulphan. It lies between One Tree Hill and the Ockendens and consists of arable grazing land interspersed with smallholdings and houses. The Mardyke, a small river, acts as a drainage ditch for the land in the Bulphan fens used to hold specially designed barges to connect the farms on the fen. Bulphan village is now cut in half by the A128 trunk road.

Purfleet can be found to the south of Aveley. Legend has it that Queen Elizabeth I stood at the top of a hill and while looking down at her navy at anchor tossing around in a storm, said ‘Oh my poor fleet’ but actually the name came from ‘the fleot' (stream) of Purta. This reference is to the Mardyke that joins the Thames there. Many large national companies, including Esso Petroleum, favour the site as Purfleet has a beneficial position being on the northern end of the river crossing for the M25 orbital motorway.



West Thurrock is next to Purfleet, heavily industrial as well but not so long ago West Thurrock was completely agricultural land. The historic St Clements church, which still stands but dominated by the power station and Procter & Gamble and was used in the filming of ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral, once offered a safe place for pilgrims waiting to cross the river to Canterbury.

Other villages along the London road towards Grays are South and North Stifford. South Stifford once self-sufficient with it’s own shops and school and North Stifford the rich relation a sprawling village of old and new. There is also the 12th century church St Mary the Virgin, some thatched cottages and Coppid Hall build in 18th century. Clock house Lane is at the opposite end of the village to the church and takes its name from the clock house where Sir Thomas Gourney, Sheriff of Essex, lived in 1692. The house was on the site of the now 'Dog and Partridge' public house.

Further along the London road is Grays or Grays Thurrock as it is called. Once a pretty working port with lodging houses for the barge crews working out of the port and the ‘Old Dutch House’ the birthplace of the Grays Co-operative Society. Nowadays Grays is a rather shabby town, modernised and overshadowed by the retail development of Lakeside that opened in 1990. Many fine buildings such as the Queens Hotel and Bull Inn, Grays Fire station and the Carnegie Free Library were all demolished during redevelopment. Many terraced houses were built during the early 20th century.

If you take the old Tilbury road out of Grays you come to Little Thurrock, not much is left of the original village, the church of St Mary, the old school house and clock tower, the Bull Inn and several ancient farm labourers’ cottages. Socketts Heath falls within the parish of Little Thurrock and famous the Hangman’s Wood in which are strange ‘Daneholes’ (pronounced Denehole) that have puzzled people for many years. It is thought that they were used for storage or hiding places or excavated for chalk or flints. Houses in Little Thurrock in North Grays built in early 20th century were larger and more expensive that the town and mostly semi-detached or detached.

After Little Thurrock you take the road down to the marshes to Tilbury, across which can be seen the distant dockside cranes and ship funnels of the Tilbury Docks which opened in 1886 and is a busy port of call for the massive container ships which come up the Thames. Tilbury Docks has grown considerably in the last hundred years and the town has grown from nothing. The oldest part is West Tilbury that boasts many old buildings from the 17th century including the Water Gate completed in 1682 and the World’s End public house, a name given over a century ago because a ferry had crossed the river for hundreds of years and the Worlds End in where the passengers waited for the ferryman.

From the Worlds End to West Tilbury village you use the same road that Ferry passengers and soldiers used and which meanders across marshland until it reaches West Tilbury at Gun Hill. It was at St James church, now a private residence, that a Roundhead General in 1648 while travelling from Maidstone to lay siege at Colchester allowed his men to camp here. In the fields beyond the church it is said that Queen Elizabeth I at the time of the Armada threat delivered her famous rallying speech in 1588.

Down the river to the east lies East Tilbury the home of the Bata Shoe Factory and many houses built for the factory workers and Tilbury Fort, known as Coalhouse Fort. Henry VIII built the fort as a blockhouse and General Gordon undertook a rebuilding scheme in 1861. The fort is now restored and is a military museum.

The hamlet of Linford lies at the other side of the railway crossing to East Tilbury. Once called Muckingord, the name was changed in the late 1880 when luxury housing was built here and close by is Chadwell St Mary, built on a crossroads. On one corner is Sleepers Farm a 500-year-old farmhouse and the village possesses the fine Norman Church of St Mary, which contains many well-preserved ecclesiastical treasures. In the latter part of 20th century the fields were chosen for a new housing estate, which demolished all the old shops and houses completely changing the area.

The parish of Mucking contains some fine buildings including St Cleres Hall situated near Rookery Corner that was once a busy road junction before the new A13 truck road was built. The roads to Horndon –on- the-Hill and Stanford-le-Hope feed from the old A13 that passes within yards of St Cleres Hall’s immaculate lawns. Stanford-le-Hope hosts the magnificent hill top church of St Margaret of Antioch, whose foundations date back to Norman times, which once was the hub of the village beside the Cock and Magpie Inn, the blacksmith’s shop and other shops needed for everyday life. In 1897 Joseph Conrad lived in Ivy Walls, an Elizabethan farmhouse in Billet Lane, had his son Boris there in 1898 and completed his novel ‘The Black Narcissus’.

Close to Stanford-le-Hope are Corringham, Fobbing and Coryton, once called Kynochtown, created in 1895 when Kynoch and Company bought Borley Farm a 200 acre site on desolate marshes. Many houses were build to house the workers. When war with South Africa broke out in 1899 the factory produced thousands of tons of explosives the factory closed in 1919.

To the west of Horndon-on-the-Hill is Orsett., which has retained it’s rural feel and hosts many fine buildings At the end of the Orsett road is Orsett Fruit Farm where good cider was once sold and Orsett Hall once the home of Col. Sir Frances Whitmore, Lord Lieutenant of Essex, that is now used as a hotel. Along the High Road is the hamlet of Baker Street where a fine smock windmill and 17th century Mill House have been renovated


Thurrock for many years has a good deal of Industry, especially along the riverside. Many tons of Chalk has been quarried and bricks in there thousands have been made in various brickfields over the years. Companies favouring Thurrock include Thames Board Mills, Procter & Gamble, Van den Burghs & Jergens, Esso and Shell and many other national and local businesses. In the past, windmills could be seen all over the area and Tilbury Docks have provided employment for over 100 years.

The River

The River Thames forms Thurrock’s southern boundary and has always been used by local residents for transport, as a source of food, for recreation and even a sewer. Thames barges travelled backward and forwards to |London and training ships could always be seen moored offshore. The training ship ‘Cornwall’ was moored close to the Royal Hotel, Purfleet from 1868-1928.

The Railway

In the late 1880’s the railway opened up Thurrock to development. In 1882 the London, Tilbury & Southend railway company as the first and operated across Thurrock from west to east with a detour from Tilbury to the Gravesend Ferry. The company took delivery of its own engines in 1880, and named them after towns and villages in Essex, previously they were on loan from G.E.R.

Social Events

In November 1913, Grays came to a standstill for the funeral of Mr Charles Seabrooke, head of Thurrock Brewery.
In July 1912, Police officers were called from other forces to Grays Station after a strike at Tilbury Docks. There was trouble because of the ‘blacklegs’ and trains were pelted when passing through Grays to Tilbury Docks