Borough and council history

From Turroc to modern Thurrock

Our borough has a long time-line of heritage from early prehistoric times through the developing patterns of settlement, farming and industrial development in the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron ages, with continuing expansion and changing cultures through the Roman and Saxon periods. The name 'Thurrock' can be traced back to a recognisable administrative unit in Saxon times and originates from an Anglo-Saxon estate known as 'Turroc'.

The boundaries of this pre-conquest 'Turroc' are not known precisely but the medieval parish names of Grays Thurrock, Little Thurrock and West Thurrock appear to be its nucleus. The origin of the word 'Thurrock' appears to mean in Saxon or Old English, either 'the bottom part of a boat where the bilge water lies' or a 'dung heap' in a field!

Grays, the administrative centre of the borough now, is a shortened form of 'Grays Thurrock' – the original parish of Thurrock – which was in the possession of the de Gray family, from 1195 when King Richard the Lionheart confirmed the purchase of the parish to Henry De Gray who, as owner, became the Lord of the Manor. The King's approval suggests this Knight had given service to the king. This parish ownership stayed in the De Gray family until the early 16th century.

Chafford and Barstable Hundred

Thurrock is divided by 2 administrative units originating from Saxon times, called 'Hundreds':

  • 'Chafford' to the west
  • 'Barstable' to the east

These were the catchment areas for dealing with crime, taxes and disputes, often dealt with by the community leaders of that Hundred. The Hundreds cover large areas beyond Thurrock, traditionally thought to be made up of 100 villages, but in fact consists of more than that figure. The 'Chafford Hundred' housing estate adopted the name in 1987.

The Orsett Union

The amalgamation of individual parishes which now form the current Thurrock as we know it, formally came together in 1835 when, following the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, these parishes formed a 'union' known as The Orsett Union, for the purpose of meeting their obligations towards the poor.

This allowed for the joint provision of a workhouse, a service based in Orsett where a Union office was built in 1837. The Orsett Workhouse was enlarged in 1839 and became the sole workhouse for the Thurrock area and was supported by a local 'Poor law' rate which continued until 1948.

The site continued after 1948 under the administration of the National Health Service and was developed into Orsett hospital, alongside Tilbury Cottage Hospital until it closed in the early 1970s and the Isolation Hospital in Long Lane which continues as a long term care centre. Over the years Orsett has grown in to our largest hospital although in recent years some services have relocated to Basildon Hospital.

The boundary of the Orsett Union corresponds almost exactly with the present boundary of the Borough of Thurrock and contains the same 15 parishes. There have been some minor boundary adjustments but the area is substantially the same: Aveley, Bulphan, Chadwell-St-Mary, Corringham, East Tilbury, Fobbing, Grays Thurrock, Horndon-on-the-Hill, Little Thurrock, Laindon, Mucking, South Ockendon, Stanford-Le-Hope, Stifford, West Thurrock (including Purfleet).

Before the amalgamation of these parishes into a single Urban District in 1936, the Orsett Union area was widely referred to as "The Orsett Hundred" after the ancient administrative divisions of the county recorded in the Doomsday book, although technically it was partly in the Chafford Hundred and partly in the Barstable Hundred.

When the Thurrock Urban District was formally created in 1936, its shape had already been on the map for about 100 years. It was a natural grouping of parishes, being for example the area covered by the local historian William Palin in his books on 'Stifford and its Neighbourhood' in the early 1870s.

It was also essentially the area covered by 'The Grays and Tilbury Gazette' newspaper from 1884 and the area to which 'Piggs', bakers and grocers of Orsett, undertook deliveries in the early part of the present century as did the 'Grays Co-operative Society' movement. The Thurrock parishes were further united in the Orsett and Grays Rural Deanery, which published a joint magazine.

The geography of the region provides some natural boundaries such as the Thames itself along the southern flanks with its associated junctions with the Mardyke to the West and Hole Haven Creek to the East. The northern boundary is less obvious although part of it is provided in dramatic fashion by the Langdon Hills.

Local Government Administration originated from the Parish Councils through to the formation of Rural Town and District Councils, also include the Orsett Sewage and Drains Committee:

  • Grays Thurrock Urban District Council, 29 June 1886
  • Orsett Rural District Council, c1895
  • Tilbury Town Council, 1912
  • Purfleet Urban District Council, 1929

Thurrock Urban District Council

Immediately before this amalgamation the Thurrock area or 'Orsett Hundred' had been divided for Local Government purposes into four areas, which when joined together corresponded more or less to the present borough. These were the Urban Districts of Grays Thurrock, Tilbury and Purfleet and the Orsett Rural District which united the rural areas.

There was some dispute between the district councils over the form of amalgamation to be adopted, it was the proposal to amalgamate on the basis of 'Orsett Hundred as one Urban District' (Grays and Tilbury Gazette 24th June 1933) that led to agreement. The choice of a name for the new authority was also a matter of much debate, 'Graysbury' had some support but the suggestion by the Grays librarian, that the ancient 'Thurrock' be chosen, met with widespread approval.

The amalgamation in 1936 which created the Thurrock Urban District was certainly seen locally as the formal unification of the 'Orsett Hundred'. An editorial in the Grays and Tilbury Gazette for the 18th January 1935 commented on The Essex Review Order, which confirmed the amalgamation "So the official seal has been set on the ambition of years".

The Grays and Tilbury Gazette of 23 May 1936 reported, "One local organisation that has taken advantage of the opportunity to change its name, is the Thurrock (formerly Grays and District) Temperance Choral Society". Among local businesses, the Thurrock Finance Corporation was similarly quick to use the new name (Kelly's Directory 1937). The first 'Thurrock Organisations Directory' (published 1950) lists 38 local organisations with the word 'Thurrock' in their title (appendix 4).

Shape and character

The familiar shape of Thurrock on the map is supported by a distinctive character. Its nature is such, that, in many ways it is closer to the east London boroughs than to the rural county. Large scale industrial developments have been taking place in the borough since the last century and there is a long history of Londoners moving into Thurrock for work and housing.

Thurrock's riverside communities have been particularly linked with London through the river trades, Tilbury Docks (opened 1886), and the Port of London Authority since its creation in 1909. Thurrock's popular culture has much in common with that of east London. This applies not just to the more obviously industrial parts of the Borough, as the Belhus Estate in the South Ockendon/Aveley area, was built specifically to re-house large numbers of Londoners after the Second World War. By 1959 the London County Council had built 4,000 houses and 1,320 flats there.

In 1974 with the re-organisation of local government, services like libraries were removed to Essex County control. Thurrock gained borough status in 1984. The huge Chafford Hundred housing development started in 1988 and other housing schemes currently under way will further develop the urban character of the area and help to maintain Thurrock's distinct identity within the county as has the Lakeside regional shopping centre.

On 1 April 1998 Thurrock Borough Council became a Unitary Authority, with the return of library services and taking on new services, notably education, social care and trading standards – yet another development in Thurrock's long history.