Historical parishes of Thurrock

West Thurrock, incorporating Purfleet

Parish facts:

  • A Roman grave dating to the 3rd century A.D, was discovered along London Road, it contained an amphora, used for shipping grape concentrate or fish paste, 3 samian ware bowls made in France and a glass flask possibly from Germany. A locally produced earthenware jar with lid, contained the cremated bones, all of which were placed inside the large amphora.

  • The Royal Gunpowder Magazines were transferred from Greenwich to Purfleet in 1760, as it was considered a risk to have so much gun powder so close to London. The magazines accepted in gunpowder produced or purchased by the Government and supplied it to the Navy and Army as required.

  • In 1772 Benjamin Franklin was asked his opinion as to the design of lighting conductors at Purfleet Magazine, he recommended the conductor rods should end in points, however he was overruled by King George III's decision to end them in 'balls'.

  • In 1803 the Whitbread estates at Purfleet installed the first Essex example of a horse drawn railway in the chalk pits at Purfleet where lime manufacture was the main industry. Samuel Whitbread purchased the estate in the 1790's

  • In 1871 Edmund Brookes introduced cement manufacturing to Thurrock, this was ideally suited as the raw materials of chalk and clay were nearby and the Thames barges could transport the finished product. A number of cement companies operated in Thurrock including Wouldham, Tunnel and La Farge.

  • On the night of March 31st, 1916, Gunners at Purfleet, protecting the Royal Gunpowder Magazines, engaged AA fire against Zeppelin LZ15, damaging the airship so badly she finally crashed at the Nore, Captain J. Harris claimed a prize offered by the Lord Mayor of London Sir Charles Wakefield for shooting down the first zeppelin. This prize was converted into gold medallions, given to all gunners who engaged the enemy that night, it records "Well Hit, LZ15 31st March 1916".

  • In 1919, Captain Gordon Steele was awarded the Victoria Cross for an action against the White Russian battle fleet at Kronstadt harbour. Gordon was partly brought up at Purfleet, where his father was the Captain of the Reformatory ship Cornwall. He possibly attended Palmers School in Grays. Gordon retired as Captain Superintendent of a Training Ship at Greenhithe, Kent.

  • Invited by the Government in 1917, to help bolster food shortage, Van den Bergh margarine factory was set up on the West Thurrock marshes, it still produces Flora and Stork margarine today, but is owner by Unilever.

  • Gibb's chalk pit in 1928 was used to re-create a 1st World War battle scene for the filming of "The Guns of Loos" based on the brave exploits of Piper Laidlaw who wins a V.C. The film was the debut for Madeleine Caroll (Played lead role in The 39 Steps in 1935), and several locals who acted as extras! Gibb's pit supplied chalk to Gibbs tooth paste manufacture.

  • The Purfleet-Dartford Tunnel, joining Essex and Kent completed its first bore in 1939 but was abandoned because of the outbreak of war. The Dartford Tunnel was finally completed in 1965 and has been added to with a second tunnel in 1980 and Queen Elizabeth II Bridge on October 30th 1991 to carry the M25 traffic.

  • In 1942, one time water speed ace Donald Campbell worked at Briggs Motor Bodies Ltd. in West Thurrock, at the time manufacturing 'Jerry' cans for the war effort. Some skills learnt here were probably utilised in constructing Blue Bird in which he eventually lost his life in a crash on Conningston Waters while trying to beat the world water speed record.

  • In 1984 the Tunnel Estate for light industry and lakeside Retail Park was established in the bottom of the chalk quarries of the then shut down Tunnel Cement Company. Later across the lake in the bottom of the quarry in September 1988 work was begun to built a Regional Shopping Centre to be called "Lakeside". This contains 300 retail units consisting of cinemas, restaurants, shops and department stores and opened in October 1990.

  • The successful Channel 4 film, "Four Weddings and a Funeral" was partly filmed in West Thurrock in 1995. The funeral scenes with views of QE2 Bridge and the funeral service at St. Clements Church, included several local 'extras'.

  • Bram Stoker's incredible success of 'Dracula' published in 1897 includes Purfleet as the site of 'Carfax House' to be purchased by the Count. It is from this house that Count Dracula wishes to operate his vampire activities. Research indicates that Stoker was probably a visitor to Purfleet, prior to publishing his novel, as the area was a popular Victorian London tourist attraction. Several buildings and landscapes existing in the area at that time can be simulated to the original text.