History on the River Thames

Grays Park and Beach in Victorian and Edwardian times

Grays Park and Beach have a long history.

The Park

In 1898, the Grays Town Council agreed to purchase eight and a quarter acres of land in the centre of the district at a cost of £2,100. This was derelict ground that had been part of the extensive clay pits used for the important local brick industry.

Within this land purchase, one and a quarter acres were set aside for a council depot. This included stabling for horses, needed to pull the council's carts and other equipment.

The total cost of the depot came to £3,400 and additional buildings a few years later were constructed at a cost of £850 pounds. The depot has now gone and in its place is The Bluebell care home.

The remaining land was laid out as a public recreation ground. Though small, the park forms a useful open space, which would have otherwise been taken up with housing.

An extensive concrete wall had to be constructed on the north and east side of the park to shore up the steep cliff faces of the quarry. This is 6 foot 6 inches high and cost 8 shillings and 6 pence per yard including the foundations – it was noted in 1912 there had been no expense for maintenance! Ivy was planted against this wall to form a good background for the gardens and shrubs.

The park was used much during the summer holidays, with its bandstand often occupied by the Grays Temperance band. There were also Pierrots players (a type of pantomime) and other events staged to entertain Grays families.

The Beach

In 1903, the council purchased four and three quarter acres of land adjoining the River Thames at a cost of £1,880 – the owner having given one acre as a memorial of the Coronation of King Edward VII.

The land is situated on either side of the river wall. The riverside section has been covered with Thames ballast and sand to form a beach, and the ground is known as "The Beach". This was not done, as is widely assumed, with the idea of making Grays a seaside place but as an economical method of rendering useful the mud flats that are covered by the spring tides. It was much appreciated by the children of the neighbourhood who made use of it during the summertime.

On the landward side it was proposed to build a model yachting pond as well as an enclosed open-air swimming bath. As a loan could not be raised through the Local Government Board for the swimming bath, the Sewers Commissioners issued an order to raise the river wall by eighteen inches. The materials for the wall were provided by excavating a deeper pond which was then made available for swimming.

Water was supplied to the pond during the spring tides by a pipe of twenty-one inches joined to the town's own water storage tanks which collected rainwater. The bottom of the pond was mud, but the bathing proved such an attraction that in the autumn of 1905, it was decided it should be deepened and lined with six inches of concrete reinforced with wire netting.

The pond is ninety yards long by fifty yards wide. It is one foot nine inches deep at the sides, where there is a section in front of the diving stage with a depth of nine feet and six inches.

A refreshment kiosk was built on the same level of the river wall, beneath which is a store for model boats and toilet facilities.

In 1912, the pond was open daily during the summer months from 6am to 9am and from 6pm until sunset, at a charge of one pence. The charge of a private dressing box was two pence.

Ladies were admitted free from 9am to 11am daily, and boys of school age from 9am till noon on Saturdays. On other days the boys from the elementary schools had the use of the pond for swimming instruction.

In 1999, the area was redeveloped as a children’s playground. The pond was filled-in with sand and playground equipment added, including an activity centre in a shape of a Pirate Ship. This was removed in 2020 due to its poor state of repair.