History on the River Thames

Grays Wharf

Recently work has been carried out on stabilising the Grays Town Wharf, alongside the other residential developments along the river frontage, leading towards the The Wharf Pub and beyond.

The old town wharf at Grays dates back to medieval times and was an important facility, which, helped Grays to develop but was closely linked to the Lord of the Manor. The exclusive rights granted to provide boats for passage of goods and people, and to have the sole right to a wharf where wharfage dues could be collected was an important proportion of income for the Lord of the Manor.

It was the case in Grays that the Lord of the Manor also leased the ferry rights and received 'due custom' for goods, animals and passengers using the facilities. The earliest reference to Grays Wharf is a complaint by the Prior of the Hospital of Jerusalem in England against unreasonable access and tolls by Richard de Gray, Lord of the Manor of Thurrock in 1228 in the reign of Henry III.

The family name of Gray first purchased the manor of 'Thurrock' in 1195, from Isaac the Jew, having gained permission from King Richard the Lionheart. The family had a 300-year association with the area and their surname was later adapted in to the name of the parish, Grays Thurrock.

References to rates laid down for water passage, by different boats to Grays and other places are found from 1559 onwards. Indeed there was a plethora of tilt-boats; light oarsmen and wherries, all vying for business and regulations were put into force protecting the rights of the Gravesend 'long ferry' operators.

Grays was being served on every tide by 1637 by the 'Long Ferry' boats from Lion key (just downstream from London bridge), although to use this service, you would probably have to carefully transfer mid stream to a smaller boat, to be berthed at Grays wharf.

Records from the Court Leet give an insight to the traffic through Grays Wharf in 1756, the Lord of the Manor now being James Theobald (The Theobald Arms pub is named after him) who agreed to the rates and prices of wharfage of goods for that year, examples being:

  • A hog 2d;
  • A fat calf 2d;
  • A sheep 1d;
  • 36 gal barrel of ale 7d;
  • Chaldron of coals 1d;
  • Garden fruit per bushel 1/2d;
  • Load of Hay or straw 4d;
  • 1000 bricks 6d;
  • Soldiers and baggage per regiment 2.20d.

Pier wharf was adjacent and was developed in 1841 with a pier 400 feet long, to ensure that passengers could now catch ferries at whatever the state of the tide and not have to transfer into smaller transfer boats for access.

Associated on either side of the wharf, were many companies operating along the foreshore of Grays, some had there own river facility for brining in raw materials or transporting the finished products.

These included in the 19th century Barge building (Goldsmiths), Corn Factors (Cole and Lequire), Timber importers (Bruce's Wharf), ship breakers (Wards Wharf) Grays Co-operative wharf for Coal, Kilvert's Oil and Lard factory and Drums Oil drum manufacturers, were all established and thriving establishments, bringing work and prosperity to Grays.

A Public right of way still exists to one side of Grays Wharf allowing pedestrian access to the river frontage.


  • Panorama, Journal of the Thurrock Local History Society