The Tilbury Riverside station was first built as part of the London Tilbury & Southend Railway developments of 1854, with a landing stage facility, so that rail passengers could join the ferry to either Gravesend or passenger liners for more distant journeys. Soon it was realised that a dock built downstream would be more efficient in turn round speed of cargo boats and the East and West India Docks Company completed the building of the new docks at Tilbury in 1886.
After the First World the number of passengers coming through Tilbury docks was increasing, and it was realised that no central facilities existed for passengers, and as large liners could navigate and berth in the river at Tilbury, it was decided that Tilbury would become the centre of passenger operations for London. With this in mind the Port of London Authority (PLA) and the Midland Railway Company promoted a Bill in parliament to build a passenger landing stage at Tilbury. The Bill was passed in 1922 and construction work began two years later, but by this time, the Midland Railway had been absorbed into the London, Midland & Scottish Railway Company. Work started in 1926 on the new landing stage.
Construction of the Landing stage
The final design by Sir Edwin Cooper for the landing stage incorporated and floating platform secured to the riverbank by hinged steel booms, which enabled it to rise and fall 21 ft. with the tide. The constructional work on the landing stage was carried out by the Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Co. The Total length of the landing stage was 1,142 ft, with 842 ft. reserved for Passenger liner and 300 ft. for ferries (both passenger and vehicle). At the western end of the landing stage, a two-storey building was constructed which housed Immigration and general offices as well as a waiting area for passengers. Five bridges connect the Landing stage to the Riverside station. Sir William Arrol & Co. built the new access roads and bridge over the rail tracks.
Opening of the Landing Stage
The landing stage was opened by the then Prime Minister, J. Ramsey MacDonald on 16th May 1930. The prime Minister and other invited guests travelled down from London on the General Steam Navigation Companies paddle steamer "The Crested Eagle" and were greeted on arrival by the Band of the Coldstream Guards. The ceremony ended with the arrival of the P& O liner "The Mongolia" which embarked passengers bound for Australia, after which the invited guests retired for a special luncheon and speeches in the baggage Hall. The Bishop of Barking blessed the achievement.
Baggage Hall & Riverside Station
A large baggage hall was constructed which was close on 100 yards. Long by 72 ft. wide and was designed by Sir Edwin Cooper. A 'Cupola' topped the baggage hall. This cathedral like proportioned building would have been the first or last building to see for the many travelling in and out of the country on the passenger liners. In addition a new Riverside station was constructed and included a 'Turret' with a weather vane and a clock, the building included inside a free standing ticket office built of brick and alongside the main hall was a refreshments and bar facility.
The Landing stage saw many famous people pass through its doors due to its proximity to London, the train journey took 45 minutes, including many film stars and actors and the England Cricket Team on their way to tour Australia in 1932. On the 4th July 1932 the maximum passengers disembarked in one day, from six ships, was 2,470 passengers. In 1934 L.M.S. reported 666 boat trains were run to service liners.
World War Two
Just before the Second World War Thurrock was designated as a danger area and so an evacuation plan was formulated to evacuate all Thurrock school children, on the 2nd September 1939, young children from Tilbury were escorted to Tilbury Landing Stage and boarded the Paddle Steamers "Crested Eagle" and " Golden Eagle" which was to take them to Suffolk. The other children travelled on the next day. In late 1944 a V2 rocket scored a direct hit on sidings near to Tilbury Riverside destroying 4 freight wagons and 140 passenger coaches, including some reserved as Ambulance trains. At the same time the station was blasted and the goods yard almost destroyed as well as two ferries being damaged.
The post War Years
After the war there was still busy ocean liner traffic from Tilbury, for example by 1947 visits by liners had reached pre-war levels of 300 per year, handling around 140,000 passengers. The Empire Windrush's voyage from the Caribbean to Tilbury took place in 1948. Believe it or not, very few of the migrants intended to stay in Britain for more than a few years. In their heyday running at 15 minute intervals the cross river ferries including acting as tenders to liners berthed in the Thames, carried around 3,000,000 passengers annually, but by the late 1960's the ocean liner traffic began to decline and with it the number of people using the landing stage and station began to decrease.
In 1981 British Rail ended through trains to Southend from Tilbury Riverside and so passengers now had to be shuttled up to Tilbury Town Station and pick up a train there. In 1985 P.L.A. renamed the facilities the London Cruise Terminal and in 1992 the Tilbury Railway Station was formerly closed. The building of the Fortress Distribution Centre meant the clearance of the Arrol Bridge and the truncation of the railway lines to the station. In 1995 the landing stage was formally re-opened and more recently the restaurant pub attached to the station has been refurbished as the Tilbury Riverside Activity & Arts Centre.