Agriculture to industry - the evolution of Thurrock since 1948

20 June 2018

On 22 June 1948, 492 migrants from the Caribbean disembarked at Tilbury Docks, arriving in response to adverts to help Great Britain in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Thurrock has changed immeasurably since that time, but just what would have greeted the new arrivals 70 years ago and how would it have compared with what the borough looks like today?

One of the first sights the new arrivals would have seen is the now closed Tilbury Riverside Station. The railway was nationalised into British Railways in 1948, becoming part of the London Midland Region. Now, after a number of changes, the line through Thurrock has been operated by c2c since 2002 and the borough is today just a 35 minute train journey from central London.

Although 70% of Thurrock remains greenbelt, the borough is much more built-up today and the population has significantly increased since 1948. Housing estates were built at Aveley and Belhus in the west of Thurrock during the 1950s. In the east, Corringham has also expanded with new housing, while the borough is set to undergo significant growth and regeneration in the years to come, with a further 32,000 new homes expected over the next 20 years.

Thurrock was more agricultural than industrial in the Windrush era, but industry began arriving after the Second World War, with Van Den Bergh's margarine factory opening in Purfleet and Ford opening later in Aveley. The cement industry which had been in the area for decades gradually diminished and the borough is now home to retail and creative industries.

The first phase of High House Production Park in Purfleet was completed in 2010, bringing a totally different dimension to Thurrock. Facilities at the park include the Royal Opera House Bob and Tamar Manoukian Production Workshop and Costume Centre, a national training centre for creative and cultural skills, and Acme Artists' Studios. Thurrock also now boasts one of the country's leading shopping centres, Lakeside, which, together with its connected retail park, is among the largest retail areas in Europe and still growing.

In 1948, the A13 was an entirely single carriageway road. Parts of the road now have 3 lanes, while a further 2.3 mile stretch is set to be widened to 3 lanes as part of a multi-million pound Thurrock Council project – supported by the South East Local Enterprise Partnership and the Local Growth Fund – that will have significant benefits to businesses and residents.

Approval was first given for a tunnel between Purfleet/West Thurrock and Dartford in Kent way back in 1929 and a pilot tunnel was completed in 1938. The Second World War meant no further progress was made until the subject was raised again in the 1950s. The crossing was eventually opened in 1963 when the toll for cars was 2s. 6d. (12.5p) per crossing and just 11,000 vehicles a day used it. Following a huge increase in usage, a second tunnel was completed in 1980 and the Queen Elizabeth II bridge opened in 1992, with about 140,000 vehicles a day now using the crossing.

Nowadays Thurrock is well positioned on the M25, with excellent transport links into London, Essex and Kent. The borough is at the heart of global trade and logistics, with no fewer than three international ports – Port of Tilbury, DP World London Gateway Port and Purfleet Thames Terminal – and the UK's largest logistics park. The Port of Tilbury continues to grow, with plans to develop Tilbury 2 on the site of the old Tilbury Power Station.

Despite its growth and development, Thurrock retains a unique cultural identity, including two historic forts and many areas of wildlife and natural beauty such as Chafford Gorges Nature Park, Rainham Marshes and Thameside Nature Park.

With special thanks to Thurrock Local History Society.

What next for Thurrock

The planned growth and regeneration of Thurrock over the next decade is expected to ensure the borough and its residents prosper for generations to come.

Immediately to the east of London, with its riverside location and strategic transport links, Thurrock is already home to some of the most exciting industries and organisations in the country, including the internationally-renowned Royal Opera House and 3 international ports at the heart of global trade and logistics.

The borough is one of the largest growth areas in the UK and has major regeneration projects concentrated around 6 growth hubs in Purfleet (below), Grays, Lakeside and West Thurrock, Tilbury, London Gateway and Thames Enterprise Park.

With 1,000 acres of land ready for business development and £20billion of planned investment in creating jobs, homes and infrastructure, the future is certainly very bright for Thurrock.