Riverside north of the Thames and east of the Tower. Purfleet
TQ 55019 78469
Purfleet was a garrison and chalk quarrying village which is now full of a lot of new and very decent housing. The squalor of heavy haulage and rubbish tips are all around. As a village it has a station, a church and a hotel which is doing its best to make something of itself -but very little else. The sole shop seems to be an Indian take away. To the south is the river, largely inaccessible, and to the north various versions of the A13 and the CTRL thundering past. On the old A13 is the Circus Tavern which must represent south east Essex writ large.
Post to the west Purfleet
Post to the north Thurrock
Post to the south Purfleet Board Mill (north bank) and Long Reach Hospital (south bank only)
Beacon Hill is both the name of the old hill with lighthouse and quarry, and of a road on the hill with modern housing.
Excavations here show the site of Paleolithic, Iron Age, and Romano-British settlements. Here the chalk rose to a height of 120 feet but most of the hill has now been quarried away.
Beacon. A system of warning beacons along the Thames was set up in the Middle Ages and revived during the Armada crisis.
Lighthouse. In 1828 the Corporation of Trinity House leased a piece of land from the Whitbread Estate for a lighthouse where they could test new types of lamps and reflectors and the lighting values of different kinds of oil. It was a standard 19th shore type, with living quarters. In 1829 experiments were carried out with Argand burners and reflectors, and observed from the Trinity House Buoy Wharf at Blackwall or from Trinity House’s yacht on the Thames. It had four revolving sides or faces, which were provided with lights of different kinds. All the lights were accurately placed in focus and the machine set to perform one revolution every 8 minutes. It became disuses during the 1870's, though parts of the building survived until 1925. In 1933 all that was left was a round brick stump 5 or 6 feet high.
Anti-aircraft battery 1914 -1918, said to have used the remains of the lighthouse. At the start of the war they had AA guns and pom poms manned by Royal Marines. Later this was increased because of Zeppelin raids .In the Second World War there was a section of the Territorial Army, Royal Artillery with a Lewis gun here.
Quarry At the base of Beacon Hill Whitbread owned a chalk quarry. Purfleet is 17 miles down ricer below London Bridge. Here the chalk out-crops on the northern shore, to provide the first high ground east of London there, From 1554 many leases of the cliffs and limekilns at Purfleet are recorded In 1669 Samuel Irons of Purfleet issued a token depicting a limekiln. In 1738 the chalk-pits, 3 limekilns, and 2 wharfs were leased for 61 years to Matthew Featherstonhaugh. His company was known variously as the Bricklayers Co., the Lime Co., and the Purfleet Co. When the lease was terminated in 1794 the landlord, Samuel Whitbread, began to mechanize the quarries. In 1807 Arthur Young described the trucks carrying the chalk to the kilns and the lime to the wharf. In the 1820s and 1830s the quarries and kilns were worked by Meeson and Hinton. By the 1930s the estate was owned by Messrs. Harrisons (London) 1931 Ltd and the open chalk quarry was levelled with the remainder of the hill sculptured to a smooth mound with a wild meadow.
Railway - The first railroad in Essex was laid at Purfleet to carry the trucks of chalk from the workings to the riverside and the waiting ships. in 1812, "The chalk is got into the vessels much more easily than they used to do, by having small ridges of iron called rail-roads, by which means one horse can draw three times as much as it could without the rail".
World War II Prisoner of War camp. This was successively No. 286 Purfleet Camp which was for Italian Prisoners who worked on local farms. No. 654 Purfleet Camp, No.4 Transit Camp; No. 655 Purfleet Camp, No.1 Transit Camp. Guards' compound consisted of huts; prisoners' compound consisted of tented accommodation within a rectangular wire enclosure. The transit camps were for Germans some of who had huts rather than tents. After 15 January 1920 acted as Dispersal Unit for overseas soldiers arriving at Dover, Folkestone or the Thames. Dispersal Camp closed 10 September 1920. It was later used to house homeless families
Beacon Hill Park
The road climbs through a series of worked out chalk pits passed innumerable haulage and other depots, tips and oil storage tanks – an area almost entirely about heavy freight and rubbish disposal.
Beacon Hill industrial estate
Botany Pit which originally had chalk capped with Thanet Sand. In the early 1960s the quarry was extended by removing the sands and gravels on the north side of the hill. Palaeolithic stone tools and hundreds of flint flakes and cores with some hand-axes were found. Some bones of fossil mammals were also found including horse, red deer and probably bison. Botany Pit was cut back to a low angle in the 1980s when it was developed as an industrial estate
Botany Gardens. This was set up by Whitbread in an overgrown chalk quarry. There were boat trips there and later there were cheap rail excursions from east London. For some years up to 1914 western and war films were made there. The gardens were closed by 1917
This is named for Caspian Wharf which was operational on Purfleet riverside from 1890
One of a number of roads of local authority housing on the site of the Magazine and all named after tanks.
Called ‘The Dipping’ it was in the western part of Whit breads quarry. Most of the area is now new housing. By 1800 a chapel, a school, and two rows of cottages had been built in the Dipping, an old chalk quarry, for chalk workers' family. These buildings appear to lie derelict behind modern housing in the road and adjacent roads. The quarries adjacent to Purfleet (The Dipping) were used as an oil storage depot. Towards the end of the 20th century the storage use ceased and the tanks were eventually demolished. The area is presently being developed for residential purposes.
Chapel. Built in 1791 this was a small building with round-headed recessed windows. The Whit breads owned and maintained it and required their workers to attend. The Methodist circuit preachers were gradually replaced by a Calvinistic schoolmaster and the building was used mainly for Anglican worship, and about 1863 it was put under the care of the vicar. It became a house in the 1920s. It is now totally derelict.
School. This was later called Church Bungalow and used as housing. It is now totally derelict.
Church House. This was the school masters house. It is now totally derelict.
Hollow Cottages. These are near Botany Pit and were built in 1790 by Samuel Whitbread for his workers. There were originally 12 but they have now been turned into 6 by making one house out of two cottages. They front onto a communal green.
Church Lane now consists of new housing built on the floor of the chalk pit.
Esso depot. This was an Esso Petroleum Ltd bitumen terminal. It had rail access via a siding to her riverside on which they ran a Hunslet 0-4-0 diesel mechanical locomotive built in 1940 acquired from the War Department which is now at Quainton Railway Centre. Before development the site was operating an aggregates yard, and faced onto a semi-derelict riverside. The area is marked on earlier maps as saltings.
Housing. This is made up of 103 flats overlooking the Thames by Bellway Homes. It is thought to be of very poor design and the development was built with no direct pedestrian access to the actual river.
The High Street appears to be an area to the north of London Road and west of Church Hollow. It does not appear to be a road in any accepted sense. The Whitbread family are said to have developed a relatively small industrial estate here in the 19th.
Purfleet House. This was built in the Dipping around 1790 by Samuel Whitbread. It had 26 rooms and was used as his family home. It was partly demolished in 1920, the remainder surviving until 1951 as parish offices. Now the site of St.Stephen's church
St. Stephen’s Church. This is the successor to a small in the Dipping which closed in 1920. The vicar of St.Clement’s then bought the chapel, with Purfleet House as the site of a new church, and St. Stephen's was built there in 1923, as a chapel of ease using stone from the demolished house. However it is also said that the church was built as a hall by the Whitbread’s behind their house.
Rose Cottage. 19th cottage set behind a small garden.
London Road – this road runs parallel to the river through Purfleet Village
This was the A1090 which took the original route of the A126 through Purfleet in Essex, when it was bypassed in the 1920s. It headed south over the Mar Dyke into Purfleet and within sight of the River Thames it ran parallel to the river, before crossing a railway line at a level crossing by Purfleet station.
Riverside Green. This is a substantial riverfront open space with wide views across the River. There is a flint faced and brick capped wall which frames the east side of the green. Mature trees to the rear rise above the edge wall. There is a beacon by the river
King's Stairs. Old ferry landing with a weather-beaten and tide-washed mooring post said to have been in position since 1798. These stairs replaced an earlier landing a short distance upstream which had become part of the Government Magazine.
Ferry. The ferry is known to have existed in 1577, and continued to operate into the 20th crossing to the Long Reach Tavern and earlier may have gone up the Darent to Dartford. There also may have been a “long ferry” up to London. . From 1838 a steam ferry from London to Gravesend could be hailed by boat from Purfleet. It was originally a Royal ferry until Edward III transferred it to Dartford Priory. It was later in varied ownership and a ferry house is also mentioned
A pier was built in 1843 and a telegraph station was associated with it.
Royal Purfleet Hotel. This stands on the riverside overlooking Long Reach and Erith Rands. Owned by the Whitbread family until 1920, when it was acquired by Trust Houses and later by Punch Taverns. It is now in private ownership. It is said it began as The Ship Inn, built around 1769. In 1828 its name changed to the Bricklayers Arms, due ownership of local pits by the Bricklayers Company. In 1848 it was remodelled and the hotel became known as the Wingrove Hotel, after the owner John George Wingrove. Around the 1860's, the hotel changed its name to The Royal Hotel. However it is also said it was called the Purfleet Tavern and also it was once called the Royal Opera House. It had become fashionable and famous for whitebait dinners. It also had a reputation of card games and betting on bare-knuckle fighting, and as a high-class brothel. It is said that the Prince of Wales was a visitor – hence the ‘Royal’. It is also said to be haunted
Mermaid Causeway. HMS Mermaid was moored here and used to transport gunpowder
War Memorial. This stands in front of the church with an inscription to the memory of local men killed in the Great War. It consists of a shaft and cross with the inscription on copper plaques
Railway crossing. A metal fence on the north side of the road indicates where a rail siding ran under the road to a riverside oil wharf.
Yara Terminal. Cornwall site. YARA is a Norwegian company mainly supplying fertilisers. The Yara Purfleet Terminal supplies the UK with bulk liquid CO2. The terminal is constantly supplied by a fleet of dedicated CO2 tanker vessels. These include Yara Embla and Yara Froya, who are both equipped with the largest liquid CO2 tanks in Europe
Cornwall. Training Ship Cornwall was a reformatory moored off Purfleet. It was the third such establishment which used an old frigate, the Cornwall which was certified for operation on in 1859. Boys on the Cornwall learned nautical skills, tailoring, and carpentry. In 1915, sixteen of the boys and an officer died after the sailing cutter Alert belonging to the Cornwall collided with the steam tug Empress. The boys were buried in a communal plot at St Clement's Church, West Thurrock. In 1934, the ship became designated as an Approved School but at the start of the Second World War the boys were moved to Brandon and in 1940 the ship was destroyed in bombing at Denton.
Harrisons Wharf (see above)
Cory's Wharf. Coal was landed at Purfleet between 1906 and 1917 by the Steam Ship Owners Coal Association and by 1926 this was William Cory and Son.In 1962 a new 800-ft. jetty and oil storage tanks were installed and Cory was taken over by Powell Duffryn, later P.D. Oil and Chemical Storage. The wharf was later derelict
Botany Cottages. Built 1905 by the Steam Ship Coal Owners Association
Purfleet Station. Opened in 1854 as an original intermediate station of the London Tilbury and Southend Railway. Part of freight line to West Thurrock
Level Crossing. This is by the station
London Road – this road bypasses Purfleet and is the old A13 main road to Southend
The A1306 was once the A13. This section was renumbered in 1998-99 when the western extension of the then new-build replacement A13 was opened to the north. In this square it runs parallel to the Channel tunnel rail link, and crosses the Mardyke to go as far as Meads Corner with the Circus Tavern, and then continues onwards
Meads Corner – junction with the old A13 and the other old Purfleet Bypass. There was or is a motor dealership there called Meads
Circus Tavern. A large south east Essex pub calling itself an entertainment complex. It is said to be famous for hosting darts matches but it also has music events country and western and Irish music 'big name' acts, kick boxing, wrestling, racist comedians, male strippers – and tribute nights, and and and .....
Coryton Commercials depot. Until 2011 this was the London Borough of Havering’s Purfleet depot
Purfleet by pass
The Purfleet Bypass was the A126 from the mid-1920s, being a contemporary of the old A13.now the A1306. It is now the A1090,
Tank Hill Road
Tank Hill (formerly King's) Road was a private, gated road, built by the government after 1760, to connect the powder magazines with a road to London.
VOSPA. Department of Transport Vehicle and Operator Services Agency. It includes a goods vehicle testing facility. This has now closed
Purfleet Primary school. This now calls itself an 'academy’. It originated in a nonconformist school held in Whitbread's chapel in 1772. This was an evening school, started by Methodists for the children of lime burners. It had closed by 1808 but began again in 1819 as a Sunday school. By 1839 it was a day and Sunday school, still partly supported by the Whitbreads although the the garrison had its own school by 1871. A school board for West Thurrock was set up in 1876 which took over the Purfleet School and ran it in Whitbread's chapel. In 1889, they built a new school on Garrison Hill to which a teacher's house was added in 1892 and an infant room in 1894. West Thurrock School Board was handed over to the Education Committee of Essex County Council in 1903. In 1904 a small piece of land was leased from Whitbread to teach gardening to the boys. In 1909 it included a fruit garden with 100 trees, and the school won numerous medals for fruit at Royal Horticultural Society shows. A manual, cookery and laundry centre was built at the school in 1914. From October 1914 to June 1915 the school was requisitioned by the military authorities as a hospital for Purfleet Camp. By 1930 what had been Purfleet Council School was known as Garrison Hill Council School and this remained until at least 1948. In the Second World War children were evacuated to Martlesham, Suffolk, and others to Devizes, Wiltshire. The school was badly damaged by incendiary bombs in 1940. By 1951 the school was known as Garrison Hill Primary School. It was used as an emergency relief centre during the floods of 1953. By 1959 the school was called Purfleet Primary School, and by 1968 Purfleet County Primary School. In 1974 the school was enlarged for children from the Garrison estate.
An ancient lane which proceeds on the ridge of the former chalk pit. Initially it is wide enough to be an access road and is partially framed to the north by the former outer garrison wall. It eventually emerges as a footpath on Botany Way
British History on line. West Thurrock. Web site
Children’s Homes. Web site
Havering Council. Web site
Essex Field Club. Web site
Lighthouse Compendium. Web site
List of Prisoner of War camps. Wikipedia. Web site
Baldwin. The River and the Downs
On the Lakes. Web site
Pevsner and Cherry. Essex,
Port of London Magazine
Royal Hotel. Web site
Thurrock Council. Web site
Yara. Web site