Views from the river...Susan leaves lockdown behind

  Posted: 08.05.20 at 22:32 by Susan Yates

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SUSAN Yates - Thurrock Nub News' very own historical expert - writes another of her occasional columns delving into the borough's past.
At a time of lockdown she takes us out of our homes and on a journey along the Thames.

LIKE everyone else as our enforced lockdown continues, boredom is increasing so I began looking at old photographs.

I came across some I had taken on a River Thames cruise not that long ago. It was a sunny day not a cloud in the blue sky and as the boat passed The R.S.P.B. reserve on the Rainham/Aveley Marshes you could see sunlight glinting off the many camera and optical instrument lenses that were being employed there.

The land was bought in 2000. This is a stark contrast to the local landfill sites and is one of the very few ancient landscapes remaining in Greater London.

These medieval marshes located right next to the River Thames were closed to the public for more than 100 years and most recently used as a military firing range by the troops at Purfleet Garrison.

Some people believe it was a mass burial ground for the London Plague victims of 1665 there is certainly some truth that plague victims were buried in mass graves on the marshes but exactly where is not known.

Coalhouse Fort

Passing the reserve we could just make out No. 5 Magazine which is the home of the Purfleet Heritage Centre. No. 5 was one of five gunpowder magazines and a Proof House which made up the Royal Gunpowder Magazines at Purfleet.

They were constructed in 1759. These magazines were used to store and test the powder supply for the Army and Royal Navy. Each magazine could hold 10,400 barrels and in times of emergency 10,800 barrels. They were protected by soldiers from the Garrison and staffed by civilians.

Future looking bleak

They remained in use until 1962 when Thurrock Council bought them from the Ministry of Defence. Four of the original five magazines were demolished to make way for housing and No. 5 was used by the council for storage.

With its future looking bleak in 1992 Alan Gosling rode to the rescue getting together a group of local residents who like him were interested in the building and its history. They submitted a plan to Thurrock Council which was accepted and the Purfleet Heritage Centre was the result.

Moving on downriver the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge comes in to view. Construction of this part of the Dartford Crossing began on 2nd August 1988. The first components required were the two caissons. (A caisson is a watertight retaining structure used to work on the foundations of a bridge.)

The two support towers were built on these. They weigh 110,000 tons and were built in Holland and towed 150 miles cross the North Sea to Dartford. The cables used to support the bridge weigh 1,500 tons and were woven by British Ropes Doncaster. At 16.5cms they were the largest made at that time and designed to carry the heaviest traffic load in the world. The bridge is 2,869 metres long and clears the river by 60 metres.

The bridge was opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on Wednesday 30th October 1991. It is still the only bridge across the Thames downstream of Central London to be opened since Tower Bridge in 1894.

Nuns operated the ferry

We now pass under the bridge and on our left see the work of the graffiti artists on the sea wall. If you look carefully you can just make out historic St. Clements Church on the Thurrock shore.

Looking across to the Kent side we see the Sir John Franklin pub and it was near here the medieval ferry ran across the River.

The nuns of Dartford Priory operated the ferry and the tolls went to the church. In 1820 the ferry ran from the Rising Sun at West Thurrock to the then White Hart at Greenhithe (now the Sir John Franklin). This service was actually run by the two pubs and in the Dartford Museum there is a brass plaque showing the ferry charges.

We now move on towards Tilbury and Gravesend the route of the modern ferry. We now pass the Tilbury Landing Stage with its Cupola built in 1930 and Tilbury Fort comes into view with its iconic Gate. Historic England’s Tilbury Fort has protected London’s seaward approach from the 16th century through to the Second World War.

Henry VIII built the first fort here. The present fort was built in 1670–84 and is by far the best example of its type in England, with its circuit of moats and bastioned outworks. Outside is the memorial stone to the Jacobite prisoners who were held here after the 1745 rebellion.

On the Kent side we see New Tavern Fort. This fort was constructed between 1780-83 The site was originally occupied by the New Tavern Inn, from which it takes its name. The land was private property occupied by a Mr. Houghton. An Act of Parliament was passed to purchase it.

Looking up and behind New Tavern Fort my attention was attracted by the sun shining on what looked like golden domes. It was the Sikh temple Gurdwara in Gravesend. It is an incredible building with five domes and three prayer rooms, one of which holds 1,000 people. It has granite marble floors.

The beautiful stained glass windows were designed by local children and the whole place is just awe inspiring. There are four entrance doors, to symbolise that it welcomes people from all four corners of the world.

Clouds like cotton wool

Clouds like little balls of cotton wool start to drift across the sky but the sun is still shining. It’s a beautiful day as we pass the triangle of forts that are Shornemad, Coalhouse and Cliffe. Cliffe Fort was built between 1861and 1870 at an estimated cost of £163,000.

The fort and its counterparts at Coalhouse Point and Shornemead were designed, except for their ironwork, by Captain Siborne of the Royal Engineers.

The iron and steel shields of their casemates were developed by Captain English and Lieutenant English of the Royal Engineers. Its original plan called for 13 guns to be mounted on the fort's roof, three more to be mounted en barbette (a raised platform on a rampart for one or more guns) and two for land defence.

Granite-faced casemates with iron shields would house another 20 guns below.

Shornemead Fort was constructed between 1861 and 1870 at a cost of approximately £211,063.Situated on the Essex shore Coalhouse Fort was completed in 1874 at a cost of roughly £130,000 7s. 6d.

The granite faced casemates were provided with four 12.5-inch and thirteen 11-inch RMLs (rifled muzzle loading) guns with a range of about 5,500 yards (5,000 m). A further three 9-inch RMLs were placed in the open battery. They were mounted on metal traversing platforms known as Moncrieff carriages that could be elevated and traversed using hand-operated gearing devices.

Now having passed London’s Defences we move on from military history. We finish our cruise at the Thurrock Thameside Nature Park. This former gravel pit and landfill site was officially opened on 11th May 2013 by David Attenborough.

Now popular for its bird watching and wildlife it is bordered by Mucking Creek and as we look across the Creek we see the new DP World dock and it is back to the present for now.

FURTHER tributes have been paid to Tilbury stalwart Peter Hewitt MBE, whose death was reported on Thurrock Nub News