A brief history of Tilbury Docks

Tilbury docks were opened in 1886 to alleviate congestion in the main London docks in the East End. Tilbury was convenient because of the availability of land and the presence of the railway which had been built in 1854 to connect with Tilbury ferry. The railway station was originally known as Tilbury Fort but soon became simply Tilbury. Seven of those involved in the construction of the docks were freemasons who founded a new lodge. But while the docks were being built, they became involved in a dispute which eventually brought the mighty East & West India Docks Company to its knees. This is described in Richard Burrell’s book – Victorian Freemasonry and the Building of Tilbury Docks.

Working in the docks was hard work and poorly paid. In 1889, the Tilbury dockers joined the great docks strike for “the dockers tanner” – a pay rate of 6d (2 1/2p) per hour. Strikes occurred on other occasions, including 1912 and 1926.

Tilbury was a constituent of the Port of London Authority when it was established in 1909.

Along the Thames to all the peoples of the World

Tilbury became an important port for both goods and passengers – P&O began using Tilbury in 1903. A new passenger terminal (now the cruise terminal) was opened by Ramsay Macdonald in 1930. With the growth of airlines, passenger traffic declined, but it remained an embarkation point for pleasure cruises. In 1936, the railway station was renamed Tilbury Riverside.

The growth of container traffic in the 70s and 80s dramatically changed the nature of employment, but Tilbury remains a major port – the third largest container port in the UK.

In 1992, Tilbury Riverside railway station closed.

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  • Hi, Is anyone able to shed light on where the “Southern Department” was in Tilbury and what dockers did there. My grandfather worked in Tilbury and looking for information for him as his memory is fading.

    By Jack Ellis (14/03/2023)
  • Reference Rita McLeod.
    There was a man who worked in Tilbury Docks called Derek McLeod, he would be about 75 now, if you think he may be a relation or could help, contact HDS security (Tilbury Docks), and they may be able to help (recently retired from there), or the Port of Tilbury Police may be able to assist and he spent quite a lot of time with them.

    By Terry Brown (15/09/2019)
  • Is there anyone who would be able to direct me to the workers names of 1930s?

    I am really interested in the McAlears possibility crane drivers? They may have come down from Scotland. Any help appreciated

    By Rita McAlear McLeod (30/08/2019)
  • i am looking for information about about my grandfather and grandmather. i think his name might have been frederick . they had three children. eric, charles and joan. charles was born around 1930, i think. i have heard some unsavory stories about this particular part of town and the women who worked there. i am keen to find out how my grandparents met.

    By cheryl (06/07/2018)
  • Hello all 🙂  Anyone know my grandad John (known as Jack) Harris? He was from Aveley, worked at Tilbury dock for a long time – was a crane driver. He was always smiling and joking, called the ladies ‘Sunshine’

    By Dawn Harris (26/12/2016)
  • To Tony Blake – I believe Len Lazell worked with my father, Charlie Sadler.  My father worked at Tilbury Docks for 44 years, I think mostly for Scruttons and for some of these years employed as a Foreman. 

    By Janine Sadler (20/08/2014)
  • I wonder if anyone could assist me with details regarding asbestos at Tilbury docks. I act on behalf of a client whose father sadly died from asbestos related lung cancer. If you are able to assist then I would be very grateful if you could please telephone me on 0118 952 7199.

    By Annabelle Neilson (07/03/2014)
  • Thanks Audrey, i remember you. My mum sends her regards she remembers you well and we were talking about you and your family. Yes i was tiny born about 2lb but ive made up for it now, lol 

    Tony thankyou for mentioning my grandad, its lovely and interesting hearing about our families past isnt it. 

    By susan mccrory nee Malthouse (26/01/2014)
  • Hi there Tony interested to read your comments re the Clan Line,my father as you know also worked at 22 Berth eventually moving to the Bibby Line Quay at 11/12 sheds until his untimely death in 1967.

    I started in Tilbury in 1965 working for HM Customs and Excise my first station was Clan Station 22 Berth.I well remember walking into the office at 8 am on my first day to be given a glass of whiskey by Trevor Cook who was one of the examining officers to wet the head  of his new baby,what an introduction to work, leave school on Friday drinking whiskey for breakfast on Monday!!!!!

    I used to cycle to work and learned a valuable lesson one day that you always ensured you cycled at an angle across the railway lines in the roads between the quays,this particular day I got it wrong the front wheel went into the rail and down I went.I also remember how busy the dock was in those days,you could walk from one quay to another across the lightermen’s barges tied up along side the ships.After 2 years I left  Customs and worked for a short time at John Cockerill Line 5 berth,I then moved to Scruttons until made redundant in1975 when they were taken over by the PLA.I returned to Tilbury in 1977 working for Brostrom Cargo at 26 berth until they closed their operations in 1982.

    I always enjoyed my time in what was a close knit and often funny work place. 

    By David Seaman (19/12/2013)
  • To Charles Blake, yes I can remember Doug Blake up until 1969, he was “gearer” for Len Lazell, who some called ”Lucy” which seemed to rhyme with Lazell, Len was a Scruttons ship worker (foreman) rather smart dresser, and charming manner, Doug always seemed to have a smile on his face

    By Tony Duligal (19/12/2013)
  • In answer to Susan McCory question, I remember Fred Malthouse at St Chads school during 1948-1952 in fact we were in the same class, if you care to search the 4 photos of the boys of St Chads school 1948 you may spot him, I also remember working with his father in the Docks, he mainly worked over the Southern, 31-34 Sheds and I worked usually at  22-23 Sheds during 1959-1966 them I changed to the Clerical for Scruttons, and left the Docks in 1987.

    By Tony Duligal (18/12/2013)
  • Does anyone remember Doug Blake & Len Lazell from Scruttons.

    By Charles Blake (18/12/2013)
  • Does anybody remember my grandad Frederick Malthouse and my father Michael Malthouse. They used to work in the docks. I remember my dad Michael used to work for Scruttons.

    By susan mccrory nee Malthouse (01/08/2013)
  • I remember Fred Malthouse I lived next door to Fred and Iris in Christchurch Road for a few years. I remember Mick, Bob, Jim and Malcom also Susan I remember you being born you were so tiny when you were born. I was married to Jack Richards the Richards family lived the other side of Fred and Iris.

    By Audrey` Richards (01/08/2013)
  • I started as an Office Junior with Scruttons Ltd in 1947 on the Clan Line Quay. I well remember the Clan Line canteen – superb rolls !. I stayed on that berth eventually as an Office clerk until my N.Service in 1949. I returned in 1951 to the Clan berth and when Scruttons lost that contract was shunted off to the West India Dock. On return I was,by then, a cherge clerk and based at The City Line. From there I went to 36/38 berths ending my time in the dock as the clerk in charge at Purleet Deep Wharf – I took early severance in 1982 having been connected with dock industry for 36 years About two years ago I returned to the docks on a conducted tour and could hardly recognise any familiar sights so much had it changed. Where was the bridge and the PLA canteen, all the ramps leading down to the quays that I used to cycle down like a mad thing to get to the office before the governor who I could see walking along the quay. And as for the sights and smells in the sheds – they contained something I am sure from the whole world. When I first started just after the war years, it was possible to see two or three vessels moored alongside each other awaiting discharge. The sheds would be full to the rafters with cases tea. Offices were never short of the ingredients for a brew up! It was a fascinating, busy time, where men worked manually until 7.00pm loading bags cement, vehicles and general cargo and discharging all types of packaged goods – bales, bags cases crates etcall of which which disappeared with the advent of containerisation and the gradual diminishing of the Port of London.

    By Tony Downey (17/09/2012)
  • I worked in the Tilbury Docks in the late 1940’s and 1950. I remember the smells from the cargo in the sheds especially the tea and bales of rubber in the Clan LIne sheds..and who remembers the Clan Line canteen?

    By Duncan Grant (13/09/2012)
  • I worked at the docks from Easter 1952 to March 1987 – as an office–boy for Scruttons and also a docker and a tally clerk. My schooling was at Lansdown Road, Manorway and St Chads.

    I’m sure that the people of my age will agree with me in saying that Tilbury was a good place to live in that era.

    By Tony Duligal (29/08/2012)

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