Crossing the Thames

  by Susan Yates
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There has been a crossing of the Thames in Thurrock since medieval times when the nuns of Dartford Priory operated a 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.

With a view to getting permission for a Thames Tunnel in Thurrock, West Thurrock council called a meeting with Stifford, Aveley and South Ockendon parish councils and with representatives of North Ockendon in February 1926. The idea was to unite and form an Urban District Council as this would give their plan for a crossing at West Thurrock more chance as they feared that the plan might be hi-jacked by Tilbury. Councillors from Grays and Tilbury felt that this was too much and that such a council would be too arduous to run. Tilbury in the meantime had held meetings with Gravesend with a view to applying for a crossing in Tilbury. Eventually Tilbury decided to go it alone.

Approval was given for a tunnel between Purfleet/West Thurrock and Dartford in 1929. A pilot tunnel began in 1936 was completed in 1938. Due to the war no further progress was made until 1955 when the subject was raised again. The Purfleet Dartford crossing eventually opened in 1963 at a cost of 11,000,000. The toll for cars was 2s. 6d. (12.5p) per crossing and was to be removed when the tunnel was paid for! In 1963 11,000 vehicles a day used the crossing. It was inevitable that when the M25 link in Thurrock was completed in 1972 this would bring increased traffic to the crossing from much further afield. The M25 or North London Orbital motorway, as it was originally called, had been under consideration and was eventually built in sections. The Thurrock section enters the borough where the M25 crosses over Dennises Lane and becomes the A282 where it joins the crossing approach road.

Not surprisingly then vehicle usage of the crossing had risen to 30,000 by 1980 and a staggering 65,000 by 1985. It was because of this increase in usage that a second tunnel was opened on 16th May 1980 twenty-one metres downstream from the first one and eventually on 2nd August 1988 the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge was started. 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 would be built on these. They weighed 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 weighed 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 loading in the World. The bridge 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.

By 1992 the toll for a car was 80p increasing to 1 on 1st September 1996 and by November 2008 the toll for a car was 1.50. Now in 2017 it is 2.50 unless you have a Dart Tag and of course if you live in the immediate vicinity of the crossing you get a discount that works out after a 10 deposit at 20p per car per crossing. With the increase in usage comes the need for another crossing which if current proposals go through will see Tilbury finally getting a crossing.


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