Herbert Brooks

The family that brought the cement industry to Thurrock

The cement industry came to Thurrock in 1871 with the foundation of Brooks Cement Company by Edmund Brooks. Thurrock, was an ideal location for cement manufacture because of the chalk deposits that stretch from Purfleet to West Tilbury, the availability of clay and the access to transport via the Thames and the railway.

Chalk from Thurrock's deneholes had been used in farming to lighten the heavy clay soil. It had also been used in construction, as a building material in its own right and to produce lime mortar - an important component of medieval and early modern construction.

However, after the invention of Portland cement, Thurrock's chalk deposits began to be mined on an industrial scale. Over the course of about 100 years, more than 5 billion cubic metres of chalk were extracted from the quarries around Devonshire Road and Warren Lane.

Many companies followed the lead set by Brooks and in the late nineteenth century, the banks of the Thames between Purfleet and Grays were lined with wharves, cement works and lime burning. Beyond the banks was a stark industrial landscape of quarries, tall chimneys, railway tracks and rolling stock.


In the 1890s, Edmund Brooks stepped down to pursue his philanthropic work and Edmund's sons took over management of the company.

In 1900, the Brooks company amalgamated with a number of other companies to form the Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers. Among Edmund's sons was Herbert Brooks who became a prominent figure in the national cement industry.

For a while Herbert owned Belmont Castle, but was more interested in the chalk deposit that it was built on than in the house itself.

Among Brooks hobbies was the local history of the area and in 1883, when a denehole was discovered in a company chalk pit, he made a plan of it and invited the Essex Field club to view it. In 1928 he published William Palmer and his School, a history of what is now Palmer’s College.

Notes of his research are stored in the Thurrock Library as the Brooks papers, extracts from which have been published in Panorama – the Journal of the Thurrock Local History Society.

He was also prominent in local affairs as a JP and as the deputy Lieutenant of Essex. His many other public offices included Chairman of the Grays Urban District Council and Chairman of the Essex County Council. He remained a county alderman until his death.

Herbert died in 1931 at Stifford Lodge which had been his home for 40 years. In 1933, Champion Branfill Russell, another local landowner, unveiled a memorial to Brooks in the parish church at Stifford.

Plans for garden in his memory at the top of Orsett Road  were approved by Grays Town Council and the garden was opened in 1933. The name sign at the main entrance and the brick shelter have typical Art Deco features.

The garden is still there and now also contains a holocaust memorial, with pebbles bearing the names of extermination camps. It is used as the focus for an annual event of Holocaust Memorial day in January.

Thurrock's cement industry largely ceased production in the 1970s. It had provided employment for many people, but covered the area in cement dust and had left behind a scarred landscape of abandoned pits. The memorial garden is one of the few remaining reminders of an aspect of Thurrock's history that is rapidly becoming forgotten.