Tilbury Cruise Terminal

In Thurrock to have our heritage preserved and protected is rare but thankfully that is not the case here thanks to The Tilbury on Thames Trust Limited/Port of Tilbury. This iconic building has been reroofed and weatherproofed and now redecorated in accordance with Historic England guide lines. Gone the horrible green seats to be replaced by a much more suitable blue seating. Gone too is the false ceiling. Now visible the original ceiling is glowing white highlighting the brick columns with their Ionic scroll capitals. Whenever this building is open to the public railway enthusiasts and locals alike wax lyrical about the Tilbury Riverside Station. The rail enthusiasts love the state of preservation of the old station whilst for locals it is the nostalgia quotient. I have lost count of the number of visitors who have told me about buying their ferry tickets here purchasing magazines from W. H. Smith’s bookstall. I have even heard men who were thrilled by the sight of the art deco gents’ urinal!

Tilbury Cruise Terminal is a Grade II* listed building. The listing includes the floating landing stage and the railway station for the following reasons:

  • Architectural interest: the Riverside Station, built in neo-Georgian style and completed in 1924, is the work of the notable architect Sir Edwin Cooper in his capacity as architect to the Port of London Authority;

  • Historic interest: for its association with a significant historic event, being the docking location in 1948 of the SS Empire Windrush, generally accepted to have been the first ship to bring a large group of migrants from the Caribbean, invited to the United Kingdom in response to labour shortages in the post-war years.

Before the Cruise Terminal could be constructed an act of parliament had to be passed. This happened in 1922. Construction started in 1926 to a neo-Georgian classical design by Sir Edwin Cooper architect. The landing stage was 1,142 feet long (842ft. for liners and 300ft. for ferries). It was officially opened on 10th May 1930 by J. Ramsey McDonald. In 1934 666 boat trains were run to service liners. By 1947 300 liners per year were visiting Tilbury bringing about 140,000 passengers. The ferry acted as a tender to the liners and carried 3,000,000 passengers per year.
The Cruise Terminal is constructed in red-brown brick laid in English bond with rusticated quoining, and dressings of Portland stone.

The baggage hall is attached to the western flank of the station, both being of open plan form and each with a south elevation fronting the Thames estuary. These buildings are of tall single-storey form and are raised on cylindrical concrete piers with span arches. The baggage hall is of 13 bays: the north elevation has keyed flat arches of hand-made red tiles over 35-pane metal casement windows and five, sliding, plank double doors, and has a continuous verandah supported on wrought-iron fretwork panels with plain railings. The south elevation has stone torus moulding over a rusticated plinth, and revealed panels over similar casement windows with similar, multi-keyed, tile arches and rusticated red-tile quoins. There are two, tall openings to the centre, with rusticated semi-circular arched architraves with carved keystones. A recessed second stage, over the centre of the baggage hall, has PORT OF LONDON AUTHORITY inscribed on a Portland stone plaque. Features also include large semi-circular windows with decorative glazing bars and a roof surmounted by a tower with Portland stone balustraded parapet, urn finials and copper-domed cupola supported on Tuscan columns. Inside the baggage hall has a segmental-arched vaulted roof with heavy entablature supported on square, brick columns with Ionic capitals.

Thanks to the Tilbury on Thames Trust Limited this building is now being restored to its former glory. The Tilbury on Thames Trust was incorporated as a company limited by guarantee in February 2016. The Trust is governed by a board of 7 trustees drawn from the Port and the local community, bringing considerable expertise in skills and training, regeneration and local community knowledge to this project. The board has approved a vision statement which is to blend community and commercial uses at the Grade II* Cruise Terminal complex in Tilbury as part of a wider ambition to restore heritage, generate training opportunities and connect the Port of Tilbury to the communities of the Thames Gateway. 

Gone now are the awful green couches now reupholstered in a much more suitable blue fabric. Redecorating in accordance with Historic England guidelines and removal of the false ceiling has opened up the interior to the light. Even before we enter the building we see the new sign telling us ‘No Smoking’ and nearby is the brass plaque to commemorate the opening of the terminal on 8th January 1985 by Victor Paige. Looking to our left we see the Luggage Hall alongside a large black and white photo of how it used to be. Inside we see the expected x-ray machine for the luggage. A common site in any airport these days but whilst this is the maritime equivalent of an airport this building is not plastic, artificial and characterless but it has class and history. It was here on 22nd June 1948 that the s.s. Empire Windrush disembarked its passengers who had come to the homeland to help rebuild it after the war. There is a wonderful new mural which illustrates the occasion in the hall. The newly painted revealed ceiling and the Ionic capitals of the columns look magnificent. The War Memorial is still present. Not to be missed is a second mural depicting the sites of London. Well this is the port for London.
Future uses for the building that complement its main use as a Cruise Terminal remain to be seen but Amazon staff will tell you what a good time they had here at their party in the railway station. People have suggested to me it could be used for Antique Fairs, Football memorabilia or Railway memorabilia markets. One person even suggested a wedding venue!

Whatever it is used for we know that in the hands of the Tilbury on Thames Trust Limited/Port of Tilbury at least one part of Thurrock’s Heritage is safe.
Be sure to visit at the next open day you won’t be disappointed.

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