Gravesend Reach, PLA - Tidal Thames Recreational Users Guide 2011

Gravesend Reach from Coalhouse Point to Tilbury Docks

Coalhouse Point

RIGHT (north) bank point on the inside of the turn from the Lower Hope into Gravesend Reach
[Coalhouse Fort and Cliffe Fort are in the Lower Hope section]
In World War 2 there was a radar tower here, disguised as a water tower -

East Tilbury Radar Tower

Higham Creek, Higham Marshes, Higham Saltings

LEFT (south) bank opposite Coalhouse Point
Charles Dickens - Great Expectations -

Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea ... the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dykes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes ... the low leaden line beyond, was the river ... the distant savagery ... from which the wind was rushing, was the sea...

Shorne Marshes

LEFT (south) bank, Saxon Shore Way

Here you will find coastal grazing marsh, saltmarsh and mudflats. There are always many birds to see with breeding, passage and wintering waterfowl, wintering raptors and farmland birds. Access is along the Saxon Shore Way footpath or the Sustrans cycle path.

Shornemead Light

LEFT (southeast) bank opposite Coalhouse Point
Shornemead Lighthouse , © Mike Millichamps -

Shornemead Lighthouse 1913 - 2003
Shornemead Lighthouse 1913 - 2003

Coming out of Gravesend Reach into the Lower Hope, Shornemead lighthouse can be seen on the Kent shore almost opposite East Tilbury Fort.
This is No. 9, our last lighthouse at 30 miles from London Bridge, Shorne lies a couple of miles inland and is named after Sir John Shorne who was supposed to be able to cure malarial fever so prevalent at that time in the North Kent marshes; he is also credited with imprisoning the Devil in a boot.
It was established in 1913 by Trinity House on the edges of the Kent shoreline of Shorne Marshes and Higham Saltings where Gravesend Reach meets Lower Hope Reach.
The whole structure is 48 feet high and consists of a red painted iron work cylindrical galleried tower supported by four metal legs which in turn stands on a plinth resting upon piles driven firmly into the river bed.
The whole lighthouse area is surrounded by a stout metal fence and is reached by an enclosed metal walkway also supported on piles.
The constant erosion here on the bank is a continuous problem and as the bank erodes further from the lighthouse an additional modern extension to the walkway has been added and it is only a matter of time before its position is inappropriate.
Since my visit in April 2003 the light has been replaced with a modern pile like structure inaccessible from the shore.
The remains of the old lighthouse, which was cut off at the base, now stands at the PLA's Denton Wharf waiting for its future to be determined.
The lighthouse has never had a permanent keeper and has relied upon weekly inspections and cleaning sessions, first by a keeper on bicycle, and then by one using a car who could only approach the light by using the old military road through the adjacent rifle range on his way to Shornemead Fort.
A fire in the timber of the approach pier in 1991 caused problems; firstly with the local fire engine having to cross the railway line; then with the need to arrange for rifle practice on the firing range to cease forthwith; and finally when the heavy laden fire engine could go no further on the rough ground.
The firemen armed with axes, ladders and buckets freed the burning timber and doused it with river water.
The light was originally fuelled by acetylene gas stored in bottles but and then lit with mains electricity from the shore but with a standby generator and batteries in case of power failure.
The new solar powered light continues to give its unique flash every 10 seconds to some 3,000 vessels that pass it each year.


Shornemead Lighthouse 2004-
New Shornemead Lighthouse 2004-

East Tilbury Marshes

RIGHT (north) bank
Thurock Draft Infrastructure Plan (pdf)

First War Pontoon Bridge

1914: A pontoon bridge / barrier was built from Gravesend to Tilbury -

Some time close to the start of the 1914/18 war it was decided to build a bridge of boats across the Thames from Gravesend to Tilbury both as a barrier on the river and also to provide a rapid means of getting soldiers across the river. Some 70 Thames swim head lighters were used in the construction which had a centre section that could be withdrawn to allow passage of legitimate traffic. It is said that a number of ships managed to ram the bridge at times.

Gravesend to Tilbury Pontoon Bridge 1914
Gravesend to Tilbury Pontoon Bridge 1914

New York Times, 27 December, 1914 -

Constructed by the Government
from Tilbury to Gravesend
- Cost $375,000
One detail of the Plans in Case of Invasion - All the Thames Estuary Buoys Removed.

W. Robison, first officer of the Atlantic Transport liner Minnewaska, said yesterday that when the ship left Tilbury docks for New York the British Government had just finished a bridge of boats across the Thames from Tilbury to Gravesend at a cost of $375,000.

The river is about 1,100 feet wide at that point, and there are three sections, about 250 feet, moved from the centre and moored at the side so that traffic can pass through in the day time. At nightfall these sections are towed back to their place by tugs, and have been so well constructed that they fit within two inches in line with the other boats or barges chained in the Thames.

"By this pontoon bridge", Mr Robison went on to say, "the Government will be able to move troops and artillery from Kent into Essex in case of invasion. Tugs are standing by all day with steam up, so that the bridge can be closed at any time in case of alarm. The ancient ferry service established in Queen Elizabeth I's time from Tilbury Fort to Gravesend is still in operation, but there was no means of moving troops quickly across the Thames until the bridge was constructed."

"I do not think that the Germans would try to get up to Gravesend, because the Admiralty has ordered that all buoys in the Thames Estuary, commencing at the Nore, be taken away, leaving only the Tongue Lightship as a mark for the pilots. Ships for London have to make for this lightship and use the Edinburgh channel, which is the only one now open."

"The Trinity Board has engaged 125 extra pilots for this work, and all vessels coming up channel for the North Sea or London have to take on pilots at the Isle of Wight instead of Dover. This has been done to prevent any vessel under a neutral flag from steaming up to Dover and dropping mines in the channel. The new pilots are all veteran coasting skippers who can 'smell their way in' on the thickest night. If the Germans attempt to land troops I think it will be between Hull and Leith."

Mr Robison said he had just finished four month's service in the Minneapolis of the same company, which had been carrying horses and artillery from Southampton to Havre, St. Nazaire, Ostend and Zeebrugge.

"It was very hard going at first", he said, "because of the rush to get the soldiers into France, and I think we were the first to land men in Havre. We did not have our clothes off for a week.

First Lord of the Admiralty Churchill ordered that thirty transports lie off the French coast to be ready to pick up the naval brigade if it was beaten back by the enemy.

On one trip of the Minneapolis we embarked 700 German prisoners at St. Nazaire. They had been captured at Peronne. From what the men said, their provisions had gone astray, and they were nearly starved when they came on board the ship."

The boats used in the construction of the bridge at Tilbury, Mr Robison said, were small, strongly made barges, similar to those on the Rhine at Coblenz, and were moored to the bed of the river and chained to each other with just enough space between for the tide to flow through.

Published: December 27, 1914, Copyright © The New York Times

Tilbury Power Station

RIGHT (north) bank
Power station website -

Tilbury Power Station is located in Essex to the east of Tilbury Docks on the River Thames.

The station began full operation in 1969 and, until early 2011, operated as a coal-fired power station with the capacity to generate 1,131MW of electricity for the National Grid.

In early 2011, we were granted the necessary consents from the Environment Agency and Local Planning Authority to convert all three of the power station’s units to generate power from 100% sustainable biomass. At a capacity of 750MW, the converted plant will provide enough power for around 1.5 million households over the remainder of its lifetime.

The plant is expected to be fully operational by the end of January 2012 and will run on biomass until the scheduled closure of the power station under the Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD) by the end of 2015.

Tilbury Fort

Tilbury Fort

RIGHT (north) bank
Tilbury Fort website
The first fort here was built by Henry VIII.
1672: Present fort begun by Charles II.
1776: In this year occurred the worst bloodshed associated with Tilbury Fort. Following a cricket match there were two fatalities.
1792: Picturesque Views on the River Thames by Samuel Ireland -

IN the year 1380 [ Gravesend ] was burned by the French and Spaniards, who came up the Thames in row gallies, and committed this outrage in return for the ravage and plunder of the English army in France commanded by the Lord Nevil.

Henry VIII to prevent a repetition of this outrage, raised a platform of guns to the east of the town, and erected Tilbury Fort on the opposite shore, which has been since improved as a regular fortification from a plan of Sir Martin Beckman, chief engineer to Charles II.

The bastions are said to be the largest in England : it is doubly moated, with a counterscarp, ravelins, &c. and on the platform are placed one hundred and six cannons, from twenty-four to forty-fix pounders, besides smaller ones planted on the bastions and curtains.

Tilbury Fort 1792
Tilbury Fort by Samuel Ireland, 1792

1814: Tilbury Fort -

Tilbury Fort 1814
Tilbury Fort. Drawn by S. Owen. March 1, 1814
[ Wind against tide in a shallow estuary - where Thames smooth waters glide! ... ]

from ‘The Genius of the Thames’ by Thomas Love Peacock –

To where the wide-expanding Nore
Beholds thee, with tumultuous roar,
Conclude thy devious race,
And rush, with Medway's confluent wave,
To seek, where mightier billows rave,
Thy giant-sire's embrace.

1828: Tilbury Fort -

Tilbury Fort 1828
Tilbury Fort.
S. Owen delt. R.G. Reeve sculpt. Published 1828 by R.Ackermann, 96 Strand, London

1885: Dickens's Dictionary of the Thames -

Tilbury Fort is in Essex, opposite Gravesend.
The original Tilbury Fort was built by Henry VIII in 1539, and when Elizabeth's army was encamped at West Tilbury was but a small building.
King Henry's Fort was considerably enlarged by Charles II when the Dutch fleet were making themselves very officious in the Thames and Medway.
There is not much to see in Tilbury Fort, the principal object of attraction being the room in the old gateway once occupied by Queen Elizabeth.
At Tilbury is a station of the London, Tilbury, and Southend Railway, and a steam ferry to Gravesend.
FARES to Fenchurch-Street: 1st - 2/5d, 3/9d; 2nd - 1/9d, 2/10d; 3rd - 1/2d, 2/-

1814: Danish Greenlandsman Breaking up below Gravesend -

Danish Greenlandsman Breaking up below Gravesend
Danish Greenlandsman Breaking up below Gravesend. Drawn by L. Francia. Oct. 1, 1814

Chantry Fort

LEFT (south) bank, in Gravesend
Chantry Fort, Gravesend -

If walls could talk what a wonderful story they would tell. The origins of Milton Chantry are said to go back to a leper hospital founded on the site in 1189. Aymer de Valance endowed land on the north side of the Thames in Essex to help maintain the hospital, build a chapel and support two chaplains in 1321. The purpose of the chantry chapel was to say prayers for the souls of the dead. The priests also said prayers for the souls of Aymer De Valance and his family.

During the reign of Henry VIII such chapels were dissolved along with many larger monastic sites up and down the country. The lands and possessions were forfeited to the crown, and Henry VIII gave the chapel and the lands to Sir Thomas Wyatt.

The Chantry became a tavern in 1697 and a small hamlet grew up around it. We have a description of the tavern in 1776 notes a large dining room, and a neat bowling green and garden.

In 1778, action was being taken to improve the military defences of the Thames, and Captain Thomas Hyde Page proposed the building of a new fort. In 1781, building work began on New Tavern Fort and the garden walls, bowling green, orchard and various structures attached to the inn were demolished.

The Chantry was remodelled into a barracks and the walls faced with brick. Records from the early 1800s speak of a vermin-infested room with leaking roof occupied by 20 soldiers (married and single men), wives and children. So conditions were not good in the early days.

The fort continued in use until 1918 and the chapel now stands in a public park created in 1932. The Chantry is Gravesend’s Heritage Centre with displays and artefacts telling the story of the town and revealing the architectural puzzles left by the building's many changes of use.


LEFT (south) bank. 74 Frith photos of Gravesend
1689: 'The Mary', Yacht, Arriving with Princess Mary at Gravesend in a Fresh Breeze, 12 February 1689.

'The Mary', Yacht, Arriving with Princess Mary at Gravesend in a Fresh Breeze, 12 February 1689

1792: Picturesque Views on the River Thames by Samuel Ireland -

GRAVESEND, the first port on our river is well situated for commerce, and is famed for fish, filth, and asparagus.

1795: Gravesend -

Gravesend. June 1, 1795
J. Farington R.A. delt. J.C. Stadler sculpt. (Published) by J. & J. Boydell, Shakespeare Gally. Pall Mall & (No. 90) Cheapside (London)

1814: Gravesend -

Gravesend 1814
Gravesend 1814
J. Farington R.A. delt. J.C. Stadler sculpt. (Published) by J. & J. Boydell, Shakespeare Gally. Pall Mall & (No. 90) Cheapside (London) Drawn by S. Owen. March 31, 1814.

1839: Gravesend from the Terrace Pier -

Gravesend from the Terrace Pier
Gravesend from the Terrace Pier
T.C. Dibdin. J. Henshall. London, Simpkin, Marshall & Co., C. Tilt and the Proprietors, 1 Cloudesley Terrace, Islington.

1895: February, River frozen at Gravesend -

Gravesend frozen 1895
1895: February, River frozen at Gravesend

1895: Later in November 1895 a particluarly high Spring tide flooded Gravesend-

Gravesend frozen 1895
1895: November, a particularly high Spring tide flooded Gravesend.

The photographer used a very long exposure making the water look like ice, everybody had to keep very still, but then a dog wandered in front of the camera!

Lantern Slide (1883-1908) - Purfleet. Training Ship Cornwall
Pictures by W.C.Hughes. Thanks to Pat Furley, research by Dr Wilson.

1930s: The Lure and Lore of London's River, A G Linney -

At present the anchorage below Gravesend is not particularly interesting to the voyager passing by: barge and coal tiers, several hulks, the training ship Cornwall and the Gravesend Sea School's Triton, pleasure craft, and so on.

Probably the most striking feature to the casual observer is the tug fleet.

Bunches of stout tugs represent on of Gravesend's industries, though no longer do Thames tugs go questing down Channel, their skippers chaffering with shipmasters as to terms for a tow home. In the days of sail Gravesend tugs might get as far as the Scillys.

The tug-owning firm of Watkins is a century old, and their red-banded funnels have been a familiar sight ever since the days when Turner painted 'The Fighting Temeraire' being brought upstream by Watkins 'Monarch' -

The Last Voyage of the Fighting Temeraire, Turner - towed by Watkin's Monarch

Sample Port of London Survey of this reach Zoom in to see the details.

London International Cruise Terminal

RIGHT (north) bank
Cruise Terminal website -

The London Cruise Terminal at Tilbury is London's only deep water purpose-built cruise facility, situated at the gateway to London, just 22 nautical miles down river from Tower Bridge. Tilbury has become increasingly popular as a turnaround port for Baltic and Northern European destinations but it is also perfectly placed for transit calls to visit England's capital city, Kent and the south east.

London International Cruise Terminal