In 1882, an Act of Parliament granted permission for the East & West India Docks Company of London to commence work at Tilbury, and on the 17th April 1886, the first vessel to enter was the Glenfruin, carrying the official commissioning party.

It was the beginning of the steamship era, and an exciting time for all concerned.

The Tilbury Docks opening ceremony - Photo: Essex Records Office

The original docks consisted of a tidal basin on Gravesend reach opposite Northfleet, connected by a lock to a main dock with three side branches named East, central and West Branch Docks. Between the tidal basin and Main Dock were two dry docks.

Working cargo at Tilbury in 1890.


Entering Tilbury Docks in 1903

The ss Mooltan of 1905 alongside at Tilbury.

In 1909, Tilbury, along with the upstream docks, became part of the newly established Port of London Authority - PLA.

At the outbreak of war in 1914, units of the Territorial Army were camped nearby for annual training, and quickly deployed to guard the docks.

With the cessation of hostilities in November 1918, Colonial troops were repatriated through Tilbury until late 1919.


The new ss Mooltan alongside the Tilbury landing Stage in 1923

Tilbury Docks in the 1920s.

In 1921, and again in 1929, the Port of London Authority carried out major improvements. These included a new lock 300m long and 34m wide, linking the docks to the River Thames to the west at Northfleet Hope, together with a third dry dock, 229 m by 34m.

The principal shipping lines using Tilbury were the P & O, the Orient Line, Atlantic Transport, White Star, the Anchor and Bibby Lines. There was also a daily ferry service to Ostend, and twice a week to Hamburg.

ss Moldavia off Tilbury.


The opening of the Tilbury Passenger Terminal by the Prime Minister, The Rt Hon Ramsay MacDonald. May 1930.

The first ship alongside was P&O's Mongolia.

Tilbury berths and Dry docks in the 1930s

Unloading hides from Strahnaver in 1931.

Three views of the Strathnaver alongside and departing Tilbury for Australia in 1934.

ss Balranald arriving Tilbury for the last time in 1936.

During the 1960s, at a time when the upstream docks were closing, the PLA further extended the Tilbury Dock facilities. Between 1963 and 1966 a huge fourth branch dock, running north from the Main Dock for nearly one mile was constructed . The tidal basin was closed and eventually filled in. In 1969 a 6million riverside grain terminal on Northfleet Hope - at the time the largest in Europe - was brought into use.

By the early 1980s, Tilbury was the last set of operational enclosed docks within the PLA operation.

The PLA funded a new 30million container port, which opened in 1967 - but labour problems prevented full service from commencing until April 1970.

Tilbury Docks c1959

Chusan anchored off with BI's Uganda alongside the Passenger Terminal.

ss Arcadia locking into Tilbury Docks from the London River.

The system consisted of a main dock with three branch docks, connected with a tidal basin by means of a lock 700 feet long and 80 feet wide, with three pairs of gates. The main dock was 1,800 feet long by 600 feet wide. Each branch dock was 1,600 feet long, the width of the centre one being 300 feet while the two outer ones had an average width of 250 feet. The total water area in the main and branch docks was 54 acres.

ss Iberia in dry dock at Tilbury.

In contrast to the Royal Docks further upstream, passengers embarked and disembarked at Tilbury, making use of the good rail links and staying at the local hotels. During the war, Tilbury was also used to convert P&O's ships into armed merchant cruisers and troop transports.

ss Mooltan in her wartime guise as an armed merchant cruiser and troopship.

ss Orion departing Tilbury in 1958.

The basin covers 17 1/2 acres, while the total area of the docks is 591 acres. The depth in the tidal basin at high water spring tides is 45 feet, and there is never less than 26 feet. In the main and branch docks the depth at spring tides is 38 feet. The largest vessels using the Port of London are accommodated at the Tilbury Dock, the entrance lock of which is of sufficient size to admit vessels of 25,000 tons.

The floor area of sheds and warehouses is 23 acres, and the storage capacity equals 83,000 tons of cargo. The quays are 2 1/4 miles in length.

ss Orsova at Tilbury in 1965.

ss Orcades arriving from Australia in 1963 assisted by the tugs Vanquisher and Moorcock.

ss Orcades alongside the Tilbury Landing Stage











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