Thursday, 28 June 2012

The Only Way is Essex

I grew up in the North Kent town of Gravesend, a pleasant enough Thames-side community that had never really recovered after its Victorian Rosherville Gardens faded as a popular and classy Londoner's day out and was replaced with Bowaters paper mill and a cement works.

It was home to much riverside activity including the Port of London Authority buildings and lots of Tug boats which plied their expertise in escorting huge passenger liners and freighters in and out of London docks and Tilbury. This was obviously before London Docks became an office building.

When my father was promoted from his job in London to offices in Southend, he became a regular daily user of the passenger services between Gravesend and Tilbury docks. At first this was via the car ferry, a large rickety old steamer which was as exciting as a fairground Waltzer with cavalier disregard of health and safety. This mighty beast also took us on day trips to Southend or just to go and row the boats in the Tilbury Fort moat but it was discontinued in 1964 following the opening of the first Dartford Tunnel the year before.

The Car ferries were replaced with a much more modern set of ex-British Rail steamers which ran a frequent and efficient service for foot passengers. This is the "Edith" which kept up regular services between 1961 and 1992.

However, I was quite astonished to see a picture the other day of a BRIDGE between Gravesend and Tilbury. I assumed this was some sort of joke, but looking down at the date it said the bridge had been built in 1915. That's almost a Century ago!

Apparently this amazing pontoon structure was built near the start of the Great War as a means of shifting troops quickly between Kent and Essex and also to provide a barrier against enemy fleets coming up the Thames. The centre section could be removed for larger home ships to enter.

What a great feat of engineering, almost as remarkable as Brunel's Thames tunnel opened 70 years before it.


Pearl said...

That's quite a bridge. On pontoons yet!


Martin said...

Builders of bridges and tunnels have my complete admiration.

Nota Bene said...

Now that would be a fun way to cross...I guess it wobbled like all pontoon bridges do - how did the soldiers keep in a march?

Z said...

I suppose perfect marching rhythm would have made the sway regular, but I should think that it would have been quite disconcerting. What an interesting post, Rog.

Billy said...

My family are from Tilbury so I've been on that boat. I never knew about the bridge either!

Mike and Ann said...

If troops ever marched across a pontoon bridge the order was always given to 'Break Step'. This was so that a sway that could seriously damage the bridge was not set up. The troops then shambled across any old how (the slackers !), but presumably in safety.

mig bardsley said...

Oh - I thought I'd just posted a comment.
Might end up with two, sorry.
What a fascinating post and what a lot of exciting ways to cross a river.
I'm often amazed and delighted by the results of the "see a problem - solve it" approach of engineers of the past.

Rog said...

Pearl: hello and welcome! Pontoon and Bridge are different card games for some reason

Martin: I K Brunel is one of my great heroes

Nota: it would make a sight to behold. The millennium bridge problem would be small fry.

Z: it's always nice to discover something new about which you thought you knew everything

Billy: Tilbury! Never sounded such a drab name as Grays or Gravesend

Mike: I can remember seeing "Troops break Step" signs on bridges but can't remember where. Probably an episode of Dad's Army

Mig: only one of you - you didn't have to break step!

Pat said...

Better step than wind. Sorry.
Agree fascinating post. Always thought Brunel's Clifton Suspension bridge a thing of beauty.

Rog said...

Pat: Wind-breaking in unison reminds me of the Levison enquiry for some reason...