Notes on Purfleet

Beauty can be coaxed out of ugliness

The river frontage at Purfleet is potentially rather beautiful.

Purfleet Dockside

At the west end, there is the historic Heritage and Military Centre housed in what was once the Royal Magazine for Gunpowder, then just beyond that the sluice gates for Mar Dyke and the RSPB Reserve on Rainham Marshes. From the westernmost tip you can see all the way to Canary Wharf, the Shard, and many other iconic London skyscrapers. At the other end of the Purfleet river path lie a number of wharfs and jetties pushing out into the Thames, sometimes with massive freight ships or ferries loading and unloading their cargo, and with the backdrop of the QE2 Bridge. And all the way in between is the ever-changing Thames, with flotilla of small working and leisure boats bustling about across the waters.

The remaining Royal Magazine for Gunpowder was built in 1759, the last of five identical buildings. They were built to test, store and supply gunpowder to the military. These magazines were particularly busy during the Napoleonic wars but were in continuous use for over 200 years until 1962 when they were decommissioned. They were guarded by a garrison of soldiers although the work undertaken within each magazine was performed by civilians. Many ships collected their munitions from here, including Captain Cook's HMS Adventurer in 1772. The building is now a military museum.

Barbed wire
Barbed Wire and Jetty

Given all this, the Purfleet shoreline ought to be attractive, in an urban/industrial sort of a way. But the reality is rather more grim. The river itself is majestic and slow but can't be seen from the riverside path except by climbing up on top on the sea wall – there are many sets of steps which allow this. And the view inland is of post-industrial decay, interspersed with the occasional container park and chemical factory.

There is hope for Purfleet. Thurrock, the local authority, is planning to redevelop the town centre. At the heart will be a film, television and media village. It will be the largest facility of its kind in Europe, covering 600,000 square feet, and the first purpose-built studio complex in the UK in 50 years. It is expected that the studios will host some of the largest production companies in the world, alongside post-production, multimedia and video gaming firms.

The town centre will also provide new homes, shops, and other facilities and allow access to the River Thames. The plans include opening up the riverfront for public use, with an attractive new waterfront containing a mix of residential, commercial and property; jetties, walkways, and open green spaces. Works should begin on site in 2016/17, with the first phases of the development being completed in 2018/19.