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Thurrock History Society April Report: Bata and tis rich history

History of the Bata Shoe Company

by Mike Tabard – 18 Mar 2016

Mike Tabard from the Bata Heritage Centre gave us an interesting and well illustrated talk on the History of the Bata Shoe Company.

Born in 1876 Tomas Bata and his sister set up business in Zlin, now in the Czech Republic. Tomas came to England to expand his business, tapping into trade via the British Empire, his vision being ‘ to shoe the world’. He advertised nationally for land with good access and eventually bought 600 acres in East Tilbury in 1932.

Construction of the light and airy leather and rubber factories began in 1935, the building of the estate in a chequerboard style starting the following year. Four bedroomed houses on corner plots were for managers and those with three bedrooms also had big gardens with flat roofs. Workers were allocated houses, with subsidised rent being deducted from their wages.

Czech management ran the factory at first and staff were sent from the UK to Zlin to learn the ropes. A conveyor system was brought in, copied from Henry Ford. The hotel was brought over from the Czech Republic in kit form and the canteen provided 600 meals a day.

Bata also built a cinema, swimming pool, tennis courts and sports ground with a grandstand, where West Ham played once a year. They had their own garage and lorries and ran their own fire brigade. They even printed their own stationery, including the Bata Record. Bata also made Power sportswear, with ambassadors including Dave Ottley and Fatima Whitbread.

The nearest railway station at Low Street was a 2 mile walk away so a halt was created at East Tilbury in 1935, built on Zlin principles. After the war the half-completed estate was finished, using traditionally built houses. All the roads were named after the Royal Family or Bata family members, Princess Margaret Road being completely built in the 1960s. Shops included a supermarket and butcher. There was a Recreation Club and Espresso Bar, but no pub or church on the estate.

In the 1953 floods managing director John Tusa met the Queen when she visited the site. Tomas Bata had died in a plane crash in 1932 and his statue was unveiled at Tilbury in 1955. Founders Day was recently resurrected, when homage was paid to him and a wreath laid.

The factory became uneconomic and closed in 2005 and the estate is now a conservation area with a Heritage Centre which has grown and holds open days, with hopes for more funding. The Bata WW2 memorial has been refurbished, with further names added, members of the Heritage Centre currently researching the history of all names.

Bata are still shoemakers to the world in over 70 countries. In Nigeria shoes are known as ‘Bata’ and plimsolls are now made in India and sold by Selfridges. This was a very enjoyable talk, bringing back memories to several of our audience.

Our next meeting is at 7.30pm at the Adult Community College, Richmond Road, Grays on Friday 22nd April. The AGM will be followed by Ann Hardy whose talk is entitled For Richer for Poorer. Visitors are welcome.

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