Tuesday, February 27, 2024

A History of Grays discussed at Thurrock Local History Society

Grays History

Thurrock Local History Society Lecture 17 March 2017

History of Grays by Philip Edgar

Philip Edgar took us on a nostalgic trip of Grays via his photographic collection. Originally Grays was a small port with brickworks and a brewery. In 1086 the population was only 28 and by 1670 still had only 28 houses. With the coming of the railways the population took off and was 13,000 by 1901, with wharves and jetties, barge builders and breakers yards on the waterfront.

Apart from Seabrooke’s brewery, there were many riverside pubs, including the White Hart, Anchor & Hope, The Bull, King’s Arms, Rising Sun, Sailors Return and the Green Man. There were also the Theobald Arms, The Castle, Railway Hotel and Queen’s Hotel – an enormous number for the town. The brewery has now gone, but the Co-op bakery is still there in Argent Street.

Old views of the bathing pool and boating pond on Grays beach were shown, together with the Exmouth Training Ship moored off Grays and the Gull lightship, which was once used as a clubhouse by the Yacht Club.

There were photos of the Old High Street which was demolished in the 1960s, including the Dutch House. These houses were replaced by Kings Walk, now also replaced. Several shops were shown, including Flints ironmongery which sold car and radio parts; they were the first company to broadcast at the Orsett show. Also gone are Paines Corner which was also a pawn shop, now Barclays Bank, together with Bastiani’s Ice Cream, Boatman’s jewellery shop, Horncastle’s furniture, FW Woolworths, Marks & Spencer, Westwood’s Menswear, Noads pianos and prams and the Co-op at Hathaway Road. New Road pictures showed us the Grays Building Society (remembering its scandal), Joyes (bargains galore) and the Albion Market.

Photos of the early 1900s showed no cars, with the streets empty. There was a toilet where the War Memorial now is and we were shown views of the troops going off in WW1. Park school is still there, opposite Grays Park which was the original brickworks. The fire station has now gone and the free library in Orsett Road has also been replaced, with the clock now in store. We learnt that Mr Button had moved out of Belmont Castle in London Road as the chalk works got closer. It was bombed in WW2 and the site now forms part of Badgers Dene. Lakeside grew out of the Tunnel Cement site.

We were shown photos of the railway with horses and carts awaiting passengers. This was where the roast chestnut man sold his wares and where coal merchants Carters and Layzell had their offices. The main bus stops used to be in Orsett road and some shops were pulled down to widen the road for the new routes, the Greenline and Country buses being changed to a one-man operation. We saw pictures of Harris’s coaches, who also owned houses in Parker Road and Belmont Road. The Empire Theatre in the High Street is no more; the Ritz, once a bingo hall is now a church and the Regal in New Road has long gone. The art deco State cinema still awaits renovation. The Dell, built by Alfred Russel Wallace is now to be converted into flats.

This was a trip down memory lane for many of our members.

Our next meeting will be at the earlier time of 7.30pm at the Adult Community College, Richmond Road, Grays on Friday 21st April. It will be the AGM followed by an update on Alfred Russel Wallace and the Dell by John Matthews. Visitors are welcome.


  1. can you tell us which was the first supermarket to open in grays town centre, was it on the site of the old Empire cinema?

  2. Are the any reference to the midwives Ann born 1883, and Edith Standfield b 1893 , living in Grays until 1965 and 1978.

  3. Memories of shops which were around when I was growing up from 1950’s to 1974. I lived in Stafford Clays from when I was born from 1949 until 1974. I left for Sydney, Australia in December, 1974, meeting my husband in 1978, getting married at St Mary’s Church, Gray’s. In 1978. Now, in my latter years, it is so interesting to read how Grays started in 1086 with the small population, and the progress from thereon. Now, in my latter years, it really interests me to know what Grays was like when my mum was young. I have so many fond memories of my childhood and so it was great to read this. Wish I could be there at your meetings, but it is a long walk for me these days, being so far away. Oh, what we do in our youth Thankyou for the privilege of being able to read this short summary.

  4. Did grays have orphan mansions at the top of grays hill off of Orsett Road and down college avenue?

  5. Can anyone remind me of the name of a department store on Grays High Street in the 1960’s , it stood on the corner of the High Street and Crown Road opposite the level crossing. It was quirky and old fashioned and still had those vacuum tubes which sales assistants used when taking cash for sales.

  6. I have lived in Meesons lane for 50 years and remember many of the old residents of old

    I also have a pair of north and south elevations
    Of Belmont castle in water colour, made by a local artist.

  7. Dear Loraine

    No photos

    But I bought the roof of quary hill school when demolished about 50 years ago and used it to renovate my existing home, a bungalow in Meesons lane grays, I still live there!


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