A couple of Saturdays ago my five year old son and I had another "boys day out". As a special treat I took him for a visit to Tilbury Fort. For those unfamiliar with the local geography, the town of Tilbury, Essex lies on the opposite bank of the River Thames to Gravesend, Kent.
We joke that while other towns in Kent have twinning arrangements with towns on the Continent, in Gravesend we have a mutual suicide pact with Tilbury.
The two towns have been linked by a ferry service for centuries. As well as it being my son's first visit to Tilbury it was also his first time afloat, albeit for only a very short time - the ferry crossing only lasts about five minutes.
The current ferry operating the service is the "Duchess M" built in 1956. Up until the opening of the Dartford Tunnel in the 1960's car ferries operated the service but now it's foot passengers and bikes only.
Looking back at the Gravesend river front.The passenger vessel alongside the pier is the "Princess Pocahontas". She operates pleasure cruises on the Thames.
The ferry berths on Tilbury Landing Stage. The 1142' long Landing Stage was designed by Sir Edwin Cooper to accommodate large passenger liners and was opened by Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald on 16th May 1930.
On the same day the P&O vessel Mongolia called to embark passengers for Australia. Subsequently many thousands of passengers transited through Tilbury on their way to the Antipodes and other corners of the Empire. Another famous vessel to call at the Landing Stage was the Empire Windrush which brought some of the first migrants from the Caribbean in 1948.
From the Landing Stage we had a short walk along the river bank to Tilbury Fort passing by the appropriately named Worlds End pub. The river bank is very popular with anglers but nobody seemed to have had much luck as we passed by.
The shipping passes close to shore. The Hong Kong registered tanker "MTM Singapore" was inward bound from the USA.
The Fort, according to English Heritage, is one of the finest surviving 17th century forts in England.
Construction was started in 1672 during the reign of King Charles II on the site of an earlier Tudor fortification. It was built to defend London from attack by the Dutch who had mounted a daring raid up the River Medway a few years previously (more about this in a later post...). The impressive Water Gate pictured above serves as the main entrance to the Fort.
My son explaining the finer points of 17th century artillery operations!
The business end. Throughout it's history the Fort was regularly re-equipped with more modern guns. The last guns were installed in 1902. However, by this time the Fort was becoming obsolete due to advances in naval technology.
During World War I the Fort was used as an assembly point for Allied troops en-route to France and as a supply depot. It remained under military control until the 1950's.
Heading back to the ferry the "Maersk Nairobi" passed inward bound from Mexico and Central America whilst the 93000 tonne "Santa Teresa" left London headed for Brazil.
Well we had been to the dark side!
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