PortCities London

Passengers and the port

Facilities for travellers

From tenders to luxury

'Aliens arriving at Irongate Stairs'.
View full size image'Aliens arriving at Irongate Stairs'. © NMM

When most travellers used the wharves and the inner London docks, few facilities were provided for them. Most simply arrived at the landing point and got on.

For many new arrivals, things were even more basic. While some companies had their own wharves, many ships transferred their passengers to shore by boat. Most of the Jewish immigrants arriving in the 1880s landed this way.  

Leaving the Orcades at Tilbury, 1957.
View full size imageLeaving the Orcades at Tilbury, 1957. © NMM

These methods were no longer adequate once the Royal Albert and Tilbury Docks started to handle the large liners carrying greater numbers of passengers.



The Gallions Hotel

The Gallions Hotel.
View full size imageThe Gallions Hotel. © NMM
The great change came with the opening of the Royal Albert Dock in 1880. Three years later, the Gallions Hotel was built nearby for passengers waiting for their outward trip. However, this catered only for wealthier travellers. 

The Tilbury Hotel

The opening of the Tilbury Docks in 1886 also brought plush accommodation for the wealthy. The Tilbury Hotel was probably one of the most distinctive buildings on the shore of the lower Thames.

The Tilbury Hotel.
View full size imageThe Tilbury Hotel. © NMM

Whatever comfort it brought to travellers, it caused great discomfort to two of the finest writers in the English language.

Joseph Conrad, who passed it many times as a merchant seaman, deplored its 'monstrous ugliness', calling it a 'shapeless and desolate red edifice' and the 'heaviest building for miles around'.

George Orwell passed through Tilbury on his way back from France before writing Down and Out in Paris and London. He was even more unkind:

'Then the boat drew alongside Tilbury pier. The first building we saw on the waterside was one of those huge hotels, all stucco and pinnacles, which stare from the English coast like idiots staring over an asylum wall.'

The passengers must have been just as unenthusiastic about the Tilbury Hotel - it closed within a year. After a variety of uses, it was finally destroyed by enemy action during World War II.


Tenders at Tilbury

Despite its hotel, Tilbury could offer little comfort to travellers actually getting on or off their ships. For many decades there was no proper landing stage, and small tenders were used to move passengers between ship and quay.

In Kipling's The light that failed, a character weighs up the options: 'Is it Tilbury and a tender, or Galleons and the docks?' 

The Passenger Landing Stage at Tilbury

Tilbury Docks and the new Passenger Landing Stage.
View full size imageTilbury Docks and the new Passenger Landing Stage. © NMM

Passengers at Tilbury were regarded almost as incidental to the main business of handling cargo. In the late 1920s, the Port of London Authority finally opened the Passenger Landing Stage.

The Edith III (1911) pulling away from the Tilbury Landing Stage.
View full size imageThe Edith III (1911) pulling away from the Tilbury Landing Stage. © NMM
For the first time, passengers were able to disembark straight onto the quayside.





The Tilbury Passenger Terminal 

The Reception Hall at the Tilbury Passenger Terminal.
View full size imageThe Reception Hall at the Tilbury Passenger Terminal. © NMM
The most significant improvements came with the new Passenger Terminal at Tilbury, opened in 1957. This was the first major facility built specifically for passengers.

Approaching the Reception Hall at the Tilbury Passenger Terminal, 1957.
View full size imageApproaching the Reception Hall at the Tilbury Passenger Terminal, 1957. © NMM
It resembled the facilities already being provided by airports, and made departure and arrival by sea seem far more sophisticated.

The Observation Gallery at the Tilbury Passenger Terminal.
View full size imageThe Observation Gallery at the Tilbury Passenger Terminal. © NMM
However, the great days of long-distance sea travel were drawing to a close. Within a decade, the airlines were capturing most  international passenger traffic, and the great liner routes closed one by one.




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