Excavations at East and West Tilbury; Tilbury Docks

Summarised by John Tilbury of Nottingham
from 'Roman History' in the Victoria County History: Essex

(bibliographic references excluded


This part of the Essex coast has fallen 10 feet since Roman times and most Roman finds were below high water level.

One or more Red Hills have been noted and traces of palaeolithic implements have been found, on the foreshore.

Near thc W. boundary ot the parish, below high-tide level, are the remains of a small settlement of circular huts, with many potsherds of the 1st and 2nd centuries. In 1920 three adjacent huts were visible at low tide and there were traces of a fourth about 20 yds. farther West. The internal diameter of the smallest of the three was about 11 ½ ft., that of the others about 20 ft. The two largest consisted of three concentric rings of small stakes, 1 ½ to 2 in. thick, mostly natural round branches, though some were roughly squared. They were arranged singly or in pairs, to form the framework for a wattle wall, remains of which were well preserved below the mud. The two inner rings of posts were about 8 in. apart, and between them were remains of a ring of stones (Kentish Rag and chalk) and another such ring of stones lay outside the outer ring of posts. The western hut showed traces of an interior partition, while the middle hut had a circular platform of rubble in the centre, 18 in. in diameter, probably for the support of a central upright. In the latter hut were also remains of the original wooden flooring, made of planks 5 in. wide and 1 in. thick. Near this lay an oval oven, with clay walls 6 in. thick, with opening to the North, the ground round it being burnt hard. In the eastern, small hut, two stouter posts seem to indicate the entrance, 2 ft. 10 in. wide.

In and around the huts lay so many fragments of the daub with which the walls had been covered, that the stone circles could not have been built up to any height. Within the huts remains of Roman roof tiles indicate the nature of the roof.

Immediately East of the huts was a shallow channel running N.E. to S.W., with traces of flanking stakes, which may represent a former trackway leading from the old river edge.

The foreshore for about 100 yds. on each side of the huts was littered with pottery. The sherds were, however, mostly unglazed wares of native type. There is no evidence that any was made on the site, which may have been a landing-place for traffic from Kent. The amount seemed excessive for a small community. It is chiefly mid-1st-century in date and of sub-Belgic character.

Remains found at Higham (Kent) in association with a causeway running N. to the Thames opposite East Tilbury suggest a Roman ferry at this point. In 1889 pottery`from nearby Coalhouse Fort was exhibited to the Essex Field Club by S. W. Squier. An early-2nd-century beaker found in the Thames between Tilbury Fort and Coalhouse Fort is in Thurrock Museum. Fragments of 4th-century pottery, found on the foreshore in East Tilbury, are in the same museum.

The church contains Roman brick. It was reported in the 18th century that gravel digging near it often uncovered tessellated pavement. It was also stated that coins were frequently found in the parish. A grey Upchurch ware vase from East Tilbury is in the Passmore Edwards Museum, West Ham.


In 1869 burials were found at the end of Manor Way, a raised road running across the marshes from Low Street. They were exposed by the tide, and subsequently a number of vessels, of Samian and coarse wares, were recovered from the mud at low water. Many of them are now in the Benton collection in Southend Museum, with others from unknown sites in West Tilbury. They include a set of eight vessels in one group.

In 1872 pottery found at the ancient ferry was exhibited. It included two stamped Samian platters, a small bowl, fragments of a decorated bowl, three urns of light-coloured ware, and fragments of rudely ornamented ware, possibly local. In 1912 much pottery was found about 1 mile east of Tilbury Fort, including Samian, Salopian, and Durobrivian wares. Some of it is in Thurrock Museum and some in Colchester Museum which has A 2nd-century vase, found in 1916 in the mud in front of Tilbury Fort.

Urns from burials found in gravel-digging during the building of the London, Tilbury, and Southend Railway were exhibited in 1858, and one vessel was given to the Essex Archaeological Society about 1863. Another, in the British Museum, is probably from this site (67157780).


Roman tiles, flint-blocks, potsherds, and oyster shells were found in excavations for the Central Dock in 1883. They were scattered over 40 acres or more, 7 ft. below the modern surface.


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