At the mouth of the Thames — one of the world’s most famous rivers — lies Creative Estuary. 60 miles of coast and country reach east of London, from Purfleet to Southend in Essex and from Dartford to Margate in Kent. Our towns and communities across both counties include Basildon, Canterbury, Gravesham and Medway. Many locations along the Estuary have become legendary, often because they reflect the diverse character of the place and its people. Here are a few of their stories in brief.
Many locations along the Estuary have become legendary. Often because they reflect the diverse character of the place and its people. Here are a few of their stories in brief.
City Island is home to English National Ballet. Located in Canning Town, this state-of-the-art building gives English National Ballet the space and facilities it needs to develop world-class artists and create new works that push the boundaries of ballet. The space has been designed to welcome in the local community and visitors, with views into the rehearsal studios, an exhibition space and café.
At the mouth of the River Ravensbourne you will find Deptford or ‘deep ford’ Creek. The sloping habitat into Deptford Creek is part of only 2% of the Tidal Thames edge that still remains natural, making it a rarity in London. The area is also home to Cockpit Arts, an award-winning social enterprise housing 145+ makers working in 24 craft disciplines. And The Artworks Creekside a diverse creative-led space for independent local businesses and independently minded people in Deptford.
East Bank is a new powerhouse for innovation, creativity and learning on Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. It is a unique collaboration between world-leading universities, arts and culture institutions that opens up opportunities for everyone who visits, lives and works in east London. www.queenelizabetholympicpark.co.uk/east-bank
In the 1930s a radical new estate was built to house the employees of shoe company, Bata, with a modernist factory complex at its heart. It was an early and idealistic model for living and working in a cohesive community with its own facilities and infrastructure.
The development of Ebbsfleet Garden City aims to become a benchmark for 21st-century living and working. Learning from earlier generations of New Towns, Ebbsfleet will create a place founded on quality placemaking developed through and with communities. Much of the new city will be built on post-industrial sites. Cultural facilities and creative workspace will be designed into the built environment to help create a uniquely active identity.
Hackney Wick is home to artist studios in former industrial spaces, quirky cafes, and creative eateries, with craft breweries and bars along the River Lee Navigation canal.
Here East is an innovation and technology campus situated in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Hackney, East London. It is home to a vibrant mix of innovators, visionaries and like-minded locals looking to challenge the status quo. hereeast.com
Canvey is a low-lying island hugging the south Essex coast. Bounded by a long sea wall it defends its independence as a community with determination. Settled early on by a Dutch community that helped reclaim the marshland, it has more recently been a performance location for rock musicians and today a place of inspiration for contemporary artists.
Ramsgate sits at the most easterly part of the Estuary on the North Kent coast. The town has long been a significant port for arrivals and departures, from Julius Caesar who came to conquer, to St Augustine who came to convert. Its harbour, England’s only Royal Harbour has, over time, launched warships to fend off Napoleon and flotillas to rescue British troops at Dunkirk in World War II.
The Royal Docks was built in 1855 as London’s gateway to world trade. Today this vast area in the borough of Newham is known for its industrious nature, strong sense of local community, established global connections, and unique expanse of water. £8bn is being invested into the area over the next 20 years, which will turn it into one of the most productive and creative ecosystems for new and growing businesses in the region.
On the northern corner of the Isle of Sheppey lies Sheerness Dockyard, a place with a maritime and industrial history that lives on in the characteristic buildings right alongside the active Port of Sheerness. The island is remarkable for its vast areas of inspiring and wild marshland which includes the extensive wildlife reserve at Elmley.
Halfway between the Essex and Kent coastlines stand groups of extraordinary sea forts towering up out of the Estuary on stilts. Built to defend the Thames during World War II these forts have been used for military and civilian purposes, most famously as pirate radio stations in the 1960s and 1970s. Now joined by massive offshore wind farms they demonstrate how the Estuary has been inventive both on sea and on land.
Ever since Elizabeth I addressed her troops here before the Spanish Armada, Tilbury Port has earned its place in Estuary legend. In 1948 the S.S. Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury bringing 500 people from the Caribbean in search of a new life and to help rebuild the country after the war. This event has become a landmark in the history of modern Britain. Virtually synonymous with London as a port, Tilbury continues as a major centre for the import, export and storage of goods.
Once used for the manufacture of armaments and ammunition, proofing and explosives research for the armed forces, the historic site of Royal Arsenal is being converted into a new 15,000sqm creative district for London. Woolwich Works opened in September 2021 and includes theatres, concert venues, dance studios, a recording studio, offices and places to entertain.
The Estuary has an active town life. Here are places that reflect the diversity and continuity of our communities, our rich local history and maritime heritage that provide homes for businesses, for individuals and for families that offer what you need to enjoy a balanced and rewarding life.
Just nine miles inland in South Essex, Basildon was one of the pioneering New Towns of the post-war era. It is now one of the Estuary’s largest urban areas with a growing population and a new commitment to creative culture and a renewed interest in its mid-century built environment. The town centre is a walkable space recently being revitalised as a dynamic place for living and working.
England’s most famous, and first, cathedral city, and home to three universities, Canterbury has a long heritage as a place of learning. Established in the 7th century, it became a destination for medieval pilgrims and scholars. Today its evident history is matched by its dynamic academic, research and cultural life and its lively student population.
Dagenham is at the heart of London’s eastward growth and is set to become a world-leading destination for film. The borough can boast over 300 filming days on average a year, including Sony-Marvel’s Morbius and Marvel’s Black Widow. Plans are in place to build London’s largest new film and TV studios for 25 years that will include up to 12 sound stages, three acres of backlot, offices and ancillary space, totalling over half a million square feet.
On the south side of the Thames and only 20 miles from central London Gravesend has fast rail connections direct to the capital and from Ebbsfleet to the continent. The town’s pedestrian ferry, which connects with Tilbury, is the most easterly link across the river. Gravesend is home to the Sikh community whose Gurdwara complex is one of the largest outside India. In recent years the town has become a favoured location for fast-growing digital businesses.
This World Heritage site is quite literally the centre of our world. The place where the western and eastern hemispheres meet, for centuries, Greenwich was perceived by Western civilisation to be the nerve centre of global astronomy and maritime exploration.
Today Greenwich has a bustling, village-like vibe, with plenty of shops, pubs, markets and museums, including the Royal Observatory, Cutty Sark, the National Maritime Museum, the Old Royal Naval College, London’s cable car, Greenwich Market, Greenwich Park and The O2 Arena.
Once best known as a resort town on the far eastern edge of Kent, Margate has reinvented itself as a radical and thriving centre for art, culture and entertainment, with many creative people choosing to make it their home and workplace. With the acclaimed Turner Contemporary close to its long town beach, and the reimagined vintage theme park at Dreamland fast becoming the UK’s coolest music venue, Margate draws visitors from far afield.
Medway combines the five towns of Rochester, Chatham, Gillingham, Rainham and Strood in a busy conurbation spanning the Medway river. History is represented by Chatham Historic Dockyard, Rochester Cathedral and Rochester Castle, while the modern world is embraced by the town’s new waterfront regeneration projects, its multi-university campus and expanding creative services sector.
Newham has one of the youngest and most ethically diverse populations in the country, making it a very vibrant borough. More than four out of ten people in the borough are aged 25 or under and two-thirds are from minority ethnic backgrounds. It is the first borough in London to use livelihood, well-being and happiness as its prime measure of economic success. The recently developed East Village served as the athletes’ village during the 2012 Olympics.
Purfleet sits to the east side of London, on the north bank of the Thames. It is a town with a strong industrial past and present. Since 2006 Purfleet has been the location of the creative industry’s production centre at High House Production Park which includes the Royal Opera House’s scene-making facility and costume store, as well as ACME Studios, South Essex College and the Backstage Centre. This successful creative campus is a model for further developments along the Estuary.
For hundreds of years, Romford and its market have provided a lively town and meeting place. Situated on the great Roman Road between London and Colchester, a Roman route guide placed the site of Durolitum in the vicinity probably at Hare Street where three inns still exist.
Southend has been a popular South Essex resort since the 19th century, famed for its seaside location and pier – the world’s longest. In recent years Southend has nurtured its own creative and artistic resonance. Its galleries, community of artists and creative businesses have contributed significantly to the town’s regeneration and its cultural reputation. Just north of the town, London Southend Airport provides an important link to the continent.
Where the river Thames makes its most northerly excursion within Greater London, and named by a competition winner, Thamesmead has a strong sense of pride in its unique character, culture and community. Thamesmead’s culture was shaped by an ideal of self-organisation. Its new residents built a community radio station, a newspaper, and one of the UK’s first community trusts. Today that tradition continues, with Thamesmead residents running a grassroots network of organisations ranging from community churches to garden societies and angling clubs.