6 JUNE 2022


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Article from BTNews 6 JUNE 2022


Cruise operators may tout Dover (80 miles from town) and Southampton (just about the same) to gullible Americans as London’s cruise port.  They are misleading their clients!

In fact Tilbury is the nearest large passenger ship access to the capital, something in the region of 25 miles (22 Thames Clipper miles), depending on where you start your journey.  When it comes to the airports it is also the closest port to Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton and Stansted.  It is officially London International Cruise Terminal.

If you are coming by road Tilbury Port is just 7 miles from Junction 30 on the M25 which makes it very accessible for links to The North, for East Anglia, and the QE Bridge for Kent and South East London.  For the bridge a small fee is involved, but it is all automated.

There is also a local railway station, Tilbury Town, with two c2c trains per hour from London Fenchurch Street, with intermediate stops and finishing at Southend.  It is just under a mile walk, there are taxis available and a bus service.

Somewhat rundown for many years Tilbury Cruise Port, under the management of Forth Ports, is making a strong comeback, first with CMV and now the home of Ambassador Cruise Lines.  

Tilbury is a turnaround port for an increasing number of operators, and the gateway into London for visiting large ships including in recent times Virgin Voyages Valiant Lady and Disney Magic. Forth Ports say that for practical purposes there is no ship size restrictions, and it has one of only three floating landing stages in the country.  Modern cruise ships are not deep hulled unlike the ocean liners of old.  Draught is no problem.

The Grade II listed terminal has been the subject of major investment over the pandemic and is probably the easiest of any to use in the UK with no long sloping passageways to negotiate, and parking directly opposite the building.  You can of course drop off luggage and passengers prior to dealing with the car, which will only be a short walk away.  It is difficult to believe that part of the terminal was once a railway station.  It works very well.

For visiting ships passengers can take a road trip to Central London, or use the river bus along the waterway, passing by many historic sites.  It is a fascinating one-hour   journey to Greenwich or Tower Pier.  An alternative is the adjoining regular ferry to ancient Gravesend, Kent, worth a visit alone, the resting place of Pocahontas.  Here there is a fast rail service to St Pancras.  If you are continuing your cruise when the ship docks it is a short walk to the historic Tilbury Fort (National Heritage) where nearby Elizabeth I who made her famous “I have the body but of a weak, feeble woman” speech.  It was built to defend London.

The Tilbury Ocean Liner Terminal was opened by the then Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald in May 1930.  Tilbury operated as London's passenger liner terminal until the 1960s. For many people Tilbury was the point of emigration to Australia under an assisted passage scheme established and operated by the Australian Government. The 'Ten Pound Poms' as they were known in Australia, embarked on to ships such as RMS Asturias (including your Editor-in-Chief) and set off for a new life.  Asturias was to have one last claim to fame, when in 1957, in the breakers yard, she became Titanic for the Kenneth Moore film “Night to Remember”.

Tilbury Cruise Terminal is Grade II listed. The iconic building has been reroofed and weatherproofed and redecorated in accordance with Historic England guidelines.  Now visible, the original ceiling is glowing white highlighting the brick columns with their Ionic scroll capitals.  It has an art deco gents' urinal!

It was here on 22 June 1948 that the SS Empire Windrush, generally accepted to have been the first ship to bring a large group of migrants from the Caribbean, docked.  The émigrés had been invited to the United Kingdom in response to labour shortages in the post-war years.  There is a model of the vessel in the terminal and plenty of momentous including a wonderful new mural in the hall which illustrates the occasion.  

June has been designated Empire Windrush Day and to coincide with the unveiling of the Windrush Monument on 22 June at Waterloo.   Some who arrived at Tilbury on the original Windrush sailing – 180 people – will sail from Waterloo Pier to Tilbury, ending at the Walkway of Memories by Evewright, opened in 2021.  See the BTN 16 December 2019 Christmas book review

Tilbury has a lot going for it, but your choice is limited in terms of cruise lines.   Forth Ports is working on that one.  If your ship is stopping for the day use the Thames Clipper to get to town.  This is only one way to enter London.



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Sam Smith, United Kingdom

I wish Ambassador well. CMV is missed and I think this will be better.