The Bata shoe factory and estate was built in East Tilbury the 1930s by Czecheslovakian entrepeneur Thomas Bata. It was modelled on the original factory in Zlín, now in the Czech Republic, and hence survives as an unusual piece of Czech industrial Modernism here in Essex. The factory was converted into the Thames Industrial Park in the 2010s after lying abandoned for several years following the factory’s closure. Other parts of the estate; such as the hotel and houses, are still lived in today. New homes have been constructed nearby, although still bear obvious influence from Bata with their flat-roofed designs.
This is where the main offices were based. People would have to arrive at the gates by 7:30am, otherwise they would have to go through the surviving revolving door straight into the staff offices to report their absence and lose 15 minutes pay. Now this is fittingly the main offices of the Thames Enterprise Park.
This huge block has not yet been renovated and still bears its very interesting authentic appearance, which makes a nice change to the rest of the buildings and reminds us of its age. This is where the large Bata sign is. Rubber would be moulded into soles here.
Here, leather for shoes would be worked on from hide, cut into shape, treated and sewn. This block has been renovated and is used as storage space today.
Power Station & Other Factory Buildings
The Bata factory had a small brick power station added to it some time after the factory’s initial construction. This now lies largely derelict. Also pictured are the other factory blocks, small workshops, and gatehouse where the clock would have been to ensure workers arrived on time.
There is a great number of house designs around the Bata ‘Ville’ estate. Bata Avenue is the first street constructed to accompany the factory, and had simple cube-shaped houses as well as larger apartment blocks at the entrance to the road for single people. On the other side of the main road in East Tilbury lies the majority of its modern housing. Much of this takes the form of flat-roofed Bata houses of both simple and luxury balconied design. These roads all converge into a central roundabout, with urban planning intended to fan out from the factory entrance. An open-air swimming pool was also located here.
This large apartment block with shops and a Co-operative on the ground floor is named Stanford House, but was once the quite elegant Bata hotel for visitors such as business partners. Judging by old photographs it is somewhat a shadow of its former glory.
Cinema & Espresso Bar
The Bata cinema is of a simple vaguely art-deco design. Today it is the East Tilbury village hall. Behind Stanford House lies a sorry-looking row of shops. This was once a state-of-the-art espresso bar added as the 1960s came in. Sights like this challenge our perceptions of a progressive society.
Although Bata’s East Tilbury factory has since closed, marked the end of the company’s operations in the UK, Bata is still going strong today selling over 150 million pairs of shoes every year across over 70 countries. Pictured below is one of their stores that we spotted in Venice, Italy.