Thursday 1 September 2016

Purfleet Heritage Centre

On Monday I explored a small local history museum that I haven't visited in a while. The Purfleet Heritage and Military Centre is based in the Royal Magazine for Gunpowder on the banks of the Thames. The building was one of five identical powder stores each of which could hold 10400 barrels of gunpowder. The site continued in use right up to the 1960's when the land was bought from the MOD by the local council. In typically myopic fashion the council promptly knocked down most of site to build a housing estate, only retaining magazine no 5 for use as a store building. It wasn't until 1992 that a local resident group put forward a proposal to assume stewardship of this Grade 1 Scheduled Ancient Monument and turn it into a local history centre which opened in 1994. 

There are two 'isles' that run the whole length of the building and both sides are ram packed with exhibits. The original wooden beams, complete with painted markings are visible above the displays.
The internal fabric of the building - including wooden hoists and beams - remains largely intact and now houses a wide range of displays of historical and military memorabilia that span the 18th century to the present day. The team of volunteers at the museum are always happy to talk to visitors and seem to be constantly updating and improving the collections so no two visits are ever the same. 

Each section of the building has a different display.

Part of the North Africa collection including helmets, uniforms and insignia.

A mocked up Anderson shelter

The displays include hundreds of original photographs, letters and personal documents.  

Note the anti ship Magnetic mine in the corner... I don't think I have seen one of these in a museum before. 

There's even a small Boar War and Zulu War display.

This unexploded 500kg bomb was found in the bottom of a Gasometer (a massive storage tank for domestic gas typically holding 50000 cubic meters of gas) decades after it was dropped. It had gone through the roof of the tank and lay in the sludge at the bottom for decades until the facility was being decommissioned. I bet that was a shock for the inspectors!

The Centre is open Thursdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays between 10am - 4:30pm and there is ample free car parking outside and in the adjacent street.

This really is an excellent and extensive collection of memorabilia, all very well presented. If you live close enough it is well worth a visit and if you live further afield its still worth the trip. Maybe you could combine it with some retail therapy at the nearby Lakeside Shopping Centre. Simply drop your 'significant other' off with the Credit Card and escape the drudgery of shopping by spending a couple of hours exploring this wonderful museum. 


  1. It strikes me as being so typicl of small local museums where quite simply there is too much on display and it looks like either a jumble sale or a bad charity shop. because so much is on display nothing seems valued and highlighted so everything is chaotic and unfocussed. I am sure the staff care so much about the place they cannot bare to put anything in storage, but I think it would help them to make what they have seem more valued and worthwhile.

    Climbing of my soap box now!

    1. Its true, less is often more. Rotation of items from display to storage and back again is the way to got IMHO. That said Storage space coast money and space ad money may not be in abundance for a small operation.

    2. They don't have much storage..the building is pretty much it...but I have noticed they have changed the displays around a bit. Both isles of the building are divided into sections and each area has a different theme.

  2. quite the little gem indeed, even if a bit eclectic. Now do enlighten me on the Boar War :-p is that something like the great Emu War?


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