As a family, father, mother, sister, brother and myself, we arrived at East Tilbury in 1940 having left London at the time of the Blitz. The Bata Estate was built on farm land and in 1940 consisted of the factory buildings, approximately 200 houses, hotel, and a few shops. We were initially housed in the Community House (later named the Bata Hotel) and thus begun our life at Bata.
As children we had a very safe environment and as the Bata school did not open until 1943, we travelled to the local towns of Stanford-le-Hope, Grays each day by bus to attend school. We soon became involved in life at Bata. As children we attended the Church of England Sunday School held each week in the Bata Hotel ballroom, in all some hundred children worshipped under the direction of Mrs Silk and Mrs King and each Christmas took part in the Nativity Play, which was performed in the Bata Cinema and attended by the local vicar, parents and friends.
We all looked forward to the annual Sports Day held each July. In the morning the factories were opened to visitors and each workshop arranged displays of their work, one particular memory I have is of the hosiery workshop, where dolls were placed on the knitting machines and as the machines were switched on the dolls danced. As you went round the various workshops you were given pencils, keyrings, etc. In the afternoon the sports started. Each child was given a picnic box containing food, drink, tickets to enter a race, free ride at the fair, free icecream and a balloon. The adults also had a wonderful day taking part in various sports and in the evening a dance in the ballroom. We had our own section of the British Red Cross and on Sports day we manned the First Aid tent with backup by the Bata Ambulance (Now in the Imperial War museum at Duxford).
Thru the years there has always been a Scout and Guide group at Bata. In 1966 Mrs & Mrs T.J.Bata visited to East Tilbury to present new Standards to the group.
Sport played a big part in our lives. The football team played in local leagues and also there were the annual inter company matches when teams from Bata East Tilbury played against Bata Holland and Bata France, each country taking it in turns to act as hosts. In addition too football, we had cricket, netball, tennis, table tennis, and keep fit. The sports ground was well maintained and West Ham, a Premier English football club, regularly trained on the Bata field and each year played a game against the Bata team, followed by a dinner and dance in the evening. Then there was the swimming pool where we spent many happy, if somewhat chilly, hours.
As a family we were all involved with the Company. My father was a foreman in the leather factory, a member of the Bata Fire brigade (Photo No.5) during the war years, a member of the Social Club committee, umpired for the cricket team and on retirement was one of the founders of the Bata Over Sixties Club. When we were still at school my mother used to do ‘home work’ for the company (thus enabling mothers with young children to work from home) which varied from putting metal tags on shoe laces, thonging uppers for moccasins, putting studs in golf shoes and in later years worked in the tea centre in the factory. My sister worked in the hosiery department and my brother whilst at school used to sell Bata Records on a Friday night outside the factory gates. He later did an engineering apprentice and went to Australia with Bata. I worked in the Export Sales Department for almost 25 years as a secretary and over the years met many Batamen from all other the world as they came to Tilbury to attend courses.
In 1953 the Tilbury area was badly hit by severe flooding from the River Thames. Fortunately the estate was not affected although there was some flooding the factory. The Company opened the hotel for people whose homes in the nearby town of Tilbury, were flooded, giving them accommodation. They also set up areas and supplied footwear to people. As a result the Queen of England visited the Bata Hotel the Managing Director was presented to her and she went on to meet the flood victims The workers from the factory lined the street to welcome Her Majesty.
The Company ceased trading in England in 2005 and sold all the property. In 2002 a group of volunteers, of which I am one, (Photo No.7) formed the Bata Reminiscence & Resource centre to record the social, industrial, and architectural history of East Tilbury. With the sponsorship of Mrs & Mrs T.J.Bata, Thurrock Council, East of England Development Agency, and the Cory Environmental Agency the centre is housed in the East Tilbury Library where there are display cabinets illustrating life and work at British Bata, and archive shelving to store the many artefacts donated by many people. In addition a collection is being developed of written, visual and vocal memories of Bata people. We have an extensive website www.batamemories.org.uk which is constantly being updated with photos, memories and news from Bata people around the world.