Bata shoe factory

The Bata shoe factory in East Tilbury is what remains of an industrial estate in Essex, England, which produced shoes for over 70 years. Founded in 1932 by Tomáš Baťa, the factory was "one of the most important planned landscapes in the East of England" in the 20th Century.[1][2] The factory closed in 2005.

Bata Shoe Factory (East Tilbury)
Bata Shoe Factory in East Tilbury, UK
LocationEast Tilbury
ArchitectFrantišek Lydie Gahura & Vladimír Karfík
AddressPrincess Margaret Road, East Tilbury, RM18 1


Bata Shoes was founded in 1894 by Tomáš Baťa in Zlín (then Austro-Hungarian Empire, today the Czech Republic).[3] After the plea of a Tilbury clergyman to alleviate unemployment during the Great Depression[4] and in part to overcome customs tariffs on foreign products,[3] construction began in 1932 on the Bata shoe factory in East Tilbury.[5] For the remaining years of the 20th century, the factory was an economic force in the Tilbury area and provided a unique model of a Company town in Britain complete with worker housing, schools and entertainment.[4]


In 1933 the first "Bata houses" for workers were built, set among gardens in a chequerboard pattern, which were distinct from the more typical Victorian terraced housing in the area.[4] The factory's architecture "predates" and "perhaps eclipses" other British examples of modernist architecture such as Highpoint I or the Isokon building, according to The Guardian.[5]

Built of welded steel columns, roof trusses and reinforced concrete walls, the estate's buildings were quite atypical of other red-bricked and sloped-roofed London suburbs.[6][2] All the social needs of the workforce were met by the factory,[7] and "Bata-ville" had all the services of a normal town, including a theatre, sports facilities, hotel, restaurant, grocery and butcher shops, post office, and its own newspaper.[5] The Czech architects František Lydie Gahura and Vladimír Karfík were employed to design the buildings on the site.[8]

World War II

The German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938 caused turmoil for Bata Shoes generally but the factory in East Tilbury thrived and "British Bata" was born.[9]

As male factory workers were called to arms, their wives often took over their jobs.[4] While in the armed forces, employees received the company newspaper, the Bata Record, along with food and cigarette parcels. At least 81 Bata employees from the Tilbury factory died in the war.[4] After the war, Bata's home office and other facilities throughout eastern Europe were nationalised by communist regimes.[3]

Latter years and demise

The Bata factory in East Tilbury remained in steady use for over 70 years, but production was gradually shifted to facilities closer to its export markets in the 1960s.[5] Factory downsizing began in the 1980s and the Bata industrial estate was closed in 2005.[2][5] "The East Tilbury (Bata) Conservation Area" was designated in 1993 by Thurrock Council and includes a Grade II listed building.[2][10]


The factory inspired the documentary film Bata-ville: We Are Not Afraid of the Future.[11][12]

The Bata Reminiscence and Resource Centre at East Tilbury Library was set up to collect the memories of people who lived and worked within the British Bata community.

In June 2011, an interactive trail was launched as an iPhone app known as Thurrock Mobile Explorer. This describes a route around the Bata estate and provides information about the history as well as environment at numbered points.[13]

In October 2016, a site-specific play Not Afraid Of The Future was developed by East 15 Acting School students about the lives of people who lived and worked in the town surrounding the factory. The play was performed in and around East Tilbury, finishing at the village hall.[14][15]


Jan Tůša, the father of BBC journalist and presenter John Tusa helped design and build the Tilbury factory, and rose to become managing director of the British Bata company. The Tusa family lived in nearby Horndon on the Hill, from 1939, though John Tusa was born in Czechoslovakia.[16]

See also


  1. "Bata Factory and Estate". European Route of Industrial Heritage. Retrieved 20 April 2011.
  2. Vaughan, David (27 August 2006). "East Tilbury: A Czech modernist Utopia on the Thames marshes". Retrieved 20 April 2011.
  3. "Heritage: 1894-Now". Bata. 2011. Archived from the original on 20 July 2011. Retrieved 20 April 2011.
  4. "Bata Reminiscence and Resource Centre". Bata. Archived from the original on 15 May 2011. Retrieved 20 April 2011.
  5. Rose, Steve (19 June 2006). "Welcome to Bata-ville". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 April 2011.
  6. "Bata Industrial Building Number 12, Tilbury". British Listed Buildings. Retrieved 21 April 2011.
  7. "Bata Estate – Factory and Model Settlement". Heritage Gateway. 2006. Retrieved 21 April 2011.
  8. "Bata Estate – Factory and Model Settlement". Heritage Gateway. 2006. Retrieved 15 January 2018.
  9. Tusa, John (21 May 2003). "The Burrows Lecture: 2003". University of Essex. Archived from the original on 8 February 2012. Retrieved 21 April 2011.
  10. "East Tilbury Conservation Area: Character Appraisal" (PDF). Thurrock Council. March 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 October 2011. Retrieved 21 April 2011.
  11. Road film follows shoe empire" BBC News 28 August 2005
  13. Thurrock Gazette report
  14. Lecture by John Tusa Archived 8 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine
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