The Refinery Today

The site today

In the early 1970s Canvey was a target for the construction of a Thames-based oil refinery under American company Occidental Petroleum. Why the construction took place from 1974-78 (roughly) after the 1973 Oil Crisis’ financial burden remains a mystery, because it was the legacy of this crisis which caused them to abandon the half-built site in 1978. Acres of ancient farmland was built over to make way for the imported sand, ditches, pipelines, oil drums, jetties, and chimneys which were erected on the site. The legacy of the site is quite ironic, however, as the imported sand made the abandoned refinery a haven for wildlife and it now stands an incredibly prestigious RSPB brownfield (formerly-industrial) nature reserve. In the 1990s there were plans for local billionaire Peter de Savary to turn the ruined site, which makes up 1/5th of Canvey’s land mass, into a holiday park with water sports e.t.c. However the fact it was a hotspot for nature began to be brought to attention and hence it didn’t go ahead. the oil drums, chimney, and other significant structures were removed in the 1990s when Sainsburies bought the site (now Morrisons to the south of the site). Fred Dibnah was called in to take down the chimney. The site still holds vast road networks and three jetties, reminiscant of Chernoybl, and is incredibly eerie and quite ecclectic for its mix of nature and industry. Lamposts existed alongside all the roads right up until the 2010s wehn they were cut down and their bases still remain. At least one of them still stands albeit more tucked away. The site continues to fascinate me as to how so much industry was incorporated into what essentially was a grass-based refinery and remains today to be dominantly a natural environment rather than a concrete or tarmac resurfaced urban wreck as one might expect.

 Visit New Years’ Eve 2014

Visted the North-West section of the site that we visited back in 2011 on our first visits. We checked out the third wooden shipping jetty and emergency exit for evacuation incase the refinery had an accident. It was rather cold but it was a very fine day and the isolated spot that’s many miles from civiliation all around was well worth a visit. We cut through the large road spanning the length of the site along its eastern edge to get to the far end, accessed via the new RSPB car park down Northwick Road making the harder-to-reach areas of the site considerably more accessible. We previously had to walk through miles of the abandoned site to reach its furtherst corner, but now it is only a 15-minute walk away. This has its obvious good and bad consequences.

 Visits Early 2013

We showed the ruins of Oxy to local Sam Hill who is a good friend of BTP Joe, in Easter that year. We skirted the site but then cut through to walk the mile-long jetty. Later in 2013 around July time Merlin Evans – BTP Liam’s cousin, visited the site with us where we brought torches and white sheets in an attempt to attract some of the rare wildlife of the now-nature reserve.

Visit Summer 2012

We visited the site with local Ben Mitchelmore who we went to school with who contacted us at the time expressing his interest in urban exploration, film editing, and free-running. We showed him the place as an interesting ‘starter’ BTP location – a good mix of man-made and natural intrigue.

 Visit December 2011 & the 3rd Emergency Bridge to Canvey

That day was quite a story. It began with us heading out at 11 o’clock and starting in the car park in the RSPB Reserve off the  left of Canvey Road. We followed the pathways from here to the seawall, and then proceeded west. From here we saw the sewage pump of TN8 Northwick, now mostly situated in part of the second last recycling centre at Northwick Road. Later along the way, we found an old concrete drainage exit point, and saw many old groynes, in the marsh and stream between Canvey and Pitsea, from the seawall, which is nothing but an earth mound which means it must be the old Dutch seawall. As we continued along the wall we saw a familiar sight, nine horses, three of which were having a good mooch about along the seawall directly in our path. After much deliberation, we walked through them. As we exited the ‘horse-barricade’, Joe noticed one of the horses making a quick ‘canter’ (I think that’s a fast walk) towards us, followed by others. Joe called “run” so we did. Although this may have set off the other horses we weren’t going to hang about. The horses went down off the wall to meet with the others, and before we knew it, we were running for our lives from a group of nine horses running for us below the seawall at full-pelt! We managed to stay in front of them due to having the higher, quicker, route, reaching the fence and gate in time. We then looked upon the horses from the other side, and fed them dry grass, realizing that perhaps all the horses thought when they ran after us was that we were the farmers with food for them.

We eventually reached the north of the Occidental site, seen previously visited Easter that year. We were greeted with the ‘Danger Keep Out’ sign featured on this site, and one of the main refinery roads. We paid a visit to the flood barrier/emergency bridge, noting that the seawall along it is the same as Canvey’s old seawall before 1970/80. The barrier would also be used as an emergency bridge off of Canvey, in the case of a flood, as we first thought. We are now presuming that it was only an emergency bridge to be used by workers or near residents in case of a disaster at the Occidental refinery, and they would have to evacuate to Pitsea via this bridge. We believe this firstly because the emergency bridge going off of Canvey has rocks lining the marsh near it identical to the rocks, buried with the concrete, in the area shown in our previous post at the top of this paragraph. Another reason is that the only road going to the emergency bridge was built by Occidental and starts as an extension of Northwick Road. The next reason is that the road is of course now part of the abandoned Occidental site, meaning it is severely overgrown, and it would be a huge struggle to get a car or van down the road. This suggests the road once would be used as an emergency bridge, but nowadays has been left to fall into disrepair as it no longer has anyone to use it (being the Occidental workers). A final point which probably confirms this is that the Occidental road signs here say ‘RVP’ meaning ‘Rendez Vous Point’ in case of emergency.

We then proceeded to the Occidental site via a break in the fence, although we didn’t want to get to the fence via this route due to the field of cows and bulls staring us head on – now they are more dangerous than horses! Instead we fled to the seawall, and walked along it to the third more secret Occidental Jetty (the main one being the mile-long oil pumping one, the second being the ‘construction jetty’ with a WW2 boat at it’s side). This jetty is made mainly of a wooden frame although contains metal fastenings and concrete beams for support at attachment to the shores. We know this is Occidental due to the several trademark ‘Danger Keep Out’ signs lining the fence blocking easy access. About one third of this wooden structure has been either demolished, burnt, and rotted, probably a mixture of all three. It is visible in the gallery above.

We then entered the Occidental site and sat and ate lunch on ‘the ramp’ with soup and tea from our new Thermos flasks, which do the job well for exploring. Next we headed for the square area of the Occidental refinery once containing the chimney and large sheet-metal ‘hangar’ like buildings. Now all the buildings are gone, along with the chimney which was demolished by Fred Dibnah and his crew in 1997. All that remains of the buildings are concrete stumps with wires, in which the walls of the bulidngs would have been fastened and secured down to. All that remains of the chimney is simply just a small tarmac-like circle similar to those of the bases of the oil drums, except smaller, which goes a few feet down into the ground. Upon searching through one of the building sites, we found many piles of bricks and concrete which came from the fallen chimney. I’m assuming Fred and his crew dumped them there. We also spotted a white builders helmet, which upon closer inspection said ‘Rudders Demolition’, meaning it must have belonged to Fred Dibnah, or his crew, which is more likely. We also saw concrete columns adjacent to the chimney, being the remains of it’s control area

We finally took a peek at big ‘OJ’ (the Occidental Jetty) and headed down the bridle way of the Roscommon Way extension, towards the WW2 pillbox. On the wire mesh covering the pillbox entrance we placed a pro-looking homemade historical information sign with cable-ties, in order to remind those curious of their local past.

Visit Summer 2011

After our two initial visits earlier in 2011, we were now more aware of what the site was used for. We explored the length of the site this time around the RSPB Reserve rather than along the North-West edge as seen below. We covered the central area up to the main jetty, and a section just west of the low flat ‘construction jetty’ where we found stockpiles of concrete and wood, and some giant cubes. What exactly these were is unclear as the plans for the site have seen (also visible on appear to have been deviated from as the site was constructed.

Visit May 2011

We returned to revisit what we found on our first ever BTP explore where we stumbled across the Occidental remains only a few months earlier. At the time we thought it was some form of military cover up or something covered over by the local authorities as it was so remote and the remains seemed to be pretty impressive in size. There was a real sense of the ‘unexplored’ surrounding the refinery site but thanks to our research and the help of others there is now little mystery to it – expect for the question of what exactly some of the structures were used for. These ruins to the very north-west of the Occidental refinery site are a bit of a mystery as they seemed to be beyond the site fence and the land is not marked as owned by Occidental of any of the original plans we have seen. However they were definitely part of the refinery and followed up to the emergency bridge.


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