The Purfleet Floods

1953 , Purfleet (Essex)

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Scenes from the after effects of the 1953 floods.

The film begins with high angle shots showing exterior shots of the flooded factory and of the surrounding area. Throughout the film there are good general shots of the industrial-cum-port landscape in this area. There follow interior shots showing the factory and its equipment under fifteen feet of water. Exterior shots show some of the damage, including a hole in the side of the factory wall seventy five feet wide. There is a long sequence showing sandbags being filled and taken to fill the breaches in the sea wall. Some of these have to be taken by barge and the men can work only for the few hours that the tide is favourable. Later are shots showing this task undertaken at night. Pumps are brought into use. Later these were also supplied by the fire service and by central government. Shots showing the pumps around the factory show some quite ancient looking pieces of equipment. The Minister of Food arrives to inspect the site. The scene moves to Van den Burghs and Jurgens' Cheshire factory where production was doubled overnight using many of the methods employed in wartime. Retired members of staff were brought into work, the maintenance shift was replaced with a production shift and the factory worked three shifts, seven days a week to keep up with demand. At one point a new machine was constructed from spare parts. At Purfleet, firemen assemble pipes and pumps. By now, the weather has deteriorated and there is snow on the ground. HM the Queen visits Purfleet and at the neighbouring Thames Boardmills site, five of the Purfleet men are presented to her along with the Works Director. The full extent of devastation when the waters have subsided is portrayed. Storage tanks have been moved, iron girders are twisted, steel shutters have been blown out, floors torn up, the foundations undermined and there is mud everywhere. The cleaning up operation is shown in detail. Every piece of machinery is dismantled, cleaned and repaired. All electrical equipment, 4,500 pieces, is dismantled, completely overhauled and then re-installed. All of this took just ten days. Machinery is cleaned with detergents, then with disinfectant and then rinsed with several changes of hot water. Finally the whole factory is sprayed with anti-bacterial. The books are 'cooked' to dry out, overalls are laundered and 100 miles of cable are checked and re-laid. The fuses are put in and the system is switched on. There are scenes from the control room and then on the factory floor. The first batch of margarine produced is destroyed. The second is sent for analysis. Only the third batch produced can be sent for consumption. All of this has taken just 43 days; initially it was thought that the factory would be out of action for six months. The film finishes with scenes from a fete and of the factory and port area.

Featured Buildings

Van den Burghs and Jurgens Stork Margarine Factory, Purfleet

Intertitles

On the first Sunday of February, 1953, the East Coast of England suffered the most serious floods in 500 years of history. This is the story of what happened to Van den Burghs and Jurgens margarine factory at Purfleet in just a few acres of Thames-side.

Other Places

Cheshire

Manifestations

The Purfleet Floods

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    Sound
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