High House Production Park, located in Purfleet-On-Thames, is a cultural industries business zone featuring historic buildings, a public park and playground. It is also where The Backstage Centre finds itself lucky enough to be located.
On the 30th March we celebrated national ‘Take a Walk in the Park Day’ which led us to investigate the history of the park and learn about how it came to be the urban oasis that it is today. Situated just 14 miles east of Central London, having the park right on our doorstep is a huge perk to our clients.
High House a History
In the early 2000’s, when work began on excavating the land for the Royal Opera House’s Bob & Tamar Manoukian Set Production Workshop, items from late prehistoric to early Roman era were discovered. This dates the site back further that the earliest written records of High House.
These records begin in 1552 and list the land in the area as being owned by Robert and Cecily Long. Before her death is 1559 Cecily had split the land into two between her daughters Martha and Magdalen. On the land they built two houses of similar standing. The building now known as High House was known by a variety of names across the years. It has been constructed in various forms and materials. From timber frame, to stone, to the brick built building we see today.
By 1762 the house and surrounding land was owned by John Seare. Today the gardens at High House are modelled of those that were designed in 1769, supposedly by ‘Capability’ Brown on behalf of the Seare family.
In 1777 the famous brewer, Samuel Whitbread, bought the manor from Seare. It was inherited through generations of the Whitbread family until 1920 when the estate was broken up.
In 1876 West Thurrock consisted of a ‘few cottages, some wooden, all poor’ and ‘several well-to-do farms’. (fn. 53) Of those buildings High House, west of Stonehouse Lane, also known as West Hall or Le Vyneyard alone survives:https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol8/pp57-74
The land surrounding High House, which had been used as farmland since the 1800’s, eventually came to be owned by the farmer Mr Vellacott, around the 1930s. It is for him that Vellacott Close is named.
High House Then & Now
In the 1950s the House was converted into flats. It was occupied until the 1980s. The surrounding buildings were left to deteriorate in this time.
A rather wonderful, and far more detailed, history of High House has been recorded by the High House Community Group. The group are campaigning to develop High House into a well-used, sustainable and lasting inheritance for all. They are full of knowledge regarding the rich history of Purfleet-upon-Thames and Thurrock as a whole. They are housed in the Community Hut in the outbuildings to the House and on open days you can stop-by and learn about the history of High House from them directly.
High House is not just the main House but a collection of historic buildings including a Stable Block, Barn, Granary, Workshop and Dovecote. The Dovecote is one of the best examples remaining intact in the UK. It stands as a reminder of the prosperity and wealth of the families that once lived on the land. All of these buildings, apart from the house, have been restored and provide critical spaces to the organisations that operate in this cultural industries business zone. But what brought on this restoration project?
Becoming a Production Park
In 2005, it was announced that London would host the 2012 Olympic Games. It became apparent that the Royal Opera House would need to relocate their Production Workshops. The site in Purfleet-on-Thames was identified and the seed of High House Production Park was planted. The park came to life through the collaboration of The Royal Opera House, Creative and Cultural Skills, Acme Artist Studios, Thurrock Council, Arts Council England, alongside the departments of Business Innovation and Skills, Communities and Local Government and their agencies.
The Buildings and their residents…
In 2010 the Bob & Tamar Manoukian Production Workshop was opened following a community Opera ‘Ludd and Isis’ that was staged in the space by the Royal Opera Houses Education Department – The ROH Bridge, who also have offices at HHPP. Since then the workshop, which houses a large space for scenery painting and construction, has fabricated the sets for productions at The Royal Opera House and other key cultural venues.
In 2013 Creative and Cultural Skills opened The Backstage Centre, a world-class, purpose-built, production, rehearsal and training facility. Home to the National College of Creative Industries, the building, business and vocational training provision were acquired by South Essex College in 2020. It continues to operate both a commercial and training arm from the specialist centre. Course’s training students in Technical Production Practice, Hair & Makeup for Production, Costume Construction and other various creative industries short courses are delivered across the park by South Essex College.
The BA(Hons) Costume Construction course is housed in a purpose-built workshop inside the Bob & Tamar Manoukian Costume Centre, that was opened in 2015. Students have an opportunity to study the costume archives of the Royal Opera House that are housed here. It is a costume-making facility for the Royal Opera House team and students have the chance to work alongside industry professionals in their workshops.
Also in 2013, Acme Studios opened a purpose-built unit housing 39 studios and 4 work/live units. Acme, founded by artists in 1972, supports artists by delivering affordable and secure provision of workspaces. Amongst the residents of the studios in Purfleet-on-Thames are Evewright and Kinetika.
What Is Next For High House Production Park?
There are still three vacant lots to be developed within High House Production Park. With the growth of the Thames Estuary Production Corridor you can guarantee these locations will be a great opportunity for other creative business’ to position themselves in this hive of industry. Purfleet-on-Thames’s regeneration project is set to create a state of the art film and TV studio in the heart of the town. Strengthening the position of the creative industries within the community. Keep a close eye on these developments as it feels like exciting things are coming that surely can only strengthen HHPPs position as a creative hub.
Author Louise Harvey, General and Technical Manager of The Backstage Centre.