The end of an era on the Essex coast.


An old established Essex shipping company based at Fingeringhoe on the River Colne transporting sand and gravel from their workings at Fingeringhoe to the centre of London avoiding thousands of lorry journeys into the capital with vital building materials is due to cease trading shortly

Grateful thanks to John V. Nicholls for this article.



Copyright © J. J.  Prior Shipping

 The J J Prior company started out life 1844 when James John Prior born in Great Sampford, Essex. He worked as a farm hand after leaving school at 11 until he was 16.


At the age of 26, after working for several companies and saving enough money, he formed JJ Prior and purchased Bye Balls Farm in Great Sampford, Essex.


1888. Signed a lease with Great Eastern Railway for Orchard Wharf (on the Thames near Bow            Creek) that became the home of the business until 1990.


1900. The business expanded owning 3 farms, 200 horses and cart steam rollers, 3 sailing

           barges, 3 lorries and depots in Loughton, Bermondsey and Poplar.


1919. A.J.C. (Bert) Prior joined the company after the death of his grandfather and founder


1928. James and Len joined the company. Mr Bert, as he was known, saw the benefits of river

          transport and built up a fleet of 11 motor barges.


1933. Bert Prior became involved with a sand marketing company at Fingringhoe. By 1934 he

          had purchased the company which was known as Thames and Colne River Aggregates.



1947. The freehold of Orchard Wharf was purchased from Great Eastern Railway and the same

          year the adjoining Silvocea Wharf was purchased. 

          Peter Prior joined the business and became Managing Director. He was the son of

          Bert Prior.


1960. Two new barges were built for the Prior business, the JAMES PRIOR and BERT PRIOR..


Peter Prior became Chairman of the family business in 1976 after the death of Bert Prior.


1990. The London Docklands Corporation compulsorily purchased Orchard and Silvocea

          Wharfs. For the first time Priors had no main office in London hence the relocation of the             head office to Fingringhoe in Essex.


1994. The MARK PRIOR was added to the fleet. Throughout the 90s freight grants were

          available to the business and most vessels underwent refurbishment.


1997. The PETER PRIOR was added to the fleet. She was capable of carrying 600 tonnes,

          twice as much as the normal vessels. The first of many Gold Awards was won for being

          judged an outstanding operator in the quarrying industry.


2001. The cement barge GABRIELA joined the fleet carrying cement in bulk to wharfs along the

          River Thames.


2004. Planning permission for the next 10 years was obtained allowing 100% of the company’s

          products (from Fingringhoe quarry) to be delivered by barge to its customers.


2006. A new agreement with Euromix Concrete saw a state of the art concrete production unit

          built at the Brewery Wharf, Deptford. This is still operational today Summer 2019) taking

          some 6000 HGV movements per year off London’s congested roads.


2010. Thames & Colne River Aggregates and JJ Prior Transport merged to form JJ Prior Limited


2014. Purchase of modern efficient equipment ensures the continuation of the business.


2019 Sees the end of the Prior fleet carrying sand and ballast from the Fingringhoe quarry to

        Deptford. Full details not known but appears that an application to extend the quarry was

       overturned bringing production to an end. Most of the ship fleet had been laid up with only

       JAMES PRIOR and BERT PRIOR still in service in 2019.


In September 2019 the start of the massed extinction of the laid up fleet at Fingringhoe commenced. GABRIELA, LODELLA and MARK PRIOR were all beached and scrapped within a very short period. JAMES PRIOR was beached about 2 October and BERT PRIOR made her final voyage up to the Colne the following day.


Known ships in the JJ Prior fleet across the years.


GABRIELLA cement carrier (broken up 2019)
JAMES PRIOR  (broken up 2019)
PETER PRIOR (broken up)
NIGEL PRIOR (since sold)
BERT PRIOR  Still active October 2019
BRENDA PRIOR (was laid up but current status uncertain)
MARK PRIOR (broken up 2019)
FRANCESCA PRIOR (Under new ownership and laid up at Lowestoft 2019))
SIDNEY P (sold abroad to Gambia 1987)
PETER P  (later renamed J.J. PRIOR) (Houseboat Barking Creek)
COLIN P (last seen Queenborough 2005 engine removed)
DAVID J (broken up at Queenborough 198x, last photo 1984)
A.H.P (no trace after 1985)
HW WILKINSON (from 1994-1995)
LODELLA (from 2004 but never used and broken up 2019)

SHAWFORD (wrecked on Maplin Sands 1956)
PETERBOROUGH TRADER (registered with JJ Prior 1959) but by 1964 vanished
ARRIPAY – 1948 sank after being abandoned off Walton-on-the-Naze on passage from Fingringhoe for London with sand and gravel.


Recent ship breaking has been carried out at Fingringhoe


BERT PRIOR has not suffered the same fate as her sisters and still working on the Thames taking loads upstream from Clubb's Jetty.  She works on a two weeks on and two weeks off schedule.  It is believed that GPS Marine fills in the two weeks off.  AIS indicates that she goes back to Fingringhoe during her two weeks off periods. 


Indebted to various posts on Twitter over the past weeks; JJ Prior website https://www.jjprior.co.uk/ and The Liquid Highway.https://tinyurl.com/y2k85ncv


Copyright © John V. Nicholls 2019