From the mid 19th century chemical production in the Thames Gateway was linked at first to the by-products of nearby gasworks.

Chemical production developed with the import of bulk raw materials such as borax and asbestos. The location of excellent rail links then allowed for the distribution of finished products. These products were either exported or used in the immediate area.

For example Berger paint in Stratford and Chadwell Heath, Dussek oils in Bexley and May & Baker pharmaceuticals in Dagenham.

Following the second World War, production came to rely on the import and use of petrochemicals. However, the increasing growth of refineries and chemical factories abroad led to local firms being moved or closed. By the start of the 21st century only one or two chemical firms survived in the region.