Barking Town Heritage Project

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Time Capsule Burial at The Curfew Tower - 30th January 2023

With help from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, we are putting local heritage at the heart of changes to Barking town centre, with a focus on East Street and the surrounding Abbey & Barking Town Centre Conservation Area.

Our aim is to conserve and commemorate historic buildings in and around East Street and to research and inform residents and visitors, about the stories behind the high-street stores and town-centre heritage.

Our heritage volunteers are developing a historic legacy by contributing to the creation of town trails and tours, learning resources, a heritage exhibition, a permanent mural in East Street and Barking's new heritage art trail.

We hope that you can join us in ensuring that our local heritage continues to be a positive and relevant part of Barking’s evolving cultural identity.

Please provide contact details in the Join The Heritage Volunteers section below, if you are interested in becoming a Heritage Volunteer or if you have any heritage questions .

With special thanks to The National Lottery Heritage Fund for funding this project and the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Archives and Local Studies Library, at Valence House who have provided support, training and access to their archives and photograph collection, including the heritage photos on this webpage and throughout our Heritage Hub.

Contact for further information on our local archives.

With help from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, we are putting local heritage at the heart of changes to Barking town centre, with a focus on East Street and the surrounding Abbey & Barking Town Centre Conservation Area.

Our aim is to conserve and commemorate historic buildings in and around East Street and to research and inform residents and visitors, about the stories behind the high-street stores and town-centre heritage.

Our heritage volunteers are developing a historic legacy by contributing to the creation of town trails and tours, learning resources, a heritage exhibition, a permanent mural in East Street and Barking's new heritage art trail.

We hope that you can join us in ensuring that our local heritage continues to be a positive and relevant part of Barking’s evolving cultural identity.

Please provide contact details in the Join The Heritage Volunteers section below, if you are interested in becoming a Heritage Volunteer or if you have any heritage questions .

With special thanks to The National Lottery Heritage Fund for funding this project and the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Archives and Local Studies Library, at Valence House who have provided support, training and access to their archives and photograph collection, including the heritage photos on this webpage and throughout our Heritage Hub.

Contact for further information on our local archives.

  • Abbey Green Steering Group

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    Abbey Green is more than a place of leisure and recreation for residents and visitors, it is a historic site, with several nationally listed buildings and the remains of Barking Abbey (c666-c1541).

    As part of the legacy of the Barking Heritage Project we have established a Steering Group with LBBD staff to better manage, maintain. protect, and improve Abbey Green! We aim to facilitate cross-department/organisation collaboration with other stakeholders, including the schools, Parish Church, and partners Historic England, on whose behalf we manage Barking Abbey Scheduled Monument. The abbey remains are regarded as a national treasure and are the jewel of Abbey and Barking Town Centre Conservation Area - which is also an area of Archaeological interest!

    We have commissioned more mosaic heritage signage by Tamara Froud. The Tudor Leet House sign - there will be three more mosaic and tile signs in this design on Abbey Green - site of historic interest!

    Three further signs on Abbey Green will also represent further 'lost heritage' - in the form of the 1614 cobbled mosaic from the Blue Anchor Inn on the Town Quay/Heath Street, a Barking Abbess, and the Work House on North Street (1788-1934) which housed Barking's poor, in lieu of their labour, until 1841, when it was converted to shops. It was built on the site of Sir James Cambell's Free School, established after his death in the 1640s, the school rooms remained within the work house/grounds until being rebuilt on Back Lane as a National School in 1872 and later as became a Church of England School - now St Margaret's CofE Primary's twentieth century building.

    These signs will include a map of Conservation Area/Scheduled monument 9see above) and related regulations as well as general expectations for users of Abbey Green. They are funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund and LBBD.

    We also plan to move the heritage stone seating from the quay side (site of Blue Anchor and new residential developments) to the play area on Abbey Green, funded by Weston Homes and requiring permission from Historic England and Central Government consent.

    We will provide regular updates from the Abbey Green Steering Group - attached to this page and the Barking Abbey page on Be First's Heritage Hub!

  • Over to you - how did we do?

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    Last Saturday, we launched our evaluation survey - to find out what you think of the improvements to our heritage assets within Barking Abbey and Town Centre Conservation Area. It would be useful to know which aspects were popular and what we could learn for future projects.

    Photograph - Jimmy Lee

    We started our engagement at St Margaret's Church Open Day - where we were aptly positioned underneath the Curfew Tower - the shade was truly cooling on a hot day! Visitors had the opportunity to climb up the tower to see the Holy Rood - medieval relic inside and also to climb the bell tower in the church where the bell ringers and also the choir and organist (the Church's new musical director) in the chapel, provided the atmospheric audio for the open day. As usual Carol the Churchwarden provided the refreshments including the ubiquitous homemade cakes. Revered Mark was supported by his team of volunteers including our very own Alex, Sue and Felicity who were also on hand to support Eric, Val and myself with the questionnaires. It was a lovely day to engage with the visitors to the church and passing locals about our project, with another opportunity to acknowledge the new model of the Abbey and heritage mosaics close to the improved public realm and find out if the restoration works along the high street were appreciated.

    We will be back in Barking in October for more face to face surveys but would be really grateful if online readers would complete a 5 minute survey for us before the end of October! Plaese have your say here:

    You can also access it via this QR code:

    If you would like to visit further heritage sites opened to the public this weekend,

    The Hospital Chapel of St Mary & St Thomas, Ilford, which was opened by Barking Abbess Adeliza, c1145, will be open for tours between 10am and 4pm this Saturday and Sunday. St Patrick's Church, Blake Avenue, and nearby Eastbury Manor House are both thoroughly recommended too! The former was a rare wartime build for a new parish of mother church St Margaret's, experience this mid twentieth century beauty - open on Saturday 10.30-4.30 and Eastbury - built on former abbey lands in the sixteenth century - is another of the borough's hidden gems - open on Sunday.

    We wish everyone another great open house weekend!

  • 'Barking' in Barking

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    Not everyone knows that ‘Barking’ was most probably named after a Saxon called Berica. Berecingum has had numerous spellings, but as the esteemed local curator and librarian, James Howson, suggested, this Saxon settlement probably referred to ‘Berica’s people’. Others suggest the old name might refer to the Birch people, however a person’s name - like Dacca - whose home named Dagenham – was a more common Saxon tradition for place names, but perhaps Berica was named after the Birch trees... This would make a nice link to the modern-day spelling of ‘Bark-ing’. Our heritage volunteer, Eric Feasey, has written about another aspect of local history which ties in neatly with the ‘bark’ in Barking – this being the link between the eighteenth-century windmill, which was mapped beside the River Roding on Chapman and Andre’s map of Essex, from 1777, and Barking’s tanning heritage.

    Can you see the windmill icon, south of St Margaret's Church and east of the Roding?

    Both the old windmill and the tanning industry owe their origins to Barking Abbey, whose establishment by Erkenwald in 666CE, would have led to the development of fishing, farming and various cottage industries in Barking, during the Saxon period. The growth and significance of these trades probably escalated, after the interruption of Viking raids and Dane Law, with the rebuilding of the abbey, by King Edgar in the tenth century. The Benedictine nunnery, overseen by an abbess, was no doubt elevated in status during the medieval era when King William I (the Conqueror) stayed there, whilst building his Tower in London, in 1066/7, and the abbey’s importance would have impacted on its surrounding area – its manor/estate…

    Seventeenth Century Map of Barking Manor after the dissolution of the abbey.Eric discovered that Fountains Abbey, in Yorkshire, still has its old ‘bark house’ and no doubt Barking’s Abbey or surrounding manor once had one too… What was the bark used for? It was used in the manufacture of leather from animal skins – the ground bark (tannin) was used in the ‘tanning’ process which protected and coloured the leather hides before they were used. Leather had so many practical uses, not just for clothing and footwear in our damp climate but also saddles and other practical uses, even drinking cups/tankards were once made of leather…

    Barking Heritage Mural featuring Wellington Windmill

    The Barking windmill of 1777, pre-dated Wellington Mill (1815-1926 - which was named after the Duke of Wellington’s whose victory against Napoleon took place in the year it was established). The earlier windmill is marked to today by the riverside development on the east bank of the Roding known as ‘Mill Point’!Recent map showing 'Mill Point' close to the site of the 1777 Windmill This windmill was not used for milling grain into flour (as Barking’s ancient watermill and later Wellington Mill were) but, perhaps not surprisingly and very interestingly, was used for stripping and/or grinding bark!

    Building sign - marking the site of the old windmill today...Eric’s quest to find out more about the waterways and windmills of Barking, close to where he grew up and worked, as a carpenter for Austin’s Timber works – making the windows for the Becontree Estate among other things – led him to the local archives. They have a wonderful book on windmills: Essex Windmills, Millers & Millwrights by Kenneth Farries, 1984 – Barking was part of Essex for several centuries before it became a London Borough. This book revealed that, windmills appeared in Barking as early as the thirteenth century! More intriguingly a ‘mill off Abbey Road’, was offered for sale in 1738 as ‘lately erected’, by Joseph Joyner the elder - a maltser – possibly expecting to use it for barley in the beer-making process.

    Interestingly a ‘Malt House’ building is still present in the nearby riverside Conservation Area! This reference, from 1738 may be for the windmill on the 1777 map, which was the subject of an insurance policy in 1793. The policy, for Thomas Overton, covered it as ‘timber-built’ mill costing £150 to replace. It was represented on the map as a smock type windmill and presumed to be a logwood mill based on the engineering notes of John Smeaton, held in The Royal Society, (no drawings are included). Its situation beside the river is described as, ‘favourable for the receipt of waterborne supplies of timber and dyewoods…’ The latter were an important source of colour, presumably for leather/tanning. The rasping and chipping engines included in the spec – required, ‘an immense power to actuate them…’ Wind was not usually used to power such machinery, for stripping timber, and would have operated at a s/low speed in most winds… This may explain why this windmill did not last into the nineteenth century and is not marked on the first OS Map of 1805…

    The role of the tanning industry in Barking however, was significant particularly from the sixteenth century until the eighteenth century – a golden era for The English Bark Trade – when 90% of tanning bark was oak, according to an article by L A Clarkson. There are historic records that show the bark used by Barking tanners came from Hainault and the river was used for transporting the timber and bark… After stripping and grinding the bark it was stored in bark houses – like the one Eric discovered at Fountains Abbey. It is no coincidence that Tanner Strete – as it was known - is close to the Loxford Stream – one of the tributaries of the Roding. Eric has also been following the historic flow and uses of the waterways in the Barking area, around the Roding and Back River!

    Eric Feasey’s article on Barking Windmills:

    I first become interested in the history of Barking when I found out about the Wellington Mill, and joined my local Barking History Society. To my surprise Barking was looking for volunteers to help with a National Lottery project. So, I met a small group of heritage volunteers, and one of them turned out to be the young daughter of my best mate from childhood. She too was interested in the Wellington Mill because it is very near where we once lived in East Ham. Through our research we have found out about the first windmills in Barking in the days of the Abbey, for instance, the 1777 map of Essex shows one of them which generated a lot more discussion amongst the team, as we discovered certain windmills were used for grinding bark into powder which is used in the tanning industry, which was originally situated near Uphall Camp - a Roman encampment by the side of the river Roding. The Romans understood the process of leather tanning, and it doesn’t surprise me that the opposite side of the river was Tanner Street, in medieval Barking. Also nearby was a windmill. Could this have been one for grinding bark? I looked forward to seeing Barking archives and researching more about the tanning industry and its importance to Barking Abbey…

    A challenge to all your young people out there compile a list of all the things that had been made from leather before this marvellous stuff called plastic was invented - which is polluting the oceans… So to begin your research on leather - think of this surnames Barker and Smith, there is a connection with leather to these surnames…

    I’m not barking up the wrong tree - the origin of the surname Barker is English and has been found in records as early as 1200. Barker is an occupational surname that refers to those who stripped and prepared bark for use in the tanning process... Bark mills, also known as Catskill's mills, are water, steam, horse, or wind-powered edge mills, used to process the bark, roots, and branches of various tree species into a fine powder known as tanbark, used for tanning leather. The powdering allowed the tannin to be removed more efficiently. A barker would strip the bark from trees before grinding in such mills and the dried bark was often stored in bark houses...

    Meanwhile the Wellington mill, thus named because it was built in 1815... Our team have carried out research on the windmills and the article from British History Online is missing some details. Should we amend the information when it is just about the Wellington mill?

    There are occasional references to mills elsewhere in Barking, on the site: ‘In 1243 William and Geoffrey Dun, who had erected a windmill, gave an undertaking to Barking Abbey not to erect any windmill or watermill in future within the manor of Barking. (fn. 63) There was a mill on the manor of Wyfields in 1567–74 and one on the manor of Uphall in 1634.’ (fn. 65) Both were no doubt on the Roding. A windmill is shown at the south end of Fisher Street (later Abbey Road) in 1777 – which is the one we now believe to be the bark mill. A steam mill at Ilford is listed in 1848–86.

  • Grand Opening of the public realm on Abbey Green

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    Cllr Darren Rodwell, Leader of Barking and Dagenham Council and David Harley, Interim Director of Development at Be First Regeneration, have formally opened the improved public realm in front of the Curfew Tower, on Abbey Green.

    As part of the Barking Abbey and Town Centre Heritage Project delivered by Be First (the council’s development and regeneration company) and funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, contractors T Loughman & Co Ltd have completed landscaping works for the public realm in front of the tower. These improvements create an attractive and useful open space for the local community.

    The York stone has been re-set with a cobbled border to represent the ancient Church Path and draw people towards the medieval gateway, St Margaret’s Church, and abbey ruins. New heritage style street furniture, and lighting have been introduced, with additional uplighters to illuminate the historic tower at night. The replanted soft landscaping, including trees, now frame the Curfew Tower rather than obscure the view, as visitors approach from East Street.

    The works promote Barking’s heritage too. A bronze model of Barking Abbey, and heritage mosaics celebrating Abbey Green and the protest heritage of the ‘Three Lamps’ have recently been installed. Meanwhile, pupils from St Joseph’s and St Margaret’s Primary Schools buried a time capsule of writings and illustrations about Barking’s past, present and future, before Loughman completed the works.

    The Curfew Tower (formerly the Fire Bell Gate) is the only remaining gateway of Barking’s Saxon Abbey. It is a Grade II listed building which was originally built in 1370. The bell rang to remind people to put out fires and lights before the nightly curfew – a practice which didn’t cease until 1900. There is a chapel built into the tower – which holds a stone relic called the Holy Rood which was visited by pilgrims in medieval times and has also survived the demolition of abbey.

    Rich in history, the ‘Abbey Gate’ - as it was also known - is the only gateway to Barking Abbey still standing, following the abbey’s closure and demolition during Henry VIII’s reign. The abbey ruins are listed as a Scheduled Monument by Historic England and are at the heart of the heritage Conservation Area in Barking town centre.

    On Thursday 25th May 2023, the leader of the council, Cllr Darren Rodwell, and Interim Director of Development at Be First, David Harley, officially opened the place where local people and visitors can enjoy the green space and heritage of the site, with a reception for stakeholders in this heritage project, including the Heritage volunteers, Adrian Loughman and Peter Martin of T Loughman & Co Ltd who delivered the works, Liudmilla Garaeva from Node's Design Team, Cllr Geddes, Cllr Rahman and Cllr Singh Rai, Be First and LBBD staff and Revered Mark Adams, of St Margaret’s Church.

    Cllr Rahman, Tamara Horbacka, Cllr Geddes, David Harley, Cllr Rodwell, Geoff Raw (Managing Director of Be First), Cllr Singh Rai and Rev. Mark Adams

    Darren Rodwell said: “ I’m delighted to unveil the new model of Barking Abbey and the new public space as part of our plans to improve the town centre and make more people aware of Barking Town Centre’s rich heritage. You need to know your history in order to develop plans for the future and this scheme showcases how improvements can so this.”

    David Harley said: “Cherishing and raising awareness of the Borough’s heritage is a key part of Be First’s regeneration work and I’m delighted this project is providing an attractive setting for the historic Curfew Tower and a place of relaxation in a busy town centre. This is part of a larger project involving restoring a number of the town centre’s historic buildings.”

    Heritage Volunteer Alex Lynch, who undertook extensive research on Barking Abbey said, "After researching Barking Abbey, when I came to the end (the dissolution), I felt that one of England’s finest abbeys was here, in Barking, and yet so few people know it existed!"

    Hopefully many more people will now see the model and realise the significance of Barking's Abbey and the abbesses who managed the abbey and surrounding lands for many centuries. Find out more about Barking Abbey on our Heritage Hub.

    About The National Lottery Heritage Fund

    Using money raised by the National Lottery, we Inspire, lead and resource the UK’s heritage to create positive and lasting change for people and communities, now and in the future.

    Follow @HeritageFundUK on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #NationalLotteryHeritageFund

    Since The National Lottery began in 1994, National Lottery players have raised over £46billion for projects and more than 670,000 grants have been awarded across the UK - the equivalent of more than 240 lottery grants in every UK postcode district. More than £30 million raised each week goes to good causes across the UK.

  • Capturing time at the Curfew Tower

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    Daniel, Yana, Mr Hartley, Neto, Simon and Chyanne from St Joseph's Primary alongside Mr Callus, Mami, Deeksha, Baraka and Krindhay from St Margaret's Primary Photographer - Melissa Page The two Primary Schools on Abbey Green, Barking, have recently buried a time capsule containing evidence of their knowledge of Barking’s past, their experiences and impressions of living in Barking today and imaginings about Barking in the future… Joel Hartley, History Lead and Year 2 teacher at St Joseph’s RC Primary, attended with Year 2 pupils: Chyanne, Daniel, Neto, Simon and Yana. He said, “The children enjoyed writing about Barking for the time capsule, which they helped to bury at the Curfew Tower - this was the kind of activity that I went into teaching for…” Gary Callus, Year 6 teacher and Phase Leader at St Margaret’s Primary School was with pupils: Baraka (Year 4), Deeksha (Year 5), Krindhay (Year 1), and Mami (Year 6 ) who produced lovely work – which stood out in their year groups. Mr Callus acknowledged how much the students enjoyed the experience of writing about Barking, participating in the time capsule burial and being involved in the Barking Heritage Project. Here is a link to the pupils' content for the time capsule...

    Back row: Adrian Loughman (Contracts Director) and Peter Martin (Contracts Manager) from T Loughman & Co Ltd, Simone Panayi - Heritage Engagement Officer and David Harley - Deputy Development Director at Be First
    Front row - as above Photographer - Melissa Page

    Burying the time capsule - Photographer - Melissa Page This project is funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund who have invested in improving the site in front of our historic Curfew Tower (as well restoring nearby high street buildings). The old York-stone has be cleaned and re-laid with a cobbled border to represent the traditional Church Path which led to toward the church and Abbey (later ruins) for many years before the shops and homes on Abbey green were removed in the twentieth century. T Loughman & Co have undertaken these improvements and landscaped the area to frame the tower as the focal point. New benches have been added and a bronze model of Barking Abbey will be installed to improve the heritage interpretation of the site.
    T Loughman & Co Ltd have re-created Church Path and improved the landscape for visitors to this heritage site - Photographer Melissa Page

    The project’s heritage volunteers are impressed with the improvements to the public realm. Alexandra Lynch said, “The landscaping is lovely – opening-up the area, really does bring attention to the Curfew Tower! Such a nice area, I can envision people sitting in the sun having their lunches there!” Sue Hamilton agreed, “Yes, it's very impressive, well worth all the work, and really shows off the Curfew Tower at its best!” The works are due to be completed later this month with the installation of lamp columns and up-lighters to high-light the medieval tower at night. There will be an official opening to this public realm in March!

    New benches and planting at the Curfew Tower - funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund and managed by Be First. Photographer - Melissa Page

  • Our Barking - Heritage Exhibition at Eastbury Manor House

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    We were invited to move the Barking Heritage Exhibition from its Summer residence at Barking Learning Centre to Eastbury Manor House for the Open House Festival in September.

    During that fortnight there was a low-key opening-up of the splendid Tudor house, due to the sad passing of Queen Elizabeth II. Visitors to the historic home and grounds could view more about Barking’s heritage, including the grand homes which once graced Barking’s town centre, from Our Barking - Heritage Exhibition. Our wooden display boards look very handsome in the beautiful Painted Chamber – the traditional, plastic-free materials used, suited the Jacobean décor - and we are proud of B&D College students and staff who creating them!

    In addition to the replica chamber of the period, we showed two further models – a model of Barking and the Roding River constructed from card by Gascoigne pupils and the maquette of a Barking Abbey model, designed to scale, - the bronze version to be installed at the Curfew Tower in coming weeks!

    In addition to the exhibition, we put on family activities for the Sundays of the Open House fortnight. These included the opportunity to create colourful fish, a fun craft activity designed by Lesley Gould, in reference to Barking’s fishing industry, alongside creating colourful, paper, mosaics of Barking’s historic landmarks – The Curfew Tower, Wellington Mill and Barking fishing boats of course.

    Younger visitors enjoyed recreating traditional shops, including balancing weights on the old-style weighing scales, and playing with traditional wooden toys. There were caps and bonnets, aprons, and shopping baskets to try and to help them act out roles of shoppers and shop assistants. There was also a magnetic fishing game and family fun was had playing the old Barking pub game, Quoits – trying to throw them on the numbered hobs.

    The pop-up exhibition was also a starting point for a reminiscing workshop on, Bygone Barking, during the last week of the Open House festival. The aim of the session was to share memories of growing up, shopping, or working in Barking! We opted to focus on a few popular themes that we have researched on the project and which recur in Facebook chat on the Heritage Groups etc and which link to themes of the project - childhood/schooling, shops/shopping, food and drink…

    We had linked refreshments, traditional cakes from Ritchie’s Bakery in nearby Faircross, with our hot drinks or R Whites Lemonade – which was produced in Barking for many years. We also worked in partnership with the LBBD archive - a treasure trove of local history, to find additional images and texts, as well as objects from the exhibition to help stimulate the memories/conversations.

    We completed our series of events at Eastbury Manor House with a talk on Barking and Dagenham’s Colonial Heritage. Eastbury Manor House itself was a key starting point for the history of British colonialism, despite being built three decades before the first British Colony was established in the Americas. The sixteenth century was a time when Britain was keen to join the European race to be global traders and expand their territory overseas, affording all the bountiful benefits that entailed, such as access to fertile lands with a wider range of natural resources. British adventurers, like Sir Francis Drake, were chasing established European traders and colonisers, from Spain, Portugal, and The Netherlands, throughout the Tudor era, when Eastbury was built. John Moore, who was an Eastbury resident from 1590-1603, was a merchant and early investor in the East India Dock Company – originators of colonisation in Asian territories.

    Andre & Chapman Map, 1772-4, showing 'East-Bury', south of Upney and north of Barking LevelAnne Sisley, wife of Clement Sisley - who built Eastbury Manor House in the 1500s, married Augustine Steward the elder, after Clement’s death. When she was widowed a second time her son, Augustine Steward the younger, invested his inheritance into the Virginia Company of London – established in 1606 by James I, to encourage settlement in eastern America. In 1612, Augustine’s name appears on the London Company’s third Virginia Charter, which extended the colony’s boundaries to include the Islands of Bermuda. He was perhaps hoping to profit from the emerging tobacco trade. When his cousin Samuel Argall was appointed Deputy Governor, he decided to board a sailing ship to Jamestown, Virginia – Britain’s first overseas colony. He arrived in 1618, greeted by his cousin, however tensions were fraught and instability in the colony led to both Augustine and Samuel returning to London by the Autumn of 1619. Read more about Eastbury's history here:

    When the indigenous and indentured workers on the America plantations became unable to meet the intense demand for labour on colonial plantations, human trafficking from Africa spread into the British Colonies. This begun with the creation of The Royal Africa Company in 1660 and Virginia was the first British colony to legally establish slavery in 1661.

    The first Caribbean colony established by the British was in St Kitts, in 1634-5. A century later the daughter of William Manning, a planter and trader from St Kitts, married Henry Bird, who was a cousin of William Wilberforce MP. When they were young children, Charlotte, an enslaved girl, was ‘gifted’ as an attendant and companion, to Elizabeth Manning 'and to her heirs forever'. Charlotte, most likely accompanied Eliza to Britain, whereupon she would have become her maid - as slavery had not been legalised on home soil and eighteenth century lawyers and magistrates such as Grandville Sharp and Lord Mansfield had argued and established that any enslaved workers brought over from the colonies would be legally liberated here. Wilberforce had abolitionist friends, including Prince Naimbana of Sierra Leone, and represented this movement within Parliament. His regular petitions and speeches eventually enabled the laws which ended the British slave trade in 1807, and outlawed the persistence of slavery throughout the British Empire in 1833. Last year students from Robert Clack School imagined the conversations that Henry Bird may have had with his wife and cousin and their various friends and family over a cup of tea and gave voices to their 'domestic servants' from St Kitts. These scenes were filmed by B&D College students at Valence House.

    The cast of 'When Wilberforce Came to Tea' created and filmed at Valence House with students from Robert Clack School

    Several decades earlier the Quakers became the first religious group to publicly challenge the transatlantic slave trade. In 1760 Barking Quaker William Mead went on trial with William Penn for their beliefs – a famous hearing that led to the rule of law that a jury’s decision should be reached without a judge’s interference. Penn went on to found Pennsylvania in America – the first state to have an abolition society and to begin the emancipation of slaves from 1780. Harriet Tubman escaped slavery and risked her life to bring many more slaves to freedom in Pennsylvania during the nineteenth century, before the American Civil War, which finally led to the abolition of slavery across the United States in 1865. Revered Brown who had endured slavery in Baltimore before escaping to join the Unionist Army, visited a Barking Baptist Church in 1881, to share his experiences of Slavery and challenge its persistence in other parts of the world. His tour was entitled, ‘Scenes from a Slave Land’. His wife and family travelled with him and were photographed in Halifax:

    These are some of the local historical reference points we covered in the Colonial Heritage Talk - as a starting point for discussions on both our colonial and cultural heritage. We also celebrated the story of Jack Leslie, a football player of both British and Jamaican heritage who made a dramatic impact on Barking FC a century ago and has recently been honoured with a statue at Plymouth Argyll FC. He was a striking forward, whose England call up and international potential was never fulfilled.

    Jack Leslie sitting next to the Barking FC president after his memorable contribution to the 1919-20 season when they won two trophies!

    Many local residents have a heritage that hails from other parts of the world, often because their families migrated from ex colonies, as far away and diverse as Australia, the Caribbean, India and Pakistan, Ghana and Nigeria. We welcome people to share their family histories with us and celebrate their stories of cultural heritage.

    Thank you for The National Lottery Heritage Fund for funding our heritage engagement activities. The Our Barking Heritage Exhibition is currently in the Painted Chamber at Eastbury Manor House which is open on Sundays 10-4pm. We are also planning an online version of the exhibition and further research into various connections with our colonial heritage and sharing stories that have yet to be told.

  • Barking Long Ago and Barking today

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    Our Barking - Heritage Exhibition has moved to the Barking Learning Centre. Last week we held two workshop sessions for under 11s in the children’s library there, using some fun objects and costumes from the exhibition. We told stories about Barking’s past starting at the beginning with the first settlers, through pre-history to the Romans and Saxons including the powerful Barking Abesses. We were singing songs along the way about fishing ('One, Two Three, Four, Five') and Jute mill workers ('Wind the bobbin up') and shopping ('Half a pound of tu'penny rice' and 'Five Currant Buns'). Read more about these themes in the exhibition there.

    There were old objects and costumes to try out and crafts to create, all as part of Our Barking - a heritage exhibition curated by the Barking Heritage Volunteers and funded by The National Lottery Hetitage Fund.

    The children were really engaged with the songs, costumes and crafts and found out about Barking Long Ago… There are two more exhibition sessions on Monday 8th and Wednesday 10th August, 11.30-1.30 hosted by our heritage volunteer Eric. You can find it in the Gallery on the ground floor of BLC and there is a new cabinet of Barking objects curated by George.

    We will be moving to Eastbury Manor House for Open House fortnight in September.

    Lesley and Sue at Barking Station

    The next day the heritage volunteers wanted to experience some exciting new improvements to Barking's transport services.

    Firstly the extension of the Gospel Oak line from Barking to Riverside, a striking new station which links the developed marshlands on the Thames directly to Barking and beyond.Alex admiring the new station The excitement increased as we approached the new pier on the Thames...

    Decades after the pleasure boats ceased taking Barking folk between Kent and Greenwich the Clipper River bus has been introduced to Barking taking people from Riverside into the city and westwards via the Thames. We went as far as Greenwich and had a Maritime themed day at the museum and galleries there…

    We loved the Art-deco look of this 1930s speed boat at the National Maritime Museum

    Also Sir Francis' Drake's coconut shell cup - his gift to Queen Elizabeth was returned with gilt embellishments (you can just see the coconut shell within it) and another gift from an admiring Queen was a be-jewelled brooch star with a secret portrait of her on the reverse... She was clearly proud and even fond of her pirate adventurer who plundered the Spanish ships and colonies of their treasures for her benefit until peace ensued - then he became the first Briton to circumnavigate the globe.

    Find out more in the Tudor gallery at the National Maritime Museum - the free to view galleries there have many other interesting exhibits, and it is only a twenty minute Uber boat ride from Barking's Riverside pier. As is the Queen's House, Greenwich, designed by Inigo Jones for Queen Anne (wife of James I) she died before its completion, but her son, Charles I, gave it to his queen, Henrietta Maria, before he was executed by the Parliamentarians. It has a lovely free gallery too, with a stunning portrait of Drake's Queen - indicating Elizabeth's desire to be a figure on the world stage and trade globally - that is another story... Closer to home we will update you on dates to see Our Barking - Heritage Exhibition at Barking's Tudor Mansion - Eastbury Manor House - in September and October.

  • Gascoigne School Pupils and Our Barking Exhibition

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    Pupils from Year 5 at Gascoigne School have added their own model of Barking and their recent research on the Fishing Industry to Our Barking – Heritage Exhibition, at St Margaret’s Church.

    The Heritage Volunteers have been curating the exhibition with the support of The National Lottery Heritage Fund after three years of research into Barking’s Heritage.

    Topics covered include the River Roding, Barking Abbey, Curfew Tower, the Tudor Leet House, transport, grand homes and high streets in the town centre.

    George Westbrook has painstakingly researched the various high street stores which have come and gone for more than a century of high street shopping in Barking.

    You can see his maps and records of the changing high streets at the exhibition and images from LBBD archives where much of the information was discovered in Valence House’s local studies library. We also reveal a restored glass and copper sign, discovered during the project’s restoration works along East Street. The mid-twentieth century sign has a W representing Worricker’s store which sold toys, nursery equipment and various ‘fancy’ goods from number 3 East Street.

    Here is some of the information that George Westbrook discovered on East Street:

    In 1847 the Tithe records show that Bull Street (East Street) was mainly residential and arable. Prominent people like the Hewetts, Morgans and Glennys resided in Fawley House, White House, Cecil House, and The Paddock (below before demolition in c.1910).

    The latter was situated on the corner of Bull Street and Ripple Road (Blake’s Corner or more recently Boots). Fawley House and The White House were along the north side, Cecil House was set further back from the road.Cecil House - painted by Frogley The Bull Inn dates from around 1580, being rebuilt in 1885 and again in 1925. Next to the Bull we had Morgan’s Court (No.7) and Crook’s Court (No.11) containing accommodation i.e. cottages. Most of the land from the Bull to Linton Road was owned by Hewett, Glenny, Harvey, Stevenson, the Wesleyan Society and Barking Parish. In 1847 there were some 58 cottages, 17 houses, only 2 shops, 2 hop pits, barns, and dotage, 2 chapels, market gardens and Almshouses. Two pubs: The Cock was at 22, 1861 to 1891 then became the Duke of York and The Rose was opposite at No.9 or 13. The Wesleyan Society had two churches, one the on The Broadway the other on the south side of Bull Street (the site of the Capitol Cinema, more recently Poundland). According to the census Bull Street changed to East Street between 1851 and 1861. Although some medieval records show it was previously Eastreete.

    The regeneration of East Street started around 1900. 1906 saw Morgan’s Court and Crooks Court (by then considered to be slums) replaced with 6 shops and a slaughter house No.1-11 East Street. The owners at the time were the Governors of the United Westminster School. There crest can still be seen on the restored 1907 buildings today Most of the new shops provided accommodation or offices above. The first shop (1) was William Warrilow Butchers, interestingly they use to walk the animals down East Street from the station to the slaughterhouse stopping all traffic while they were doing this. My uncle used to watch this happen. At No.3 was J.T.Worricker’s shop. I think this was one of the favourites of today’s older generation. With dolls hospital, toys, skipping ropes, scooters and prams etc. His first shop was at 38 East Street on the site of M&S now Iceland. Morris Tailors were at 5, Liptons Ltd at 7, J.Jones Fashion at No.9 & later Madame Yetta gowns at 11. Further along plans were submitted in 1928 for another one of Barking’s favourites Woolworth’s. This lasted until 2008 thanks to the rise in Internet shopping, nowdays it’s a pound shop. Frank Tailors, Thomas Pelling off licence, and John H King (with the models of Barking’s past on top. Celebrating Town Charter 1931, King's Drapers were formerly on the site of Burton's at 2 East Street The old Wesleyan Church was replaced by the new Central Hall in 1928.

    Tamara Froud's mosaic of Central Hall in Short Blue Place, where it used to stand

    During World War Two the main hall was damaged by a bomb. They demolished the building in 1951, building a new church to the rear facing London Road.

    The old church was replaced by a cinema first called Frivolity (on the plans submitted).

    We know it as The Capitol, which closed in the 1960s, it is now Poundland.

    To the left of Central Hall was Fawley House. To the right, The London South Western Bank (No.41) it was built in 1899, which became Bulley Jewellers, people remember the clock in the floor, and more recently McDonald’s. Bulley Jewellers were original at No.1 London Road.

    Jake Attewell's Barking Heritage Mural, the old bank from 1899, illuminated by Immersive Me

    Around 1931 the demolition of the old cottages 67-81 took place to make way for London Road, an extension of Barking Road coming from East Ham. At the time a new grand cinema was planned for this site but planning permission was turned down by the council (probably because of the new road).

    Gosling’s boot shop was at 83, this was replaced by Grey’s Radio on the corner of now London/Linton Road.

    There is a stone emblem on this building which had been covered up; we hope to bring it back to life and restore it as part of the project.

    An undertaker has been on the site of 85 from c1914 until the present day J.Cooper from around 1914 and later T Cribbs the present day owner. Tobacconist Sarah Coggins moved in next door, approximately 1933. The Tower Coffee Bar took the shop over in 1960, with the Coggins family still living above the shop. A decade later came the present owner, Top Deck (fish restaurant). Edward Hewett stationer occupied No.97 which incorporated The Barking Advertiser. J.T.Worricker had another shop at 103 around 1930.

    Lloyd’s Bank was on the corner with Cambridge Road - 109. The whole section of shops on both sides of East Street from London Road to the Station was renamed Station Parade. They were given new door numbers on two separate occasions.

    We now cross the road to the south side and come back down towards the Abbey.

    The station was on the same level as East Street and had a level crossing. Next to the crossing was the Peto Arms public house, also known as The Railway Hotel.Originally called the Peto Arms this pub was named after Samuel M Peto who brought the LTS Railway to Barking in the 1850sThe parade of shops worked their way down to Ripple Road.

    As time and progress marched on, a much needed bridge over the rails track was built. This put an end to the Peto Arms and shops and new ones were built.

    Going back to 1614 John Wilde left a house on the site which became Burton's, at 2 East Street to house the poor and needy to live rent free. These were called Almshouses. In time these dilapidated buildings were sold to William Lake. Two New Almshouses were added to the Almshouses on Station Parade. Some of the shops that graced Station Parade were W. Cross leather goods – trophies –sportswear. Guy Norris - many records were bought there, Wilson & Whitworth stationers, Wing’s Bookshop, Bagels shoes. Reeds Sport shop at No.6 which is now Barking Halal Meats - it still has the advertising boards each side of the upper window to this day.

    On the corner with Ripple Road we had J W Garland (have you not seen the photo).

    Garlands gave way to the building of The London & Provincial Bank later Barclays Bank now Betfred. The opposite corner was where Thomas Glenny lived in The Paddock, one of the finer residences in Bull/East Street. Even this fell by the wayside and Blake’s Emporium (Blake’s Corner as it is known to this day) was built.

    Blake’s Emporium suffered bomb damage during WW2. A decade later Timothy Whites & Taylor Chemist took over this and in time became Boots. 1911/12 saw the building of Nos. 56 to 66 housing Stewart & Son, Maypole Dairies, Sir Marks, Bobby Cousins, Dewhurst Butchers, Killwick Furniture and Boots Chemist. The occupants of 52-54 were J.Sainsbury and Sol Fisher shoes at 50. My wife still has a pair of green stilettos shoes she bought in 50/60s from Fishers.

    Blake’s Market opened in 1922 alterations to the market took place in 1950. Sadly it was destroyed by fire in 1971. It had two main passage ways flanked by trades and dealers.

    I am sure Fisher shoe shop was between the two passageways at the front on East Street and a tobacconist to the right on the corner where the Town Hall is. People remember Trueman’s fishmongers – Laurie's ladies wear – England’s Butchers – Fanny Shaw stockings – Wards greengrocers – Rodney’s comics. When I was young I was fascinated by the live eels they had in the market. The cafe right down the end was a favourite place for swimmers after a dip in the pool next door.

    The Town Hall was constructed in 1893, an impressive looking building and was one of Barking’s finest. The powers that be decided a New Town Hall was needed and it was officially opened in 1958. Known as The Assembly Rooms situated to rear and right of the old Town Hall. Then the old Town Hall had a change in use, becoming Barking’s Magistrates Court. Behind the Old Town Hall we had the Public Baths and Fire Station. The Public Baths was not just a swimming pool. It had what was known as slipper baths where people with no baths at home could pay to have a bath. You could hire towels and buy soap. Male and female sections were separate. The Fire Station was opened 1894 and closed 1937. In the sixties it was used as tea rooms for the Baths next door. It’s all been demolished now and replaced with one ghastly looking hotel (just my opinion).

    As previously mention the Wesleyan Church was on the right of the Town Hall. This became The Capitol cinema, many a child spent a Saturday morning watching the films. Iceland presently occupies the site. The four houses next door to the church (including Worricker’s 1st shop) were raised to the ground to make way for M&S. It’s now Poundland. Grove Place ran down the side of M&S. When the New Town Hall was built the clock tower sat smack in the middle of the view down Grove Place. On the other corner to M&S we had the old Post Office,(32).

    Around 1924 the post moved out and in came Nat West Bank.

    1933 No.28 was Thomas Bass Fruiterers. 26 had two different bakers over the years James Johnson and Charles Arthy. 1930 saw the building of the Town Club at No.24. Next door is The Duke of York pub. I knew it as the hole in the wall, if I remember rightly you went down steps inside. No.18 in the 1920s had James Jenkins a China and Glass dealer followed by Charles Letts clothier. Next door (16) was Samuel Reed & Taylor makers and suppliers of saddles. Outfitters Simpson & Dawes occupied 14 while Lush & Cook Dry Cleaners were at 12.

    Tram on East Street, showing Simpson and Dawes in the early twentieth century

    William Cross started his leather business in No.10 before moving to Station Parade. Do you remember J. Simpson the fishmonger at No.8. Barking’s old generations will recognise J.Hollicks (6) Tobacconist newsagent, stationer & confectioner. We had three different coffee rooms on the premises of No.4. 1911/12 Harry & Sam Newman, 1917-27 George, then Elizabeth Parker, from c1929 Arturo Musollini last recorded in 1939. The last Trader was G Suckling Greengrocer. Finally we have Burtons on corner of East Street & Broadway. Plans for Burtons were submitted in 1930. It seems Burton’s generally had a snooker hall above the premises.

    If you look up at the building you see elephant incorporated in the design. There is also a stone laid in 1931 by Stanley Howard Burton and these features are still there today.

    The Barking Heritage Project celebrates the stories behind these old buildings and hopes to restore many of them - 1-11 East Street has already benefitted from these improvements with generous funding from the The National Lottery Heritage Fund. Our Barking - Heritage Exhibition will be moving from St Margaret's Church in July with additional exhibits and information on the history of Barking high streets and hopefully to Eastbury Manor House in September, launching during the Open house fortnight...

  • 'Our Barking' is blessed! New heritage exhibition opens at St Margaret's Church

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    Barking’s Heritage Volunteers are pleased and proud to present three years of research in a ‘pop up’ exhibition which has opened this week at St Margaret’s Parish Church – a building which is woven into the fabric of Barking’s ancient heritage- the oldest parts dating from the 1100s…

    George Westbrook and his detailed map of Barking Creek

    Mark Adams, the new vicar of Barking, has accommodated the heritage exhibition in the church sanctuary and it will be accessible to the public Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays 11am-2pm. Mark says, “Being Vicar of St Margaret’s is a great privilege. It is extraordinary to think that I now lead the worshipping community on site that has been a centre of prayer and worship for over 1300 years. St Margaret’s is still a place of prayer and worship today; home to vibrant and inclusive Christian community which meets together every Sunday morning at 11am and at other times during the week. If you would like to find out more about St Margaret’s, both its past and its present, then check out our website or come along any Sunday morning. You would be most welcome!

    Reverend Mark Adams - in mufti Church warden, Carol Brabender, has been a member of the church for 53 years, since moving to Barking from the London’s East End in 1967, and warden for the last 9. Carol has recently received royal approval from The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall at the Royal Maundy Service in St George’s Chapel, Windsor. Carol was one of the recipients of a purse of silver coins, or Maundy Money, in gratitude for her commitment to charities such as St Margaret’s Café for the Community. Prince Charles said, ‘Enjoy your day!’ and Carol certainly did!

    Usually Carol can be found managing the café in the church refectory, Tuesday-Thursday lunch times. The cafe is part of the church centre and also supports mental health groups and hosts the local Asian and BME community. Carol has been singing, baking, raising funds and serving the church and wider community for many years. She was nominated to receive the Maundy blessing by Bishop Guli of Chelmsford. Whilst the first female Bishop of Barking, Reverend Lynn Cullens, recently visited the parish church, whose origins lie in the nearby abbey - which was led by women for centuries!

    Carol is photographed with her hand upon her beloved church, shown next to Barking Abbey, before it was demolished during Henry VIII’s reformation. This model is going to be reproduced in bronze, as part of the improvements in front of the Curfew Tower. You can read more about the history of Barking Abbey, in the new Exhibition and in the Church’s own display about this amazing institution. Other historic buildings featured include the Curfew Tower – the gateway to and only remaining part of the ancient abbey, the Tudor Leet House and market-place and the grand homes which graced Barking Town in past centuries.

    Sue Hamilton with her researchThe role of the River Roding and changes to transport are also key themes in our humble heritage exhibition produced by the Abbey and Barking Town Centre Heritage Project – funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund and managed by Be First on behalf of LBBD. The sustainable wooden exhibition panels were created by staff and students at B&DC, project managed by student graduate and technician Jake Chatters.

    Eric Feasey - impressed with the exhibition panels and happy to discuss the history with our visitors

    The improvements to the public space in front of the Curfew Tower, restoration works in East street and Heritage Mural and art trail are also part of this project which will be completed this year.

    Alex Lynch recreating the look of a Barking Fishing Wife

    Come along to find out more about Barking’s heritage including fun facts and opportunities to dress up as Barking folk from the past including monks and nuns, fishermen and their wives, dockers and jute workers – a workforce of women and children, in their wooden clogs!

    The exhibition will be moving on to the Barking Learning Centre in June, where it will be extended to include panels about Barking’s high street and restoration works and will include more models of Barking -created by pupils from Gascoigne Primary School… We will also be present at the exhibition, in St Margaret's Church, with fun activities, during Barking's Bike Fest event on Saturday "1st May! We hope to see you soon!

  • Barking Mothers Through the Ages by Simone Panayi

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    It has been a positive and eventful women’s empowerment month in Barking and Dagenham. Last weekend some of the Barking Heritage Volunteers joined up with the East End Women’s Museum to guide a Women of Barking Walking Tour around the town centre.
    Tour guide, Alexandra Lynch, opposite St Mary and St Ethelburga's RC Church, Linton Road, beside the new House for Artists

    The event was so popular that an additional date has been added and free tickets can be booked here: Women of Barking - Walking Tour Tickets, Sat 9 Apr 2022 at 11:00 | Eventbrite

    Three Lamps, Abbey Green, a place of protest - jute workers and sufragettes spoke out...

    It was a wonderful celebration of Barking women and as Mother's Day approaches it is worth sharing some of their stories, focusing on Barking mothers through the ages.

    Research undertaken for the Barking heritage project has uncovered several stories of Barking mothers from across the centuries who we can nominate and admire. It is the perfect time to introduce you to them. They are not all famous, but they are all mothers linked to Barking, with stories which should intrigue and even inspire others, this Mother's Day.

    The earliest Barking mothers were nomadic hunter-gatherers and migrant farmers who sought out these marshy lands close to the Thames. The women and their families relied on their knowledge of nature for their survival and left little behind to reveal their daily lives. The first Barking women to appear in written records were the nuns of Barking Abbey – which was established in the early years of Saxon Christianity, in AD666.

    The ‘mother’ superior of this religious house was known as the abbess and during its earliest days she was overseeing monks as well as nuns and all the abbey's lands and interests. The first of these powerful women was Ethelburga who was gifted her elevated position and responsibilities by her brother Erkenwald, who was abbot of Chertsey before he established Barking Abbey for his sister, and later became Bishop of London. Both were cannonised by the early church for their local miracles. Bede the venerable Saxon monk and author, wrote about the founding of the Abbey and the life of its community. The abbey was more than a spiritual sanctuary it provided important social services for local people too.

    Frogley's sketch of the Holy Rood in The Curfew Tower

    Charity was an essential component of abbey life, including care of the sick, especially the poor. In the twelfth century abbess Adeliza founded a leper hospital at Ilford, which survived the dissolution. Alms for the poor included food (pittances), clothing and money as well as Alms-houses. The abbey also contributed to the local economy by acting as an employer on a large scale.

    Another service was the care and education of patrons' children. Members of the Tudor royal family, including Edmund Tudor, father of King Henry VII, were sent to Barking Abbey to be raised by the abbess. The final abbess, Dorothy Barley, had several godchildren, many of whom were mentioned in her will - they came from the most important Essex families. The nuns themselves were well educated - creators of textiles, glass, artworks, dramas, music, songs, books, and manuscripts. Historians are in awe of their achievements and contributions to religion and culture across the centuries, including probably the first play script written by a British woman, Katherine of Sutton, Abbess 1358-76. The abbey probably had the longest tradition of female literacy in Britain before it was dissolved by King Henry VIII in 1539. Find out more here.

    Mothering Sunday, does not refer to the mothers we celebrate on Mother’s Day but the annual opportunity for workers to return home to their ‘mother’ church. This custom which dates to the sixteenth century enabled people such as servants, to attend their parish church, and visit their family, including their mothers of course.

    We recently discovered a Barking mother in the parish records when we were researching the Oyles family (merchants of Dutch heritage). This name is marked on Thomas Fanshawe’s 17th century manorial map, showing who leased his land in the Manor of Barking. The Oyles family had the land north of East Street, at that time.

    Thomasina Oyles (born 1693), probably the daughter of William and Margaret Oyles was possibly related to another Thomasina Oyles who was buried in St Margaret’s churchyard in 1689 and John Oiles whose children were baptised at the parish church in the 1650s. We are more certain that she married city banker Robert Surman and the young couple moved into Valentine's Mansion, in Ilford, in 1724. They had two daughters Thomasina and Sarah. The only other details we know of this mother is that she died in 1734 aged 41, leaving behind her husband and teenage daughters. She did not disappear into history, as they raised a tomb for her within St Margaret’s parish church and her brother Thomas Oyles, a deputy of the ward, was buried beside her in 1743. Sadly, her daughter Thomasina died following childbirth in 1750 at the even younger age of 30, and was also buried with her mother, and uncle in the family tomb. The church organ was later erected over these tombs and we still wonder if these members of the Oyles family or their earlier relatives had lived at Cobblers Hall in East Street.

    The famous Quaker prison reformer, Elizabeth Fry (nee Gurney) born in 1780, was buried in the nearby Quaker Burial Ground in 1845.

    Tour guide, Sue Hamilton, in the Quaker cemetery, now gardens, in North Street

    The Society of Friends (as the Quakers were known) believe that all people are equal in God’s eyes – this led them to despair at inequalities in society and endeavour to improve the lives of the enslaved, and the poor, women, and children. Elizabeth was a mother of eleven children and if that wasn’t a challenging enough, she is famous for initiating the reform of prisons, particularly for women and their children - who were incarcerated within them… In 1818 she was the first woman to give evidence at a House of Commons committee, during an inquiry into British prisons. She also raised concerns about conditions in prison ships, asylums and hospitals besides the lives of the poor in general. She advocated for the education of working women and better housing conditions for those living in slum conditions. She also established the original soup kitchens. Mrs Fry’s reports and suggestions were gradually enacted across Europe

    Quakers remained humble in life and death and refrained from ornate tombstones often preferring unmarked graves. Hopefully Elizabeth will not mind if we praise her achievements today – there is now a memorial to her in the gardens where she was buried, opposite the Sikh Gurdwara on North Street. Her portrait is also engraved into the marble of the glorious new Gurdwara building.

    Perhaps Elizabeth Fry was inspired by another famous mother who briefly lived in Barking - Mary Wollstonecraft. Mary had a turbulent and transient childhood moving from place to place as her father tried and failed to elevate himself and turned to alcohol instead. Meanwhile Mary escaped his abuses by wandering along the Barking levels and enjoying nature, especially laying down to look up at the sky! The sky really was the limit for her, as young Mary educated herself to become a companion, governess, journalist, philosopher, translator, and famous author. Her most renown and influential text was A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). Strict Quaker Mrs Fry was unlikely to have approved Mary’s bohemian lifestyle, which seems unrestrained by eighteenth century mores and thoroughly modern, but most likely shared her progressive views on the rights of women!

    Whilst reporting on the Revolution in France, Mary became pregnant but was jilted by her lover, which led to two failed suicide attempts and a complicated life as a single mother to Fanny. Yet she managed to find love and happiness once more with philosopher William Godwin. They married in 1797 and their daughter Mary Shelley (nee Godwin) was born soon after. Tragically the feminist philosopher was lost to complications following childbirth 11 days later. A light that burned as bright as it was brief, was not put out on her death, as her works have had an enduring legacy especially for modern women for whom she beat a path towards equality with men. Whilst Mary Shelley, her second daughter, married a Romantic poet and created a classic novel with universal themes – Frankenstein - which burst onto the page, stage and screen, and has remained popular ever since. Its horrifying representation of the monstrous and tragic consequences of a man acting as God, has not lost its impact or relevance. Her mother would have been proud of her too…

    Continuing on a theme of trailblazing mothers linked with Barking, Susannah Mason married a radical young doctor, Hugh Herbert Mason, who argued for improvements in the lives of the poorest Barking residents and established a dispensary on Broadway where poorer customers could pay a small subscription which would cover future medical costs in an era before the NHS. Meanwhile Susannah, became a mother to Edward and Marianne and a member of several local boards aiming to improve the town – including the Burial Board which managed the creation of Rippleside Cemetery and the Education Board which opened the first council schools, including Gascoigne - the headteacher's logbook shows she visited regularly. In 1894 she stood for election for the newly established Urban District Council and was duly returned as its first female councillor (her husband was not elected, but was voted in as the first Chairman). In 1897 however their only daughter Marianne tragically died of ‘croup’ aged just seven. It was her mother who is recorded as commissioning an artist to create dedicated stained glass windows in the new Rippleside Chapel – conceived by local architect CJ Dawson as non-denominational place for spiritual reflection. Marianne lies in an unmarked grave next to the Dawson family but her name and even her portrait remain with us, as the artist beautifully recreated her likeness in glass… In the wake of Marianne's death, the Mason family returned to their childhood origins in the midlands, following a faithful service to Barking and dedication to improving the lives of Barking Residents.

    In the late nineteenth century there was a large female workforce in Barking, mainly employed at the extensive Jute Works, located at the southern tip of Fisher Street (now Abbey Road). In her recollections Mrs Story (nee Stearne) recalled that many of the skilled female weavers had been brought in from Dundee and the spinners from Ireland. They were known for their ‘plaid (tartan) shawls’, braided hair and when they were at leisure their ‘highly coloured dresses’.

    Over a thousand people were employed there including hundreds of ‘outworkers’, sewing sacks at home, who were mostly local women and children. Eliza Bailey of Wall End – the tiny hamlet just west of the Roding River, was recorded as a Jute worker at eight years of age, in the 1871 census. Probably starting out as a sack sewer, by 1881 teenage Eliza was a spinner. She married Joseph Roe in 1883 and became a mother to 10 children!

    Ellen Brick, a working mother, was also discovered in the 1881 census. She was an Irish jute worker who was living in a female household in Heath Street. Ellen had at least six children, her two eldest daughters worked fulltime at the Jute works and her thirteen-year-old son worked ‘half time’. Another female jute worker from Ireland is recorded as living with them but there are no men recorded there, perhaps they were working away from home or maybe the women and children were self-sufficient…

    Another example of a household of women and children was that of Ann Withers, a sack sewer from Sligo, Ireland. She lived with her children at 10 Weatherals Court in 1881. Her eldest daughter Sarah is also listed as a sack sewer, but Mary who was only 14 is noted as a more skilled ‘jute weaver’ in the census, and her older brother George as a ‘jute worker’. Nora Sullivan another Jute Worker from Ireland, and her four children lodged with them. Again no men are listed, although twenty years earlier when Ann was living in the notorious Flower & Dean Street (Spitalfields’ Rookery) – ‘perhaps the foulest and most dangerous street in the whole of the Metropolis’, she had a husband, aged 61, over 30 years older than her. He was a labourer who could well have died before 1881. These working mothers and their children seemed to manage to get by, by living and working together with their children (who were not listed as 'scholars' for long)…

    Meanwhile Mathilda and John Forrester, of Hart Street had migrated from Scotland and were both 'overseers' at the Jute Works. Their eldest daughter Mathilda, aged 13, is also recoded as a Jute worker. This family returned to Scotland when the Jute works closed in 1891. The closure of the works had a devastating impact on the workers who had been employed there. Several charities were employed to relocate many of the women to Scotland, Ireland, and Canada, to transfer them to domestic service, or to support their daily needs. St Margaret's Church Magazine noted that during July, '165 coal and grocery tickets were issued' to those in need! Thank you to Felicity Hawksley and Lesley Gould for these findings as they continue to investigate the Barking Jute workers and you can read Felicity’s previous article on the Jute Works here.

    It has not been easy to find out about Barking mothers in the past, with limited documented evidence of the women who lived in past centuries, but the painstaking detective work is very rewarding. Every precious insight into our foremothers’ lives is a revelation and inspiration to the women of Barking today.

    As we celebrate our mothers this weekend, we might spare a thought for those who went before us - many struggled to survive poverty and childbirth and some bravely paved the way for better living conditions and greater opportunities for their sisters and daughters and women living today…

    Thank you to Karen Rushton, borough Archivist, and Teresa Trowers, Local Studies Librarian for all their dedicated support for this project and helping us to find out more about the Barking women who came before us. Visit the Valence House website for further information. We look forward to discovering more when the East End Women's Museum opens in Barking, you can find out more about them on their website. As always we thank The National Lottery Heritage Fund for funding this project!

Page last updated: 12 Feb 2024, 01:24 PM