Diamond Geezer Challenge 1: Barking

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Diamond Geezer: “Some so-called London websites never write about Uxbridge, Barking and Penge because their remit is geographically blinkered.” It is claimed London blogs rarely feature some of these places? I would like to correct this and write about Barking, Penge and Uxbridge on my blog.

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As a matter of fact I’ve written about these places before so here they are again, with different topics this time!

This first post is about Barking. I’ll just quickly mention I used to live just up the road from Barking Garage so know this part of East London quite well. In fact I can tell you as a kid I helped out on the Barking Minature Railway. That’s the old 9 and quarter inch line, not the new 7 and quarter inch one. I also remember the old swimming pool, now replaced by the Splash Park, and the Mississippi style paddle steamer that worked on the lake until 1967.

Whats Barking got to offer? Apart from a quite substantial shopping area with a good market, there’s lots of bygones including traces of the route of the most unique tramway to have existed in London, plus numerous local industries that once employed countless locals, of which the longest surviving is Ford’s, though its workforce once counted 40,000 and now just 3,000. In the fifties and sixties practically every family in the area had someone employed at Ford’s.

There’s the local river too. We’re not talking about the Thames but the Roding, aka Barking Creek. The Roding is western Essex’s other main waterway besides the Lea. There’ s loads of history around the creek, its a fascinating place, there’s a lock and a weir that maintains water levels when the tide goes out. There used to be numerous warehouses and mills. In fact there were more waterways around here at one time but its all been reduced to just one channel. I’ve written about this before so the subject has to be something else.

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There’s these trees and open expanse of land at the far end of the town centre….

Let’s see….. The walking route from Barking station to the river goes through the town centre and then crosses the large expanse of land where the old abbey stood, and where its remnants can now be found. So let’s look at Barking Abbey!

In a nutshell it was a very important abbey. A Royal Monastery in fact, and one of the most revered in the country. That made Barking a very influential town. The abbey lasted the best part of 900 years from AD 666 until 1539, but not as it originally was. In 870 it was burnt down by the Danes, and the second structure on the site was rebuilt around 1150, hence the remains are of the third abbey to be constructed here.

In 1539 King Henry VIII decided Barking Abbey had to be closed. I wont delve into the dissolution of the monasteries because that’s well chronicled. Henry just wanted more control over his life, and shutting the monasteries down was a way to get rid of the Pope’s enormous power over England.

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Curfew Tower. From The New British Traveller Or, Modern Panorama of England & Wales Vol 2 (1819)

Barking Abbey was a huge place. A big job for anyone tasked with its demolition! This began in June 1540. By February 1542 it seems the workmen had given up for they downed their tools leaving a gateway and a tower still standing. The North Gate was demolished in 1885, leaving the Curfew Tower as the Abbey’s sole remaining structure. Its depicted on the Borough of Barking and Dagenham coat of arms.

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Excavations in 1910-11 revealed much of the former Abbey’s foundations. They had to dig pretty deep to find the foundations. These show how it was constructed plus the sheer size of it. Much of the excavations can still be seen today. There have been further excavations from time to time and what can be seen isn’t even half the site! It hasn’t been acknowledged but Barking Abbey must rank as the capital’s second largest medieval site, the biggest of course being The Tower of London.

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I think its the biggest medieval site in London besides The Tower. On the right would have been the Nun’s graveyard

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Very clearly the remains of a fireplace by what would have been the Chapter House.

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Parts of the medieval layout are clearly defined. This is a small chapel that stood at the side of the Abbey.

The layout of the ruins is such that part of it is at a higher level and the main abbey section at a lower level. It seems the main abbey stood in a depression with the rest of the site raised about it. Its quite unusual.

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View looking across the site to St Margaret’s Church. The walls on the sides of the stairs are recent.

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A corner of the site dedicated to remembrance.

Some parts of the stone work and walls around the Abbey is of more recent vintage it looks quite like the original but I think its done like that to give a sense of continuity and scale to the site.

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The west wall of the abbey. There may have been an additional floor here, a raised area perhaps?

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St Margaret’s Church stands adjacent to the abbey grounds and is of architectural interest too.

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The doorway in the Curfew Tower is quite low. My hand indicates the level of my shoulders.

The Curfew Tower doorway only just reaches my shoulders. It gives the impression that people of the past were so much smaller, but this is debatable. Archaeologists find many were in fact quite tall, so the small door may have had some other significance.

The next bit on Penge will be published in a few days time. I did all the photography and began compiling the posts the week after Diamond Geezer made his assertion, however I want to spread the articles out a little. As they say, variety’s the spice of life!

Challenge Two: Penge

2 thoughts on “Diamond Geezer Challenge 1: Barking

  1. It’s always splendid to read about some Outer London history, thanks.

    i think you may have misrepresented my comment, though. “Some so-called London websites never write about Uxbridge, Barking and Penge” doesn’t translate as “no-one ever blogs about Barking, Penge or Uxbridge.”

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