Barking (parish) population
|# no census was held due to war
|source: UK census
Its name came from Anglo-Saxon Berecingas, meaning either "the settlement of the followers or descendants of a man called Bereca" or "the settlement by the birch trees". In AD 735 the town was Berecingum and was known to mean "dwellers among the birch trees". By AD 1086, it had become Berchingae as evidenced by the town's entry in the Domesday Book.
A map showing the wards of Barking Civil Parish as they appeared in 1871.
Barking was a large ancient parish of 12,307 acres (49.80 km2) in the Becontree hundred of Essex. It was divided into the wards of Chadwell, Ilford, Ripple and Town. A local board was formed for Town ward in 1882 and it was extended to cover Ripple ward in 1885. In 1888 Ilford and Chadwell were split off as a new parish of Ilford, leaving a residual parish of 3,814 acres (15.43 km2). The parish became Barking Town Urban District in 1894 and the local board became an urban district council. The urban district was incorporated as the Municipal Borough of Barking in 1931. It was abolished in 1965 and split, with the majority merged with the former area of the Municipal Borough of Dagenham to form the London Borough of Barking. The part west of the River Roding, which included part of Beckton, became part of the London Borough of Newham. In 1980 the borough was renamed Barking and Dagenham. Barking's population (Abbey, Eastbury, Gascoigne and Longbridge wards) was 48,340 in 2011.
The manor of Barking was the site of Barking Abbey, a nunnery founded in 666 by Eorcenwald, Bishop of London, destroyed by the Danes and reconstructed in 970 by King Edgar. The celebrated writer Marie de France may have been abbess of the nunnery in the late 12th century. At the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, Barking Abbey was demolished; the parish church of St Margaret, some walling and foundations are all that remain. The parish church is an example of Norman architecture; Captain James Cook married Elizabeth Batts of Shadwell there in 1762, and it is the burial place of many members of the Fanshawe family of Parsloes Manor.
A charter issued between 1175 and 1179 confirms the ancient market right. The market declined in the 18th century but has since been revived.
Architecture: historic buildings
St Margaret's Church is a grade I listed building in the Abbey Green area of the Town Centre, dating back to the 13th century. It is built within the grounds of Barking Abbey, a former royal monastery, whose ruins are recognisable for its partially restored Grade-II* Listed Curfew Tower, which features on the coat of arms of the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham.
Eastbury Manor House in Barking is a Grade I listed 16th century Elizabethan manor house and museum run by the National Trust.
Fishing was the most important industry from the 14th until the mid-19th centuries. Salt water fishing began before 1320, when too fine nets were seized by City authorities, but expanded greatly from the 16th century. Fisher Street (now the southern part of Abbey Road) was named after the fishing community there. From about 1775 welled and dry smacks were used, mostly as cod boats, and rigged as gaff cutters. Fishermen sailed as far as Iceland in the summer. They served Billingsgate Fish Market in the City of London, and moored in Barking Pool. Scymgeour Hewett, born on 7 December 1797, founded the Short Blue Fleet (England's biggest fishing fleet) based in Barking, using smacks out of Barking and east coast ports. Around 1870 this fleet changed to gaff ketches that stayed out at sea for months; to preserve the fish they used ice produced by flooding local fields in winter. Fleeting involved fish being ferried from fishing smacks to gaff cutters by little wooden ferry-boats. The rowers had to stand, as the boats were piled high with fish boxes. Rowers refused to wear their bulky cork lifejackets because it slowed down their rowing. At first the fast 50-foot gaff cutters with great booms projecting beyond the sterns raced the fish to port to get the best prices.
Until about 1870 the trade was mostly in live fish, using welled smacks in which the central section of the hull, between two watertight bulkheads, was pierced to create a 'well' in which seawater could circulate. Cod caught live were lowered into this well, with their swim bladders pierced, and remained alive until the vessel returned to port, when they were transferred to semi-submerged 'chests', effectively cages, which kept them alive until they were ready for sale. At this point they were pulled out and killed with a blow on the head before being despatched to market, where because of their freshness they commanded a high price. People who practised this method of fishing were known as 'codbangers'.
By 1850 there some 220 smacks, employing some 1,370 men and boys. The boats were typically 75 feet (23 m) long carrying up to 50 tons. During the wars of the 17th and 18th centuries they were often used as fleet auxiliaries by the Royal Navy, based at nearby Chatham Dockyard. The opening of rail links between the North Sea ports and London meant it was quicker to transport fish by train straight to the capital rather than waiting for ships to take the longer route down the east coast and up the River Thames. By the 1850s the Thames was so severely polluted that fish kept in chests quickly died. Consequently, the fishery slipped into decline in the second half of the 19th century. The decline was hastened by a storm in December 1863, off the Dutch coast, which caused the deaths of 60 men and damage estimated at £6000–7000. Many of its leading figures, including Hewett & Co, moved to Great Yarmouth and Grimsby. By 1900 Barking had ceased to be a fishing port, leaving only street and pub names as a reminder. A large modern steel sculpture entitled "The Catch" is another reminder. The sculpture is on the roundabout at the end of Fanshawe Avenue. The local fishing heritage is recorded at Valence House Museum.
Boat building has a long history, being used for the repair of some royal ships of Henry VIII. In 1848, 5 shipwrights, 4 rope- and line-makers, 6 sail-makers and 4 mast-, pump-, and block-makers are listed in a local trade directory. Hewett & Co continued in boat building and repair until 1899. Other industries replaced the nautical trades, including jute spinning, paint and chemicals manufacture. By 1878 Daniel de Pass had opened the Barking Guano Works (later de Pass Fertilisers Ltd, part of Fisons) at Creekmouth. Creekmouth was also the site of the major Barking Power Station from 1925 until the 1970s, burning coal shipped in by river; the current station known as Barking is further east near Dagenham Dock. In the 20th century new industrial estates were established, and many local residents came to be employed in the car plant at Dagenham.
On 3 September 1878 the iron ship Bywell Castle ran into the pleasure steamer Princess Alice in Gallions Reach, downstream of Barking Creek. The paddle steamer was returning from the coast via Sheerness and Gravesend with nearly 800 day trippers. She broke in two and sank immediately, with the loss of more than 600 lives, the highest single loss of civilian lives in UK territorial waters. At that time there was no official body responsible for marine safety in the Thames; but the official enquiry resolved that the Marine Police Force based at Wapping be equipped with steam launches to replace their rowing boats to help them perform rescues.