The London Borough of Barking and Dagenham is situated in east London between the Thames and the London Orbital Motorway, the M25. Originally part of Essex, the area was one of the earliest settlements in the East Saxon Kingdom which was established after the Roman occupation. Barking Abbey was the second oldest Saxon abbey in the country and became the largest Benedictine Nunnery in Britain. The Dagenham retained a rural character until the 1920s when improved transport infrastructure began to have an impact. The famous, and recently closed, giant Ford Motor Works began operations here in 1931 and covered an area of 600 acres on the Thames Bank.
The modern London Borough of Barking and Dagenham was created by the 1963 Act which came into force in 1965. It combined the greater part of the Municipal Borough of Barking with parts of the Municipal Borough of Dagenham. The northern part of Dagenham was amalgamated with Ilford into the London Borough of Redbridge. Barking and Dagenham has a population of 155, 600 in a land area of 13 square miles giving a population density of 11,862 per square mile (4,576 per square Km) which ranks it at 18 in London and 19 in the UK as a whole. It is situated in East London/Essex and lies on the north bank of the Thames and within the M25 London Orbital Motorway. Barking was originally incorporated as a Municipal Borough on October 5th 1931 and Dagenham in October 1938.
The name Barking is derived from the Saxon tribe of the Berecingas who were part of the East Saxon Kingdom established at the end of the Roman period. The town developed from one of the earliest Saxon settlements, on the east bank of the Roding river, and grew up around barking Abbey at the head of barking creek. The parish was included in the Manor of Barking and it was here that William the Conqueror had his headquarters as he waited for the Tower of London to be completed. Throughout the medieval period the Abbey, which is the second oldest Saxon Abbey in the country, played a major role in the history of the Borough and was at one time the largest Benedictine Nunnery in the country. It escaped the first wave of Henry VIII's suppression of the monasteries and seizure of ecclesiastical lands but was dissolved in 1539 and the Manor remained Crown property for the next 89 years. After the dissolution , many landowners in Barking were London merchants and several of these were elected Lord Mayor.
In the centuries that followed, the most important industry in Barking was fishing. This supplied the London market and many major fishing fleets operated out of the mouth of Barking Creek In the middle of the 19th century there were 220 Barking smacks which were crewed by 1,370 men and boys. However, by the end of the century the Fleet had moved up the east coast to Yarmouth and Gorleston, a development facilitated by the development of the railways which carried the fish to London. The railway arrived in Barking itself in 1854 and brought the expansion of the town over the surrounding farms and market gardens. The population of the town had reached 21,547 in 1901 and climbed steadily to 78,170 by 1951, after which a gradual decline set in.
Until 1933, Barking was the terminus of the District Line on the Underground system which was then extended to the present terminus at Upminster. It was also in 1933 that the North Circular Road was completed and reached Barking where it connects with Eastern Avenue. This massive improvement in transport across the mud flats of the Thames stimulated the population growth in the second quarter of the 20th century. Barking Power Station, one of the largest in Europe began operation in 1925 and was finally closed in 1981. The decline of the railways also provided new opportunities and in 1972 a freightliner terminal opened on the 30 acres of railway sidings south of Ripple Road.
The South-East Technical College was opened in 1936 and built to a design by J Stuart. It eventually became the Barking precinct of the North-East London Polytechnic in 1979 and is now part of the University of East London. The Town Hall was designed by Herbert Jackson in 1936 but the construction was delayed by the Second World War. It was completed, with an impressive clock tower, in the 1950s and opened by Dame Evelyn Sharp in 1958. This was accompanied by the construction of a number of Housing Estates. A new central Library was opened in 1974 and several modern office blocks followed in the 80s. The area around St Margaret's Church and Barking Abbey is a designated Conservation area and the Quaker burial ground, which includes the grave of the prison reformer Elizabeth Fry, has been turned into a public Garden.
Dagenham lies east of Barking and derives its name from the Saxon Deccanhaam - "Daecca's home (or village)". It was an ancient parish, part of the Manor of Barking, extending 8 miles northwards from the Thames to Lambourne End. Dagenham village is probably one of the oldest Saxon settlements in Essex. The area retained its rural character until the 1920 and at its centre lies Beacontree Heath which is believed to have been the Saxon meeting place of the Becontree Hundred. In the north, at the fringe of Hainult Forest is Chadwell Heath which was long a haunt of footpads and highwaymen. It was here that the move to urbanisation began around 1900 with a rapid development of both public and private housing after 1918. The population grew from around 9,000 in 1921 to 114,568 in 1951.
The only survivals from the old village are the church of St Peter and St Paul which retains the 13th century chancel and the 15th century north chapel, the 17th century vicarage and the Cross Keys Inn. The latter is a timber-framed building dating from the late 15th century with gabled and formerly jettied cross wings and is the oldest secular building in the area.
Dagenham became heavily industrialised during the 20th century. One of the first to be established was Telephone Cables, Europe's largest cable manufacturers, at Dagenham Dock. This was a tidal basin which was constructed by Samuel Williams in 1887 after attempts to turn Dagenham Breach into a dock had failed. The Ford Motor Company bought some land from the Williams family in 1924 and began production at their Thames-side factory in 1931. Barker and May moved production here in 1934. After the First World War an enormous Municipal rubbish dump was established between Dagenham and Hornchurch. There were frequent strong complaints from people living and working in the area about the noxious smell and gases coming from the dump but these were generally ignored. However, Ford, having inspected the dump decided that the wast products could be better disposed of by using them to generate electricity foe the new Works. The dump disappeared and the resulting Ford Works, which covered an area of 600 acres, were opened in 1932. They survived until May 2002 when all production was moved to more efficient plants in Europe.