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MARKET TOWNS OF ESSEX (from SDUK Penny Cyclopedia)

Barking in 1835

BARKING, a market-town in the county of Essex, about eight miles east of London. It lies in the hundred of Becontree, in a parish also called Barking, the circumference of which is about thirty miles : this parish contains 10,170 acres, of which 7,850 is cultivated land, and about 1,500 belonging to Hainault Forest, which includes within its limits the well-known Fairlop Oak ; under the shade of which a fair is held on the first Friday in July. The name of the place is written Bereching, Bereking, Berkyng, in old records ; and some antiquarians derive it from Burgh-ing – ‘The fortification in the meadow.’ Some considerable entrenchments are still visible in the fields about a quarter of a mile north of the present town. The origin of the town is not distinctly ascertained ; but the consequence which it ultimately acquired was certainly owing to its celebrated Abbey, the founding and subsequent establishment of which attracted an increasing population. This abbey, originally dedicated to the Virgin Mary, is said to have been the richest nunnery and the oldest foundation in England ; but this is an error, as Folkestone nunnery in Kent was founded many years before ; and both Shaftesbury and Syon nunneries were possessed of larger revenues. Barking Abbey was founded about the year 677, in the reigns of Sebba and Sighere, kings of the East Saxons, by St. Erkenwald, bishop of London, at the instance of his sister, Ethelburga, who was appointed the first abbess. This lady, and several of the following abbesses were canonized after death. In 870 the abbey was burnt to the ground by the Danes, and the nuns were killed or dispersed. Being within the territories ceded by Alfred to Godrun, the Danish king, it lay desolate until the middle of the tenth century, when it was rebuilt and restored to all its former splendour by King Edgar, the great founder and restorer of religious houses. Some historians state, that at the Norman conquest the Conqueror retired to this abbey soon after his arrival in England, and remained there until the completion of the fortress which he had begun in London. In subsequent times the government of the abbey was sometimes assumed by the queens of England ; and a natural daughter of a king or prince of the blood is occasionally found occupying the office of abbess. In 1377 the convent petitioned to be excused from contributing an aid to the king at the time of a threatened invasion, on account of the expenses which they had been obliged to incur in repairing the great damages occasioned by a terrible inundation which in the preceding year had broken down the banks of the Thames at Dagenham; a similar statement was often made at subsequent periods : and in 1410 it is stated that the revenues of the convent were so much impaired, in consequence of the expenditure made necessary by inundations, that none of' the ladies had more than fourteen shillings a year for clothes and necessaries.

A considerable extent of ground called the Level, near the Thames, lies very low, so that in high tides the water is higher than this land, and would overflow it if not kept out by embankments. It is not easy to learn when an embankment was originally formed ; but it appears that the Abbess of Barking was obliged to keep it up, and in order to assist her in performing the duty, she was privileged to cart wood from the forest, by the tenants of Barking and Dagenham, for the repair of the breaches of the embankment. In 1707 a breach was made by a high tide, which occasioned the loss of 1,000 acres of rich land, and a sand-bank was formed at the mouth of the breach which reached almost half-way across the river, and was nearly a mile in length. The proprietors spent more than the land was worth in endeavouring to recover it, and then applied to parliament, which took up the matter as a public concern ; and after the failure of another party in the attempt, a Captain Perry engaged to close the breach, make good the embankments, and remove the sandbank, for the sum of £25,000. He completed this engagement at the end of five years, but at an expense of £15,000 beyond his estimate, which was, however, afterwards made good to him by parliament. The whole bank is now kept in a very complete state of repair under the superintendence of commissioners. The bank is from eight to fourteen feet in height, and a path extends along the top for the whole distance.

The nuns of Barking were of the Benedictine order. The abbess was appointed by the king until about the year 1200, when, by the interference of the Pope, the election was vested in the convent, and confirmed by the royal authority. The abbess of Barking was one of the four who were baronesses in right of their station ; for being possessed of thirteen knight’s fees and a half, she held her lands of the king as a barony ; and though her sex prevented her from having a seat in parliament or attending the king in the wars, yet she always furnished her quota of men and had precedence over other abbesses. In her convent she lived in great state : her household consisted of chaplains, an esquire, gentlemen, gentlewomen, yeomen, grooms, a clerk, a yeoman-cook, a groom-cook, a pudding-wife, &c. The last abbess was Dorothy Barley, who had a pension of £133, 6 shillings and 8 pence per annum settled on her when the convent was surrendered to Henry VIII in 1539 : smaller pensions were also given to the nuns, then thirty in number. At that time their possessions were valued at the sum of £1,084, 6 shillings 2 , according to Speed, or £862, 12 shillings and 2¾ pence, according to Dugdale. The manor of Barking, which seems to have formed part of the original endowment of the abbey, remained with the crown from the dissolution until 1628, when Charles I sold it to Sir Thomas Fanshawe for £2,000, reserving to the crown a fee-farm rent of £160, which is now payable to the Earl of Sandwich. The abbey-church and conventual buildings occupied an extensive plot of ground ; but scarcely any remains are now standing. The site of the former is just without the north wall of the present churchyard.

Barking has considerably declined in consequence of the suppression of the abbey. It is situated on the river Roding, about two miles north of the Thames. The river, which is wide, and receives the tide from the Thames as far as the town, is commonly called Barking Creek. It narrows very much immediately above the town, but has been made navigable for small craft as far as Ilford. The inhabitants consist chiefly of fishermen and of persons employed in conveying coals and timber from the Thames to the different towns in the district. A considerable number also find employment in conveying to the London market the potatoes and vegetables which the vicinity produces in abundance. The town has a free-school, a market-house, and a spacious and convenient workhouse, erected in 1787, under the authority of an act of parliament. The church, dedicated to St. Margaret, formerly belonged to the abbey, and contains some curious monuments : the living is a vicarage in the diocese of London ; the college of All Souls, Oxford, is patron. Two chapels, the one at Ilford and the other at Epping Forest, are annexed to the vicarage. The parish is divided into four wards, each with its separate officers. Barking-town ward has two churchwardens (one appointed by the vicar and the other by the parish) and an overseer. The lord of the manor holds a court every three weeks, in which causes of trespass and debt under forty shillings are tried. The population of the parish was 8,036 in 1831 ; and that of the town 3,404, of whom 1,765 were females.