Sunday, 28 June 2009

Barking Mad

Barking is where I was brought up and my family lived for several generations.

Its a small estuary running into the tidal Thames below Woolwich.
Originally, it was wilderness and marshland - reknowned for smuggling.
In 1320, local fishermen had their nets burned publicly because the mesh was too small. 

It doesn't look much now but it was once the home of a large herring fishing fleet called the "Short Blue" fleet, run by a family called Hewett.
By the mid-nineteenth century, over one hundred and fifty smacks sailed from the creek, many of them over fifty tons. 

It was considered the largest trawler station in the Kingdom – if not in the world.

Barking men claim to have been the first to make use of the trawl.

Rather than each vessel worrying her way up the winding Thames with her own catch, special flyers, setting clouds of canvas, hurried the fish to London, while the rest of the fleet stayed at sea for weeks at a time. 

This is the "Ranger", probably built in Barking in 1864. At 73 feet, these fast cutters in the Hewett fleet excelled at sailing to windward and would bring fish to London from the North Sea fishing boats.

Then came the railways. The fish could be delivered faster from Lowestoft or Grimsby and the fleets stayed at the railhead bringing fame and prosperity to hitherto unknown coastal hamlets.

There is still a pub in Great Yarmouth called the "Barking Smack". 


All other commerce on the Thames palls almost to insignificance against the sheet volume of the trade in coal. 

Collier brigs slipped into Barking Creek and by the mid-17th century lock gates had been built to maintain a navigable depth as far as a small village called Ilford, which went on to become a prosperous port with a gas works, for 200 years. 

A Whitby collier captain, James Cook, married in our local church, St.Margarets, which is a short walk from the quay.
Of course, we all know where he went from there.

On 21 December 1762, James Cook married Miss Elizabeth Batts at St Margaret's Church at Barking, Essex. 

Elizabeth was born in Wapping, London where her father was a publican. 

Following his death when she was very young, she came to live in Ilford with a Mr and Mrs Sheppard whose large house named 'Crouchers' stood in Clements Road. 
Although her mother re-married and Elizabeth went back to live with her at Wapping, Elizabeth continued to visit and stay with the Sheppards over the years and, in fact, spent the mandatory four weeks required residency period with them at Ilford (then a part of Barking), prior to the wedding - hence Elizabeth stating as being 'of Barking, Essex'.

Ship repair was once a thriving business in Barking due to the eighteen-foot range of tide and the ease of careening. 

My great grandmother lived at the "Rushing Waters", which is just by the side of the surviving Granary Mill shown in the modern photograph below. 
She had neither gas nor electricity.
In those days, the quay would completely drain and the river flowing out of the small gap by the mill on the ebb tide, gave the area its name.

Now it has been dammed with a barrage half-lock and there is also a flood barrier at Creekmouth, two miles downstream. The former keeps the pool in water on the ebb and the Barrier keeps the Thames out on the flood. 

You can still explore the area with a narrowboat, but its a shadow of its former self.

I'm going back to Barking Creek,
The place where I was born,
I'm going back to Barking Creek,
Where I left one sunny morn,
I long to see that dear old home,
and waters flowing blue,
I'm going back to Barking Creek
but it will be a long time before I do. 

Joe Mott 1923

I think he must have had a big grin on his face when he penned this song !!

The waters are far from blue :-)

but more about that another day..

The Hewett family grave in Barking

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