Barking & Dagenham Local History
Where History is in the Past

Where History Is In The Past

The Changing Face of Barking's Shops

When we look at Barking’s town today we see a centre with few amenities. Where have all the quality businesses and those little specialist shops gone, which once gave Barking its unique character? What has also happened to its leisure facilities?

 

Let us not kid ourselves; Barking was never a great town--- one that could compete with Romford or even Ilford. However, numerous people hark back to those heady days of 20-25 years ago, and unless you lived here then you will not know what this means.

 

 

In November 1988 I carried out a Survey of Barking Town & its shops. This was in prelude of the building of the Vicarage Field Shopping Centre and the Northern Relief Road, which see the loss of a number of shops in both areas. I was lucky enough to be able to record these, but by and large most had already closed their doors for the final time, and were being demolished at the time of the study.

 

This was followed by further surveys of the town in November 1993, December 1998, July-August 2004 and in August 2009. In this work though, I employ mainly the 1998 and 2009 Surveys, with a few supplementary details from 2010. From this research it is easy to gauge the makeup and changes in the town in these eras.

 

When we look at the formation of the town from the initial Survey we find that in 1988 a total of 305 businesses existed. The town’s top three categories were as follows: Professional services (13%), Clothing trade (9.5%) and Specialist shops (8.5%). By professional I include: accountants, dentists, doctors and surveyors etc; clothing is self explanatory, but includes men, women, children and sportswear: while among the specialists are: a cake maker, cards, a cycle shop, a garage, health shops, pet stores and prams etc.

 

In contrast with the survey I undertook last year (2009), plus Supplementary information added this year, we find a total of 336 business or shops. These comprise of Restaurants & Fast Food outlets (16%), Professional (10%), Clothing (8%) & Empty properties (8%).

 

It will come as no surprise to readers’ who venture through the centre that most of the towns businesses are connected with food, being either quick food or low-priced restaurants. The most significant alterations in the town are the fact that this category has risen 100% in this time: while the number of specialist shops have fallen by the same percentage margin. Overall the quality of shops here has shown a massive decline. There is a significant downturn in professional trades here too, which is probably due to the economic recession.

 

The clothing businesses during the last 20 years or so have remained pretty static, with there being 26 in 2009 and 29 in 1988. However, barring the Vicarage Field, the overall store quality has deteriorated into a number of cheap outlets today. Gone are the Irving Anthony’s, Quacks and Plus One to be found along the main roads to be replaced in the main by cheap shops, a tacky market and charity stores. Although there are one or two bright spots, including: The Bon Marchè and Peacocks.

 

Today there are 25 (7%) empty shops, mainly in the London Road & North Street regions, where they are awaiting demolition; these add to this feeling of despair here. This is in contrast to under half this figure in 1998, with a total of 10 (3.5%). There is a recession today; but the figure has been high for many years, which was reflected in the 2004 Survey when 32 premises were unoccupied.


In the 1980s the Borough still had large pockets of unemployment, which was high with a total of 7,774 without work at the end of 1984, rising to 8,264 two years later. This is depicted locally with the amount of deserted businesses and shops. Even in 1992 there were 43 people chasing each job in the Borough.

 

Another massive change I have included highlights the fact that public houses in the town (and in deed the Borough) have closed at an alarming rate! These are based on current supplementary figures from 2010. We find only last year there were 11 inns here: while at present, in under a year this has been reduced to just 6. This means the town is down to its final remaining public houses: the Barking Dog, the Spotted Dog, Top Up Bar (once Lloyds Bank), Victoria and the White Horse: while just within range is the Jolly Fisherman near Harts Lane in North Street.

 

Who would have thought not so many years ago that all these drinking establishments would have closed? Not me for one! It will be only a matter of time before more close their doors, and we are probably left with just the two ‘Dogs’.

 

Leisure too has suffered badly hit. Long gone is the Odeon Cinema, both the Working Men’s Clubs in Ripple Road and North Street: while the Night Club in London Road vanished quite recently, although is once again being refurbished.

 

Supermarkets & multistores account for another 25 shops (7%). These big changes reflect heavily on the cultural shift in Barking as some of these are halal.

 

 

 

It is quite alarming that today we find nearly half the businesses in the town in just 5 categories: Restaurants (16), Professional (9.5), Clothing (8), Empty (7.5) and Supermarkets (7). In comparison the shops in 1988 were far more varied: Professional (13), Clothing (9.5), Specialist (8.5), Restaurants (8) and General Shops (6.5). There was a far better balance in the town during this earlier phase, and not one dominated like today with too many food outlets and empty premises.

 

Many of the stores here now have extended onto the pavements, and their window displays appear tacky and unkempt. This is not something you would have regularly observed in Barking as little as 20-25 years ago! Numerous businesses here look badly kept and run down.

 

In contrast, take a look at Havering today-- in Romford the shops are well presented, as is the market. Hornchurch also has a town centre to be proud of, being of similar size to Barking. Looking back further, I find it incredible that our town once boasted a Sainsbury’s in East Street in the 1960s. Who indeed would have thought that today? Indeed these types of supermarkets like Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencers and Waitrose define a regions prosperity: or indeed on the other hand like Lidl or Aldi which defines the opposite end of the scale.

 

We can ask ourselves why have these changes taken effect? The answers lie in a number of reasons. When I undertook the first survey it was to record the changes in shops and businesses, but little did I know at this time it would also reflect a change in population.

 

Many of today’s people in Barking are African or Muslim, which is coupled with residents from Eastern Europe. They have brought a different culture to that of 1988. They have displaced the original residents. This has further led to the closure of many of the established trades here, as they no longer have the customers to remain open.


The local authority has also done little to alleviate this. They have had a number of opportunities in recent years to build new shopping regions, but instead have chosen to construct flats here, seeing them as a more profitable course to follow. They know Barking will never be able to compete with the likes of Romford or even Ilford.


Barking Market, 2010

Romford Market, 2010

Barking, Ripple Road, 2010

Hornchurch, High Street, 2010

I could write a long list of shops that have gone, but not forgotten in our lives. I have listed some of the more notable stores below to have vanished in the last 20 years or so.

Station Parade: the odd side previously boasted Irving Anthony (menswear), E.C. Hewett’s (confectioners), J.T. Worrickers (toys & prams), Gateway Supermarket (now The Barking Dog).

 

Barking station forecourt, depicted here, has also undergone a spruce up during this time. Left is a picture of the forecourt prior to the addition of its inside shops.

On the even side was, Rowes (sportswear), Tandy’s (electrical), Fads (DIY, decorating), Dowling’s (curtains), which vanished quite recently last year,  plus The Record Parlour (once Guy Norris).

Station Parade (odd side), 1988

Station Parade (even side), 1988

Station Parade (even side), 1988

Station Parade (even side), 1988

Longbridge Road: on the odd side was: G.A. Fletchers (butchers), Wet & Dry Fishmongers, Rodney’s (books & games), Jock Stewart, Alex Wheele (newsagents/toys), Hyper-fi (electrical), Chapman (advertising & printing), Eddy Grimstead later Premier Motors.


On the even side was the Odeon Cinema, Chains/Coco’s/Clouds (night club), Aquarius Studio (photographers), HSS Hire Shop, Taylor’s (tropical fish/ fishing gear), and the T-Bone Steak House.

          Longbridge Road (odd side), 1988

               Longbridge Road (odd side), 1988

Longbridge Road (odd side), 2007
Longbridge Road (even side), 1993
Longbridge Road (odd side), 2006
Longbridge Road (even side), 1994

Ripple Road: on the odd side previously was Barking Supermarket, being once the old Electric Theatre, which opened in 1910; it was this that contained a number of stores the most notable of which was the original Simon’s Sales Store. The Vicarage Field shopping centre replaced the supermarket and old post office in 1989-90.

 

Further along was the Electrical Showroom (now Poundsave), Winches (furniture) whose showrooms occupied Nos 25-31: while Stewart & Company (hardware) later became Deep Pan Pizza in 1989. There was also Competitive Remedies; one of the first Health Food shops in the area, having opened in 1931; while just along from here was Griffiths (photographers). The off license, Peter Dominic, later Threshers, lay to the left of the Launderette on the corner of St Erkenwald Road today.

Ripple Road (odd side), 1988

Ripple Road (odd side), 1988

Ripple Road: on the even side was the North Thames Gas Board (now J.D. Sports), Barking Liberal & Labour Club, Simons Sales Stores, Pesci’s fish and chips, also Stratton’s (greengrocers), Vicarage Café, Timpson’s (shoes) and G. Thomas (chemist). Where Lidls stands existed Truman’s (fishmonger’s), SAM Cars, Empire Fish Bar and the Stag PH.

Barking Liberal & Labour Club, Now Tesco Express, Ripple Road (odd side), 1989
Pesci Brothers, fish & chip shop, Ripple Road (odd side), in 2007
Demolished shops, where the Lemonade Building & Bike Shed now stand, Ripple Road (odd side), 1988
The boarded up Stag PH, shortly before demolition. Lidl now occupies this site, Ripple Road (odd side), 1988
East Street: on the odd side existed J.T. Worrickers second store, Inter Travel & Lunn Poly (travel agents), Woolworths, Farmers Meats (butchers), Curry’s (electrical), Superdrug, Mothercare, A.J. Harvey (greengrocers) plus Freeman Hardy & Willis.

East Street (odd side), 1988

East Street odd side), 2009

The even side began with Burtons (menswear), Tesco’s later Leo’s supermarket, plus Clarkes (bakers), which later became the Cornish Pasty Bakery, Dixon’s (electrical); also Marks & Spencers, part of which became Kwik Save: while the other section of the store became Iceland.   Blakes Market was destroyed by fire in 1971 and was replaced by The Arcade by 1973, also along this highway was Rumbelows, and Granada (TV rental), which currently is Game Station.
East Street (even side), from B&DP, 1990

East Street (even side), 1991

Broadway: on the odd side was Tesco’s, later Peacocks side entrance: in addition to the Barge Aground and the Captain Cook public houses. The Barge was a direct replacement in 1974 for the original alehouse, which stood across the opposite side of the road. Today, although surviving, is the ‘Tarancuta Restaurant Romanesc’ [a Romanian restaurant], which opened c.2007. Here live music takes place, and it is used for Romanian weddings and parties. The Captain Cook on the other hand was constructed as a replacement for the old George Inn, which once lay near by, and opened its doors in 1962. The last pint was pulled here in November 2009 and it was hastily pulled down in January 2010, with the site being levelled, and turfed over, which is how it stands today.

The Barge Aground was briefly known as The Ferret & Trouser Leg in this picture. It is now a Romanian restaurant, 1996

The Captain Cook, 1988

London Road: lying formerly on the odd side was Warrens Sewing Centre, Porky’s (cooked meats), Stanley Maurice (hairdressers), Mike Vickers (cycles), F & E Hopkins (jewellers), and Tolaini’s (café). On the even side was once found the Slow Boat (Chinese), Pie & Mash, Animal Crackers (pets), also Connolly’s (wine bar) which later became Legends, and currently being refurbished.

London Road (odd side), 1987

London Road (odd side), 1993

North Street: the stores being found on the even side  once included the Bull PH (closed June 2010), Low Price Records, Lacey’s Travel, Prontaprint, North Street Video and the Hong Kong Restaurant.

North Street (odd side), 2010

Vicarage Field (interior), 1993
The original Tenth Planet shop in Vicarage Field, courtesy of Flikr, 1993

Vicarage Field (exterior), 1993

As we can see the change in Barking’s centre has been immense. The shops that I have listed have long since disappeared and can never be replaced.

 

The one highlight of the town is the Vicarage Field Shopping Centre, opened 6th November 1990, but even this has been dumbed down on its original style, which was once blessed with a food court, palm trees, a water fountain and a lift.

Within the centre were a number of speciality shops, now gone: like 10th Planet, sci-fi specialists. These sold Dr Who merchandise mainly, and was named after an episode of the series featuring the cybermen.


To the right of 10th Planet was James Smith, booksellers, H. Samuels the jewellers, and Sam Goody’s, music store.

  


What an outsider notice’s immediately in Barking is the high-level of accommodation in the nucleus, which reminds me as being similar to what you find in a holiday destination like Benidorm, Spain.  With the current level of building in the heart of Barking being high-rise apartments and flats it is not possible for the region to ever regain even a fraction of these lost stores.


The space, which could have regenerated the town with new shops and businesses, has now gone. It has become a region with thousands of people, all crammed into hastily built multi-coloured flats.

 

From the businesses that have graced the town, I have complied a shortlist  [shown below] of 23 of the more memorable stores here,  all of which have disappeared in the last 20 years or so. It has to be noted that many of these were long established names, with 11 of these shops closing in the last 5 years alone.


Business / Shop

Trade

Date Opened

Date Closed

A.J. Harvey

Greengrocer & Fruiterer

1960s

2010

Alex Wheele

Newsagents

1908

c.1987

Barking Pet Stores

Pets

1956

c.2005

Competitive Remedies

Health Foods

1931

c.1990

Dowling's

Curtains

Before 1959

2009

F & E Hopkins

Jewellers

1941

1991

Farmers Meats

Butchers

1932

2007

G.A. Fletchers

Butchers

c.1935

2004

Grays

Chemist

1911

c.1987

Hewett’s

Newsagents & Confectioners

Before 1925

c.1993

Hong Kong Restaurant

Chinese Cuisine

1965

2010

Hyper-Fi

Electrical Store

1975

2010

J.T. Worrickers

Toys & Prams

1898

1993

Marks & Spencer’s

Supermarket

1914

1990

Mike Vickers

Cycles

1960s

c.2008

Pesci Bros

Fish & Chips

1934

1997

Pie & Mash

Pie & Mash

1979

2009

Rodney’s

Books & Games

Early 1960s

2006

Simons Sales Store *

Multistore

1953

c.2007

Stanley Maurice

Hairdressers

1968

c.1993

Stewart & Co

DIY & Hardware

1929

1988

Winches

Furniture

1899

c.1996

Woolworth’s

Multistore

1927

12-2008

Currently we have two rays of light; these are the businesses of Jack Bunney’s dress hire store, which opened in 1958 and is still going strong currently: and that of (Montague) Burtons, now trading from the Vicarage Field. 

 

I say forlornly on a closing note, that the shopping centre of Barking is today a lost cause. This is hard for me to say in a town, where I have spent most of my life in. Even the Vicarage Field is under threat with proposals to build flats here. Anyway, I conclude by saying I hope this article brings back a number of memories to the older residents, and to those who have long departed the town.