Public Transport Arrives in Barking & Dagenham
From medieval times most people did not travel, but merely toiled and lived locally in their village. Those that did make a journey, out of necessity, were folks going to places like the nearby markets, i.e. Barking and Romford, or to a mill. This was a time when only the rich rode horses.
The first form of public transport in Barking and Dagenham was provided by the carriers, who plied their trade from these locations to London. During this period the Parish of Barking was massive, and included virtually all of Ilford and Dagenham.
The carriers had arrived in the 16th century, and were employed principally for carrying goods to the vast city markets. As the carriers carts increased other forms of transport did also, and they began to adopt vehicles known as: 'stage or travelling waggons' running them in convoys or on their own.
These stagewaggons were long, lumbering, spring less vehicles drawn by four to six horses; they creaked and bumped their way slowly along the uneven roads and came to cater for the less wealthy type of traveller. There were no seats for the passengers, so they had to sit on the goods, be it farm produce, manure, bales, or parcels; they were cooped up on the floor at the rear end of the waggon, which was covered by a hood.
Stagewaggon passing through turnpike
In addition this was a very slow and tedious mode of progress, with the average speed being only two miles an hour. To give an idea of this rate of motion, a journey to Colchester from the city would have taken two days. One advantage was its apparent cheapness, with passenger fares working out about a ½d a mile, but this was still beyond the range of many.
The first real stagecoach according to a 17th century writer called 'Thrupp' came into fashion around 1640. The earliest coaches were in fact little more than elaborate 'litters' on wheels, which were slung between supports on a long wheelbase; these vehicles still had no form of suspension.
Early 17th century stagecoach
The coaches departed from a number of inns or taverns in the Aldgate or Whitechapel regions. These establishments also came into being along the route, and at the destinations. Some of the coaching inns locally were: the George (Barking), the Greyhound (Chadwell Heath), the Bull (Dagenham), and the Coach & Horses (Ilford).
By 1690, coaches are clearly stated as running daily-- through to Barking and Wall End in East Ham, plus Ilford and Romford; with 'George Holloway's' vehicle going to Barking and Wall End; William Golding's to Ilford from the 'Crown'; and Anthony Write's from the 'Saracens Head' to Chadwell Heath and Romford.
The Barking service however, did not travel via today's A124 from East Ham to Barking, as the highway was unsuitable for this type of traffic during this age. It travelled by way of what became Ilford Lane today.
The local roads of the day were barely adequate to sustain regular coach travel, but overall, before the 18th century commenced, it would have not been feasible, either technically or economically, to build a good network of highways throughout the whole country.
Besides the shocking roads; there were broken bridges, and the threat of highwaymen and robbers. Journeying in Essex was often not a joy, but an adventure. Many travellers went armed or in some number to avoid trouble, as mounted highwaymen were found to frequent every main road. All the forest areas were well haunted by them, including: the area then called Waltham Forest (now Epping) and Hainault, in addition to Black Heath (now Chadwell Heath).
However this did not stop the intensification in horse drawn locomotion. It was apparent that with this increasing amount of traffic that something had to be done, and from 1663 onwards Acts of Parliament gave authority for the formation of Turnpike Trusts.
In 1695, Parliament made Quarter Sessions responsible for the former Roman artery the 'Great Road', which passed from London to Harwich. Part of this now is Romford Road through Newham and the High Road in Ilford. By 1726 the whole road was under the turnpike.
Turnpike gates were created on this section of the Great Road under legislation of 1721. Local turnpike houses and bars though, were not created at Ilford and the Whalebone (Chadwell Heath), until the turn of the 19th century.
Surprisingly neither of these was Barking's first turnpike gate. A Vestry account, dated the 17th of February 1715 [below], documents its erection, under Thomas Bennett, the Churchwarden, It was positioned near the Town Wharf or Mill Pool: -
"... It is ordered that all perfons that makes ufe of this Towns Wharfs Shall pay Wharfage and alfo that Mr Thos Bennett prefent Churchwarden of Barking do exact and set up a Turn & pike or Barr att the corner of the brick wall neare Crofstree in Manbridg Street. Leading to the Towns Wharfs".
Returning to coaching we find that the solitary vehicle which operated to and from Barking and Ilford in 1690, saw no real amendments, although the service was doubled a couple of times before once again being reduced. In 1765 it ran daily, from the Black Bull, Aldgate: and the Three Nuns, Whitechapel.
Travelling by stagecoach was expensive for the day and the fare in the mid-18th century for both Barking and Ilford from London was 1/- (one shilling) [5p]. Although five years earlier it had been 1/6d [7½p] to Barking, and 1/- to Ilford.
It was about 1768 that the first carriers waggon is listed to Dagenham, although this was only once a week, from the Ipswich Arms in Cullum Street. This was increased by 1782 to three times per week, departing from the Talbot at noon.
The first known stagecoach service stated as running to Dagenham appeared in 1792, from the Blue Boar, Whitechapel. It ran on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays only at eight in the morning from London; this service had come about sometime around the four years prior to 1792. In addition to the coach, from the Blue Boar in 1794, a waggon is listed from the Talbot, Whitechapel at noon on three days of the week.
A new form of coach came about c.1650-1750, and was known as the 'flying machine'. This gives the impression that the vehicle moved at some rate of knots, but this was not the case as it achieved faster times by leaving in the early hours of the morning.
Another important innovation was the introduction of the mail coach and they are listed as running along the 'Great Road' as early as 1748. Prior to this boys on horseback carried the ordinary post. These vehicles were superseded by diligences in 1783. The first proper mail-coach ran between London and Bristol in 1784. These coaches also carried passenger, and were the most expensive form of horse drawn transport.
By 1788 a myriad of services were operating throughout the country, including a Monday to Saturday service from London to Norwich via Stratford, Ilford, Romford, Brentwood, Chelmsford, Colchester and Ipswich. By 1792 a Sunday coach had been introduced on this route. Barking's mail went from Ilford and Dagenham's from Romford.
Yarmouth mail coach at the Coach & Horses PH, Ilford