Barking & Dagenham Local History
                                                                                                           Where History is in the Past

Where History Is In The Past

19th Century Dagenham

Dagenham in 1840


Dagenham was originally part of the Manor of Barking under (H)Oedilredus’s Charter of 687AD. It was under the Lord of the Manor—the Hulse Family and had been from 1769 (until 1931) and the extinction of Manorial Rights.


Between 1800 and 1900 Dagenham Village changed very little. Around 1841 the Tithe Map and Award indicate that the village had approximately 111 dwellings and this suggests a population of about 500 people [In 1801 the population of the whole of Dagenham was 1,057, and had risen to 4,324 by 1891. The main concentration of people was in Dagenhamstrete (Crown Street): while Bull Street had far fewer dwellings.


There were a number of other thatched dwellings within the village; these included the old butcher’s/slaughterhouse on the corner of Bull/Crown Street.


The roads of the day were extremely narrow, and in the village were probably covered in stones, which they certainly were by the 1890s.  They had no footpaths then, as they were not constructed until the third quarter of the 19th century.


The more outlying thoroughfares were little more than cart tracks compressed with stones. Pits of gravel were often located at the roadside. Bordering these highways were often hedges of hawthorn and blackthorn, along with ditches to drain the water from the surface. There were also a number of trees lining them at intervals. These were maintained by the farmers whose land the roads ran through, as were the hedges and ditches.


There were three alehouses in the village: the Bull, which dates from at least 1726 and from which Bull Street, was so-named. The Cross Keys, which was originally a tanners dwelling in the 15th century. During the time of Queen Anne [1702-1714], it became an inn for the first time being known as The Queens Head. It became the Cross Keys sometime before 1785. The third inn was The Rose & Crown, which emanated from 1769 and Crown Street took its name from this.





A postal receiving house existed in Dagenham before 1794. By 1811 a mail cart to Dagenham and Rainham was in action, later being part of the Romford Penny Post. The first letterbox was at the Bull in 1823, and this became the receiving house from 1833 with George Kittle being the Postmaster. The Penny Post was commenced in 1840 by Sir Rowland Hill. Before 1882 the Post Office in Dagenham was run from the Bull.


The carriers’ run a wagon service from at least 1768, which continued right until the arrival of the railway. The first known stagecoach came to the village about 1792, travelling between London and Dagenham on three days per week. By the turn of the 19th century this was gradually increased to a daily service. We find between 1816-42 it was operating every day from Aldgate at 4pm.


It appears that a long distance route was being worked from the Blue Boar in Whitechapel to Horndon and Grays in 1817. This daily service passed by way of Barking, Dagenham, Rainham, Aveley, Orsett, and Stifford. It was probably this that developed into Adam Kerr’s coach that operated in 1836-38. Hardwicke’s ran an omnibus service in 1846 from the Bull in Aldgate at 4.30pm then via Dagenham and Rainham, and by 1852 this was run by John Nelson from the same terminus. Little other transport was seen, apart from the odd horse and cart.


After this period the stagecoaches and omnibuses were in decline and only a series of carriers operated from Aldgate to Dagenham and Rainham. The arrival of the railway in 1885 appears to have finished these off completely.



In 1835 Thomas Lewis Fanshawe opened a school on lands held by him. This was paid for with grants from the National Society and the Government. The original building was thatched. Thomas Cutler was the first master their.


William Ford’s will enabled a school to be built in Church Elm Lane in 1841. This was on part of Grays Farm.



There were no real public services. They were born a little later under a number of Victorian Statutes like the Poor Law Acts.


The Metropolitan Police District was extended in 1840 and now came to Dagenham, being formed the previous year by Sir Robert Peel. The Dagenham force in 1848 had a police sergeant and seven constables. It was an age where the police travelled on foot.


There was no fire service until a volunteer brigade was formed in 1904. People relied on their neighbours for help.


Lighting was by means of oil-lamps and candles. It was not uncommon to see someone carrying a lantern in pitch black.  There is no record of any street lighting, but it seems likely that there may have been a few oil-lamps here and there at strategic points. There was no gas until 1867.


Piped water arrived in 1870, and the dwellings collected their water initially from standpipes. Water was in fact taken from the Brook and used for washing.


Until 1904 there was no sewage system. Raw sewage was probably buried or placed in the Wantz, which was known as “the ditch called the Common Sewer” in 1564.  As the population in the nucleus rose the water quality deteriorated. This led to diseases like: diphtheria, scarlet fever, consumption and smallpox. The Romford Local Board of Health, founded in 1853, later controlled sanitary problems.



Land Usage:


The growing population of London at the tail end of the 18th century meant that the regions around its fringes were now growing much more produce to cater for this.


In 1844 there was 3,405 acres of arable land in the Parish, and 83 acres of reed land existed, mainly at Horseshoe Corner on the shore of the nearby River Thames, although by this time the growth of reeds had declined [It is likely that the collection of this crop went back many hundreds of years].


Hops were grown (parcels 1355/56) near the nucleus from the early 1800s, but by 1850 this area had given way to reed growth, which was employed as thatching and basket-making material.



The flat, even and fertile land here was ideal for agriculture. Market gardens increased at the start of the 1800s and were very prominent during this time. There was also a series of allotments on Great Bull Field, which was now Glebe land, but was originally part of the East Hall Estate and had descended with Valence Manor. There was also a great number of cornfields (wheat) and arable land, which surrounded the village. Some pasture was located to the west and east of the village, around the streams: while common land was to the north of the village, and livestock was driven here to graze.



We can see from the following list of principal farms in the village vicinity just how much Dagenham was dominated by agriculture and husbandry, and had been for a number of centuries. Many of these holdings dated back to from much earlier times, and were as follows: Blossoms [1440]; Cambeys Farm [1687]; East Hall, around the Leys [1442]; Eastbrook [1284], Eastbrook End [1609]; just north of May & Bakers existed Foxlands [1456]; Frizlands [1284]; on the east side of Broad Street was Gallance [1412]; Hallbut [before 1777]; Hooks Hall [1540]; Hunters Hall [1556]; on the junction of Workhouse Lane and Broad Street was Huntings [1456]; Longhides [c.1280] was located on the east and west sides of Halbutt Street; Pettits on the east side of Halbutt Street [1440]; Sparks in Rainham Road North [1540]; Starmans [1456] or Sturmynes [1540]; Stockdales [1671-80]; and Wrights [1669-80], which was on the way leading through Dagenham Town.


Men and some women laboured on the land, and it was a time when people just turned up for work  [Fruit picking did not take off until the 1890s when farms near the village started to grow raspberries and blackberries; Stockdale or Wilkin’s Farm was one such].


Most of the men worked hard on the land harvesting: beans, cabbages, peas and potatoes were grown c.1800At the end of the working day the horses were taken to the meadows around the Beam and the Brook (Wantz) to graze.





In the parish well over 3,000 acres of land were under cultivation, with much of it being corn. This brought in large profits to farmers until the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1852. Corn was grown around the village and was ground into flour probably at Becontree Heath Mill [before 1820], or Beam Bridge Mill [before 1841], on the New Road [prior to this at Chadwell Heath mill from at least 1770]. It was then delivered and turned into bread by the two village bakers.


Many trades were connected with the land, or provided service for these workers. The village had 2 farriers and 2 harness-makers/saddlers. Another business was that of John Hasten who had operated as a blacksmith and wheelwright from a premises, which lay near to George House, from at least 1821 [later opposite Glebe Road; and it became Thomas Burke’s].


Pigots directory of 1832-33 tells us that the village had a number of other shops/trades, including: 3 boot and shoemakers, 3 butchers, 2 shopkeeper/grocers, a carpenter, a hairdresser, plus a tailor.





Life centred on St Peter & St Paul Church and people enjoyed tea parties and games (quoits) on the vicar’s land.


A Wesleyan Methodist Church was built in Bull Street in 1788. This was of red brick and had had Gothic shaped stained glass windows. Adjoining this was a Sunday school hall [A later yellow brick edifice known as Ebenezer Chapel was built in Bull Street, almost opposite the one above, in 1848 in spite of opposition from Mr Fanshawe. This became a Mission Church sometime after 1875].


After a hard days toil the men went to the pub to relax, socialise and play games while the women stayed at home to look after the children, cook the meals and look after the house. This was a time when few people travelled. The community was very supportive of one another, and everybody knew everyone else.





People relied very much on charity. A number of affluent people left money for the poor. Roger Reede was one of the first in the 15th century who left £10 for the poor. In 1817 Alexander Bennett also left money. William Ford in 1825 left £10,000 in his will in order to found a school here.


In 1757 a building named ‘Wrights’ was left to the poor of Dagenham to provide them with £2 per annum, which was enough to keep them supplied with bread for the whole year. This was by John Comyns. It became a workhouse in 1810, and was a possession of Dagenham Church. It continued to be used as such probably until 1836-38. [This later became Comyns almshouses by 1847 after being altered at the expense of the Parish].


The inmates of the workhouse were comprised of the following: widows, widowers, children, the poor, infirm and those who had nobody to tend to them.


The men went to work on the nearby land or the workhouse garden: while the women went in to domestic drudgery, like being a maid (charing) or washing. They received no wages, and this was paid directly to the workhouse master.


There were punishments for people who did not work or failed to attend church. They were placed in the stocks outside the church gates. A gaol was constructed at Little Ilford in 1829 for greater crimes.


There was a Workhouse in Workhouse Lane [later Reede Road], from at least 1780, which existed until 1836-38. During this time the Romford Union had been formed in 1831, and Dagenham became part of this. In 1838 a workhouse was built in Romford. Subsequently both the Dagenham building’s closed.





Hundred Courts were born in the 10th century and that for Barking met on Becontree Heath. Then came the Manor Courts and Assize Courts in the early 13th century. Judges went on a circuit partaking in these courts on 4 times per year.


Following this was the Quarter Sessions in 1361, which took over from the Hundred Courts in 1461. They administered Poor Law, appointed overseers for each parish, plus constables. Highway Statute, 1555 and Poor Law Act 1601.


From 1440-41 the Manor was divided into 4 wards for administration purposes: Town (Barking) Ward, Dagenham, Ilford and Rippleside. This continued until the 1890s when there was two Dagenham wards: Dagenham and Chadwell Heath.


Vestries started in the 16th and 17th centuries and were connected by the church.  The Minutes for Dagenham survive from 1789. They set the Poor Rate, appointed unpaid Overseers (who collected the Rates), and controlled most village affairs.


Dagenham Parish Council was formed in 1894 and they managed lighting, rates, allotments. The Romford Rural District Council was formed the same year and had control of Highways, Public Health etc.