The Dawning of the Manor of Barking
From the archæeological findings from the prehistoric period, we can gather that Barking and Dagenham and their surrounding areas were visited many centuries before the Romans crossed to our shores, and even before the arrival of the Celts! The evidence and relics, which have been found locally, dating before the Iron Age period, are not of sufficient quantity to draw very strong conclusions, so these can only be based on this rather scanty evidence.
From the discoveries from the Palæolithic era right through the early Neolithic Age, it is apparent that the men of these times were primarily nomadic. They hunted near to the marshes, along the gravel banks of the rivers. It was near these places where the main routes of communication were first forged. Some dwelt in scattered settlements on the higher ground: a fact that is shown by the discovery of the Mesolithic site in Romford. In these times there was no means of agriculture or crop working and the environment ruled their lives.
The lower-lying, marshy regions of Barking and Dagenham, those nearer to the River Thames, would have been visited when possible-- mainly in the drier months-- and probably livestock was left here to graze during these times. In fact evidence exists which tells us that parts of neighbouring marshes were being drained during this era, so it is likely that this occurred here as well, although with no adequate flood protections this would have been futile.
On occasions the River Thames would have flooded right up to the higher ground and beyond. One notable flood occurred in 1707 when the floodwaters reached as far as Dagenham Village-- a distance well over 1 mile away, and today’s breach was formed. On the positive side the main rivers would have been the scenes of much hunting and fishing.
Indications from place name evidence shows that the forest originally stretched as far south as Longbridge, but by Anglo-Saxon times it was already virtually depleted, and by the 17th century largely existed beyond the Great Road.
Many advances were made in the Neolithic period with man becoming far more skilful than many today would believe. Some now lived in isolated farmsteads and settlements near the marshes. The buildings here were constructed mainly from wood. However, it was not until the Mid-Iron Age that the Celts in the South began to colonize the land in some numbers, and build their early settlements, where ever land conditions enabled them to do so, and it was during the Late Iron Age that the tribal capital of Colchester was formed, which was later used by the Romans where it became known as Camulodunum. In general the Celts built mainly circular hut (or round-house) hamlets, hill-forts and burial-mounds.
Locally the Celts, and later the Romans, occupied Uphall encampment between Barking and Ilford, along with other areas on the gravel outcrops. Indications from the many items found at Uphall are that occupation appears to commence from predominantly the Middle Iron Age period. It is clearly a major discovery as it is the only fortification of this type recorded in Essex.
The reason why Uphall was chosen is easily apparent, when one notes that the height of the camp was well above its general surrounds, along with its sheer size and settlement suitability. The Celts were quick to exploit the floodplain gravel on which it stands; this had much potential for crops if properly managed, and the quantities of carbonised grain found here bear this out. The River Roding and Loxford Brook provided a water supply, and the nearby lush marsh pastures were excellent for grazing animals.
Excavations have gone some way to unravelling the mystery of Uphall's usage. In the Iron Age it is likely to have been a main trading centre or fortified settlement. Much building evidence was found, and some of these places were no doubt used for barns, tools or farming purposes. Ironwork was also carried out. By the time it was in the Romans hands it usage is a little less apparent, but it was perhaps utilised as an army fortification where again this height factor would have been decisive in monitoring the land nearby, plus speedy communications-- via the river or the Great Road-- which were easily accessible.
Material between other principal Celtic sites in the region [Moor Hall Farm in Rainham, Mucking, Warren Farm in Romford and Walbury near Harlow] can be correlated together. Their communities can be found dotted liberally around the Essex countryside.
They cultivated and grazed the grounds near to these sites, and to be close to their livestock and these farming areas, they made their encampments around them. The Romans later occupied some of these camps and this suggests that a transitional period took place between the two. What is significant, is that Uphall did not follow this trend; it appears that its Celtic occupants left many decades prior to the Romans arrival, making it likely that they moved to a site a little less vulnerable to attack.
Camulodunum briefly became the Roman capital until Londinium (London) was developed some years later. Other sites of Roman activity in our region included Wanstead Park and here a Roman villa or perhaps a farm existed. The site of the later medieval monastery of Barking also saw Roman occupation but on a much smaller scale; it is possible that both the Celts and the Romans may have used this as an outpost of Uphall.
Some Roman occupation may have occurred at Carswell in Ilford, but on the whole the district has yielded few remains. The regions of Dagenham also see little activity, although the area near to the present northern boundary with Havering, at Rose Lane, may have been the location of a large kiln site. Another site of occupation was at Warren Farm and it is possible that these were both joined in some way. It is thought by some that a missing military station called Durolitum once existed either in Romford or at Little London in Chigwell.
On withdrawal the old Roman towns were left to decay, although a low-level activity continued in London. It was the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons over one hundred years later, which brought about a number of radical changes as they moved from Sussex into neighbouring regions, including Essex. They were farming people and chose the areas away from the old Roman towns.
This was a time when Christian faith had just been established, and in consequence new religious buildings were constructed, with one such being the Abbey at Barking c.666AD. The Saxons had little use for fortifications like Uphall and chose a site a bit further south which lay on a navigable creek, and hence had much fertile land nearby. A natural pool area existed near this which gave this location mill and wharf capabilities a factor that did not exist at Uphall.
Barking Abbey was given a massive amount of land, which covered the whole of Barking, Dagenham and Ilford and much of the forest of Hainault, and there are some indications that it may have been in excess of this with it stretching to both Havering and Ongar, and on top of this it later possessed much property outside this manor.
It was in the Bronze Ages that the first real roadways were created called 'ridgeways', and prior to this paths were determined by animal movement. Few ridgeways existed in our district, but it was along them that the Romans later built some of their first highways. These ridgeways allowed trading to continue as well as develop and enabled goods to be moved greater distances. These people also made brushwood and flint trackways, which aided their passage over the marshes and archæological evidence, suggests that some of these tracks went enormous distances: paths into the forest regions were also forged. Many of these trails probably came into being just through regular usage of a certain route.
The settlers of the Iron Age were the first to employ oxen and horses, and some of these pulled primitive two-wheeled carts. These vehicles were mainly for agricultural work and moved rather bulky goods: corn, dung and hay. Other heavy products or ones making longer journeys were conveyed via water; they included: coal, stone and timber. Horses also provided the swiftest mode of transport, and would have been used by riders chiefly from Roman times onwards, but largely most movement was by foot throughout these times.
In spite of evidence of Roman occupation, it is apparent that they never exploited this area to its full potential, and those regions in the east that were developed by the Romans, were dependent on there nodality to Londinium and the primary lines of communication between the capital and Camulodunum-- the old Celtic capital, and these tribal road arteries became the Great Road and the highway to Dunmow. It was the Romans who formed the first cambered and metal roads.
Numerous intersections would have emanated from the Great Road, and one was the highway from Ilford to the encampment at Uphall, which may have run onto Barking [today Ilford Lane]: another would have been Green Lane. Both these began at the crossroads at Ilford town which has Celtic connotations.
Indeed, these highways were just a few of a number of old Iron Age roadways, which would have been re-discovered by the Romans, another was probably Ripple Road along the edge of the marshes. The people from the Iron Ages did fashion roadways between their outposts and evidence from the excavations at Uphall hints that a possible formation of streets existed here.
Few new highways were initially formed after the Romans left, and their roads remained the principal arteries between A and B, although many had decayed badly. By the mid to late period of Saxon rule fresh paths and roads had come into being, many of which came to follow property boundaries, and during the late Saxon phase a number of thoroughfares were built in the Manor of Barking, many chiefly around the monastery. This was largely due to the increase in people travelling to and from the focal points of the town.
The Abbess was responsible for the repairs to bridges and roadways as there was no real legislation for their upkeep. Numerous farms were founded, and as this expansion took place, albeit slowly, new lanes were forged to link up with these. People continued to walk, and the costs of transporting goods remained high.
The River Roding played a large part in the occupation of Uphall encampment both by the Celts and the Romans. Indications are that it was navigable to this point, and probably tidal from around the 2nd century onwards. If so, it would have surely been utilised for transport purposes and cargoes would have been shipped direct through Barking to here. By the time the Anglo-Saxons settled at Barking they constructed a wharf next to a natural pool area-- it was this that later became Mill Pool.
People in prehistoric times developed many new weapons and tools and used the clay from around the rivers to manufacture pottery. Real changes took place by the Iron Age era, when mines were dug, pottery and ironwork were manufactured and a number of salt-workings existed. They also had their craftsmen, including: the metalworkers and potters, along with carpenters and other workers, like hunters, fishermen, farmers and herdsmen. Weapons, tools and implements did not change overnight and the people of the Bronze Ages and Iron Ages still continued to employ items made from stone.
It was the Romans who built a number of sophisticated buildings and other structures for agricultural, farming and military purposes, and were adroit in pottery manufacture, fired in purpose built kilns. Horses and oxen were exploited to the full for traction purposes like pulling ploughs and carts: while smaller animals provided meat, milk and wool; other foods included red deer, poultry, fish and oysters.
Once the great Abbey at Barking had been founded by the Saxons a village grew around it. The Abbess was given a large amount of land to manage, so the monastery and indeed the village expanded quite quickly. Initially the monastery would have been self-sufficient, but as it increased all sorts of craftsmen came to dwell here to meet its needs, and after a period of time both became dependent of each other. The position of the Abbess was one of very high-standing and was equivalent to that of a Baron, and many of the abbesses before the mid-thirteenth century were of royal blood.
By about 850-870AD the London and Essex areas were under assault from a race known as the Danes or Vikings. It appears likely that Barking Abbey fell at this time, although monastic life may have still carried on here, as the Abbey was on the periphery of Dane Law. It was not until c.930AD that the recovery took place when the Saxons re-established themselves in this region.
It was in this final phase of Anglo-Saxon rule that the term 'hundred' came about, being a unit of administration. The Manor of Barking was placed in the Becontree Hundred, which was one of 20 such divisions in Essex. Barking had 'franchisal rights' over this ‘hundred’, which gave the abbey certain privileges and immunities inside these limits.
William I conquered Britain in 1066. Later he wanted to know what land he had and who owned it, so twenty years later the Domesday Survey was carried out, which took merely one year to complete. Barking's assets were phenomenal and this survey bears this out.
Between the conquest and the Dissolution was a time of further growth and expansion. By now the Abbey at Barking possessed further land, properties and churches both locally and all over Essex. Numerous officials had to be appointed to administer the abbess’s lands and to see that justice prevailed.
The wharf, mill, fishery and the markets all played prominent roles in the life of the inhabitants. People toiled hard on the apparently changeless landscape, much of which was being enclosed. They produced crops, fruit and vegetables, as well as grazing their animals on the marshes and pasture regions. Other assets came in from its lands outside the manor, such as oysters and clay.
The forest of Hainault belonged to the King, and even the Abbess of Barking needed permission to take large amounts of wood, deer or game. Pigs were also fed here on acorns. The southern regions were at times flooded, and the monastery expended a vast amount of money in keeping the floodwaters at bay. It was not until 1532 that the landowners of the marshes became responsible for their upkeep under the Statute of Sewers Act-- this was done in readiness for the Dissolution.
During the time of Abbess Adeliza, Ilford Leper Hospital was constructed, and was a place of sanctuary for the sick and infirm. It still exists today near the town, although in a much altered form.
Additions were made to the churches in Barking and Dagenham, and many new buildings were erected by the middle of the sixteenth century, and as one would expect the populations here became denser. Many large manors in the district appeared, some of which had been formed by combining them together with their neighbours. The names of these older manors vanished forever.
By the 15th century Barking had become a town in its own right, with its inhabitants working with the abbey-- which remained the focal point. A large tannery had been constructed close by, and the town clearly had its shops, alehouses and trades many of which had now become centred on the fishing trade.
By the time of the Dissolution in 1539-- Barking Abbey-- although having enough funds to save it, being way beyond the £200 limit set by Henry VIII, chose to succumb. The reasons for this appear to be a combination of things and are not apparent. Clearly the house had no known debts at this time, which could not be offset by its vast income.
Winnifred Sturman in her thesis suggests that, "on the deeper level, how far, it may be asked, had the nuns ceased to fulfil the purpose of their institution?" which was to provide "intercessory prayer," which was its main function. Perhaps a number of abuses of income occurred or other moral misdemeanours.
One certain reason was the vast amount of damage caused by inundations in the marshland regions and the equally immense amount of money shelled-out for their repair. Until more information, if it exists, is located the abbeys demise will probably remain a mystery.