Here be Dragons: Barking and Dagenham (part 1)

By NikitaNemygin, March 26, 2015

Fun fact
Well, of course, the London Government Act 1963 could not allow for such a long name for this borough. In fact, double names were not permitted. And in my mind that’s exactly how it should be: there’s really no reason to have a double-named borough, just as we do not call Westminster “Westminster and Paddington” and Camden is not known as “Camden and Hampstead”. This borough was initially baptised as “Barking” but then the Dagenham community was infuriated for being left out and the ever-praised English common sense was cast adrift: in the 1980 the borough was re-named. The other one was Hammersmith which became “Hammersmith and Fulham”.

Location and context
Barking and Dagenham is one of those boroughs that comes to mind when you think of a typical “working horse of the British industrial complex” – low in special features, but high in mighty output.
It is located in East London along the northern bank of the Thames, right after Newham if you are coming from the center. This comprises the fourth and the fifth zone of the tube. Before the dissolution of the monasteries, most of the land here was owned by Barking Abbey (now derelict). After the Church got stripped of its lands, the life here started to be dominated by fishing industry and local Manors such as Eastbury (now National Trust) and Valence House (now a local museum).

Later Barking grew as London’s satellite, slowly losing its rural attire and giving in to the 19th-century industrialisation and population boom. By the 20th century they had about 40 pubs and Barking Park opened here (which was seen as a must-have feature of a truly “decent” town). Just look at its cute miniature railway:


At the same time the fishing industry faded and gave way to multiple factories, including Ford Automobiles. Until today this borough contains a big proportion of London’s strategic industrial land.

After the Great War, the biggest social housing project in the world has been executed here in Becontree, setting up new revolutionary standards of the quality of life for working class families. You can read more in this strikingly heartfelt blog It is here that Gandhi stayed during his visit to London in the 1931 as he wished to dwell with the common folk.

Compared to other East London boroughs such as Newham or Tower Hamlets, here they still have about 50% of the “White British” population. It also has the highest Multiple Deprivation Index of all the Outer Boroughs in our scope.

Dagenham Sunday Market
“So, how is it been going with the Market? Much growth lately?” – I enquired of a dude in a reflective jacket as he was regulating the mass of people who were impatiently boarding the free shuttle bus from Barking train station to the Dagenham Market. It was a bright sunny day and the bus was packed with eager shoppers.

“Yeah mate, – he responded, proud of his Manchester accent, – we have multiplied in size since opening in the 2002. We are now one of the biggest in East London, even people from other counties come to visit”.
The bus was finally full and we got on the road amid the endless array of dusty warehouses and depots toward our destination.

The Dagenham Market definitely lived up to its promise.
It is an absolutely massive and mostly fashion market. It took me about an hour to walk through it all. The setting is very basic, reflecting the industrial past of the place: from three sides the territory is surrounded by containers, abandoned buildings and endless fences. From the fourth side there is a river, also behind the fence – probably to quell your desire to escape.

So what can you get here? It is mostly a fashion market. You’ve got loads of garments, and food-wise there is apparently must be a local decree that I am not aware about, but every single person seem to follow, which stipulates that you are not allowed to eat anything unless it has spent at least thirty minutes in boiling oil and then mixed with at least a pint of ketchup and mustard.

Dagenham is a no-nonsense market. If you are not some high-toned slacker from Shoreditch, but a real tough bro who knows life and doesn’t take any bullshit, than you should come here. This place is full of anything, provided it is made of plastic or cotton, all for low-low prices. John Lewis pillows seem to be a local hit. DIY advertising with no copyright claims to give you “three-in-one”: comfort, neck support and allergy relief. I would share a picture with you, but the merchant was not the least bit pleased when I tried to shoot and insisted on me deleting all evidence.
It felt for me as if I have accidentally messed up with space-time continuum or something and got myself back to the nineties Russia. I was surrounded by tough middle-aged dudes with golden chains over in tracksuits, teenage mums, traders of all walks of life promising life happiness for just £4 a piece (or three for a tenner). Here’s a real Babel! So if you have ever felt that you are tired of the pretentiousness of Shoreditch or Notting Hill, and want to “keep it real” – welcome to the Dagenham Market. Don’t forget your tracksuit.

Barking Riverside
“A new Dawn for London Living” – that’s exactly how much the developer thinks of its project along the Thames between the contributing river Roding and London Sustainable Industry Park.

And you kind of get their message.

Barking and Dagenham has embarked on a 20-year-long regeneration program. Barking Riverside is a part of it and is one of the priority “opportunity areas” of the borough. The building permission allows for erecting around 11,000 homes and quite some infrastructure like schools, GP practices, playgrounds, shopping and community areas. The TFL website paints a beautiful picture of extending Beckton branch of the DLR here with the construction of 5 stations along the way. However, more recent sources only boast extending the Barking branch of the Overground with just one station (Barking Riverside). Seems like this change has happened upon consulting city’s finances but the developer tries to play as if “it is all part of the plan”. So it seems for now, this future Utopian development will have to sustain itself on limited rail connections.
Some of the buildings are already finished and sold.
But other parts look like this:
Seem now I get it when they say, the darkest hour is just before the dawn
However nature is indifferent to us, puny humans. She gives serenity and ease. Just next door to the market, on the grounds of future development there is a great place for a short walk, perhaps after loading your car’s boot with stuff. Thick welcoming grass, shrieking seagulls are only interrupted by the murmuring Thames.
Peace and tranquillity reigns.