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Rich history of Dagenham’s oldest building

PUBLISHED: 13:00 05 November 2017

The monument to George Clark, a policeman who was murdered at Eastbrook End in 1846. His killer was never found. Picture: Michael Foley

The monument to George Clark, a policeman who was murdered at Eastbrook End in 1846. His killer was never found. Picture: Michael Foley

Archant

The church of St Peter and Paul is the oldest building in Dagenham. It was originally built in the 12th-13th century through the order of the abbess of Barking.

Dagenham's St Peter and Paul Church today, visible through the trees. Picture: Michael Foley Dagenham's St Peter and Paul Church today, visible through the trees. Picture: Michael Foley

It was extended in the 15th century and stands on the site where the original village of Dagenham stood, although very little of the old village remains.

The only other very old buildings are the Cross Keys Pub next to the church – which is the oldest secular building in Dagenham, dating to the 17th century – and the old Vicarage.

Although the church stood on the site of the village of Dagenham, there were large settlements in other parts of the area such as Chadwell Heath. There were also a number of large houses and farms in the area so many of the congregation in the past had quite a long journey to get to the church, which was the only one in the town right up to the end of the 19th century.

The church has not been a very lucky building, as much of the original structure was destroyed in 1800 when the tower of the church collapsed, bringing down a large part of the rest of the church.

An old postcard depicting Dagenham's St Peter and Paul Church, before 1921 with its spire. Picture: Michael Foley An old postcard depicting Dagenham's St Peter and Paul Church, before 1921 with its spire. Picture: Michael Foley

It happened on a Sunday morning and if the parson had not been late then the congregation would have been inside and the disaster could have been remembered for a more serious reason. The church was rebuilt using much of the original material by 1805.

Older images of the church show it with a spire on the tower, which was added after the church was rebuilt. Once again there was a problem and the spire only remained in place until it was declared unsafe, and removed in 1921.

The church has a number of monuments inside to the famous inhabitants of the area from the past.

The names on these monuments have often been remembered in the names of parts of the modern town. Perhaps the most imposing is that to Sir Richard Alibon dating from the 17th century.

Sir Richard was made a judge in 1687 which was the same year that he bought a house in Dagenham. It is said that Sir Richard died of fright due to his appointment as he was a Roman Catholic, which he believed may have debarred him from becoming a judge. He is remembered in the name of Richard Alibon School and Alibon Road.

There is another, albeit smaller, memorial to a Dagenham man who is also remembered in the name of a school and a road in the town.

William Ford was a local farmer who left £10,000 in his will to found a school. The original school stood in Church Elm Lane but this has now gone and a new school also called William Ford which replaced it now stands in Ford Road. William should not of course be confused with a local car manufacturer.

The churchyard is now a wildlife sanctuary but it also contains the graves of many notable local people.

This includes George Clark a policeman who was murdered at Eastbrook End in 1846, his murderer was never found.

The churchyard has been in use for more than 800 years and although it is not used for burials any longer, it has been estimated that it could contain the remains of more than 11,000 people.

michael-foley-history-writer.co.uk

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