Barking pub still standing after Blitz and North Sea flood

The Crooket Billet pub in Barking was caught up in the Nazi bombing campaign, preparations for the D-Day landings and a devastating post-war flood.

Here, reporter John Phillips speaks to a former landlady who met her teenage sweetheart at the watering hole when the town was under heavy fire from the Germans.

Creekmouth Village emerged from the shadows of the industrial revolution with a mission church, cottages and a pub near the River Thames.

Built near River Road in the latter part of the 19th century, the Crooked Billet was nothing more than a cottage-turned-watering hole for Victorian punters.

The bar was knocked down and rebuilt just yards away in 1924, as the industrial surge gradually gained prominence, before Ford opened the biggest car factory in Europe at the nearby docks in 1931.

Creekmouth girl Betty Stubbs was just 14 when she was introduced to her future husband, John in 1943, as his parents ran the pub.

John’s mum and dad, Bert and Phyllis, took her on to work as a nanny to help with cleaning and look after their 12-year-old son but the teenagers fell in love years later.

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But they soon faced turbulent times as RAF officers were stationed at the Billet while the Allies fought back against the Germans, who were targeting key infrastructure in the capital.

Betty, now 82, remembers watching an imposing barrage balloon, shaped like a plane, over Creekmouth as the RAF tried to stop their rockets from reaching Barking and Dagenham.

Betty said: “They were V1s and V2s. One fell on a church in Barking in Ripple Road at St Paul’s. People were coming out of church. We used to dive for cover under the kitchen table. It was pretty horrendous.”

Later in the war, 300 Irishmen worked at Creekmouth helping to build concrete piers that were sunk on the Normandy coastline to allow the Allies to disembark during D-Day in 1944.

The Crooked Billet pub was the beating heart of the village, not only welcoming the RAF in its saloon and private bar but also workmen from nearby factories and office staff.

Mrs Stubbs’ cooking was legendary but the couple were fined for putting too much meat in their pies when rationing was in force.

The couple tied the knot in 1952.

After the war, the village faced a new challenge when a giant storm swept over Europe claiming more than 2,500 lives.

The North Sea flood of 1953 produced 18ft waves that quickly overwhelmed tidal defences in the Netherlands, Belgium and Britain.

Betty’s in-laws showed their generosity once again as they welcomed families from the 50 or so cottages in the village on January 31.

A baby was born in a cottage during the flood but was taken away by ambulance with its mum.

The flood killed more than 500 people in Britain but luckily no-one was seriously injured at Creekmouth.

Betty and John’s son Peter later became deputy manager of the pub and the couple retired to Suffolk in 1991.

The pub became meeting place for Creekmouth Preservation Society, a group of historians who remember the village and the Princess Alice disaster, which saw around 650 passengers drown after the paddle steamer sank in the Thames near the pub in 1878.

The Crooket Billet was the first Barking and Dagenham pub to be granted a 24-hour licence after new legislation was introduced in England in 2005.

The historical society found a new home at Thames View Library in Bastable Avenue, Barking, this year following a change of management at the pub.

Society spokesman Maria Williams said: “The pub became well known for its excellent home-cooked food including old-fashioned steak and kidney pudding, braised steak casserole, stuffed hearts and liver and bacon all being great favourites.

“Many life-long friendships were forged in the Crooked Billet. However, time were changing and John and Betty finally hung up their bar cloths retiring to Suffolk. They still keep in touch with the many friends they made in Barking through the years.”

The couple had three children and now live in a village called Shotley Gate, near Ipswich.

Betty added: “We did love the village atmosphere. We are still in touch with customers. Sadly, we now go to their funerals.

“It was very enjoyable. It’s a bit of a vocation, the licence trade. We enjoyed it, especially New Year’s Eve and Christmas events. It used to be fantastic.”