Breathing new life into our historic buildings

BUILDINGS that were good enough only for storage 200 years ago, are now being turned into stylish living and working spaces. Maybe it is the longing for something constant in a fast-changing world that makes us appreciate things old and bygone – things th

BUILDINGS that were good enough only for storage 200 years ago, are now being turned into stylish living and working spaces.

Maybe it is the longing for something constant in a fast-changing world that makes us appreciate things old and bygone - things that will give us a sense of rootedness to complement our personal histories.

On the River Roding, where one of the last remnants of Victorian industry has survived the restructuring of the former market town into one of East London's industrial hubs, history is being restored and turned into living culture.

Although Barking's Roding riverside was mainly known for its thriving fishing industry since the 1300s, many other industries arrived in the wake of the industrial revolution.


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The world's largest jute works opened there in 1866, where women and children were employed to make mail sacks, before the establishment of heavy industry, chemical plants, oil refineries and, eventually, an asbestos factory in 1913 - now responsible for the highest asbestosis death rates in the country.

Older, Victorian buildings had to make way for new sites.

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The old Granary - not far from the new Creative Industries Quarter, the Malthouse in Abbey Road, Barking - is one of the reminders of that era.

It was built in 1870 and is all that is left of the Barking watermill, which stood in the Mill Pool area of the river, and can be traced back to the Middle Ages, when it was associated with Barking Abbey.

All corn grown in the area in the 1300s could only be ground at this mill, for which the lord - the abbess of Barking - charged a toll.

The maintenance of the mill proved costly and difficult so that when after the abbey's dissolution during the reign of King Henry VIII in the 16th century, secular lords took over and it slid into decline.

In the 17th century, Sir Thomas Fanshawe and his grandson appeared in court for failing to undertake essential repair works.

In 1862, T.D. Tidley and Sons bought the mill - fitted with steam power the previous decade.

Some years later, however, the company moved its enterprise to Chelmsford, which dealt the death blow to the once thriving Town Quay and the Mill House.

The mill and a connecting bridge were demolished in 1922 to make way for new industry.

However, the red brick and slate-roofed Granary, which was used as a warehouse, survived. It is now a greeting cards factory.

A little further south of the River Roding stands another former warehouse, which has been turned into a hub for art and culture lovers

The Malthouse used to store grains that were then converted into malt for brewing beer.

Now it stores great potential for up-and-coming artists, as well as for established ones who need a space to exhibit or work on their projects, after it was refurbished by the council last year.

The borough's centuries-old fishing legacy had to make way for a transformation into a centre for heavy industry.

Then the decline of heavy industry meant it had to be transformed again

Now culture and regeneration are taking over some of our heritage to protect it from decay and nostalgia.

The community is using its past to build something new from what is already there.

It may just be time for a community to look back at its history through a different kind of lens - one that allows positive change without losing one's identity.

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