Dagenham Did You Know Part 1: Star Wars, Suffragettes and Homes

Stormtroopers (Pic PA: Andy Butterton)

Stormtroopers (Pic PA: Andy Butterton) - Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Images

From suffragettes to Stormtroopers, popcorn to popstars, the history of Barking and Dagenham is anything but boring.

Gold's Gym and surrounding buildings on Rainham Road South, Dagenham.

Gold's Gym and surrounding buildings on Rainham Road South, Dagenham. - Credit: Vickie Flores

But how much do you really know about the borough?

I spent a morning on a special guided tour of some of the more unusual sights, digging up some facts to wow your friends.

Did you know?

Dagenham used the force to make Star Wars props.

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With the success of companies like Ford and Sanofi, Dagenham produced goods for the four corners of the globe during the 20th century, but one company could boast a range beyond even that.

Weapons business Sterling Armaments, formerly based in Rainham Road South, produced nearly half a million submachine guns used in conflicts across the world including the Northern Ireland troubles, the Suez crisis and the Gulf War.

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The factory, now home to Gold’s Gym, employed 1,600 men and women in its heyday, making reliable hand-held weapons like the L2A3 submachine gun – trailed with the British army during the Second World War and remaining in use until 1994.

Suffragette leader Sylvia Pankhurst.

Suffragette leader Sylvia Pankhurst. - Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Ima

But perhaps their most famous users were Darth Vader’s much-feared Stormtrooper army.

The iconic weapons were adapted by Star Wars set designer Roger Christian and featured heavily in the world’s most successful sci-fi franchise.

Did you know?

The borough was a feminist hub, long before Ford.

Immortalised in film and now on stage through Made in Dagenham, the borough’s contribution to the feminist movement is famous the world over.

But Barking and Dagenham’s association with the fight for gender equality stretches far beyond the days of the Ford factory workers.

Born in Spitalfields, feminism pioneer Mary Wollstonecraft moved to a farm near the Whalebone junction at Chadwell Heath aged five, before relocating to ‘a convenient house behind the town of Barking’ in 1765 – the exact location of which has not been recorded.

Suffragettes used to gather around the lampost before heading up to central London.

Suffragettes used to gather around the lampost before heading up to central London. - Credit: Archant

After her mother’s death in 1780, Mary began a life of writing and is best known for ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’, which argues that women are not naturally inferior to men, only appearing to be through a lack of education.

In 1797 Mary married journalist and novelist William Godwin, but died on September 10 that year, soon after giving birth to daughter Mary who, as Mary Shelley, would write the classic horror novel Frankenstein.

Another of the more prominent ground-breakers was militant suffragette Annie Clara Huggett, who lived in King Edwards Road, Barking, and regularly had the Pankhurst family around for tea.

Often making headlines for her direct approach, she was known to have smashed, gone on hunger strike and even assaulted politicians.

Part of a larger movement across the capital, the suffragettes of Barking would often congregate outside the rustic lamppost, in front of St Margaret’s Church, before heading up to central London.

Did you know?

The first home built in Becontree is in Valence ward.

The first house built on the Becontree estate is in Chittys Lane.

The first house built on the Becontree estate is in Chittys Lane. - Credit: Archant

For much of the 20th century it was the largest housing estate in Europe, but like all settlements, Becontree grew from a single house.

Unremarkable from the exterior, aside from a blue plaque, 26 Chittys Lane was the first of 26,000 houses built by London County Council (LCC) to provide “homes for heroes” following the First World War.

Boasting a population of about 100,000 people when completed in 1936, the estate has been home to a number of famous faces over the years including Dudley Moore, ex-Arch Bishop of Canterbury and football managers Alf Ramsey and Terry Venables.

Check back tomorrow lunchtime for the second instalment of Dagenham Did you Know.

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