How industry revolutionised Barking and Dagenham

THE Industrial Revolution arrived late in Barking and Dagenham but it changed the face of the borough and the lives of its residents for good. The proximity to the capital coupled with the large empty spaces provided an ideal breeding ground for industry

THE Industrial Revolution arrived late in Barking and Dagenham but it changed the face of the borough and the lives of its residents for good.

The proximity to the capital coupled with the large empty spaces provided an ideal breeding ground for industry which was slowly developing there in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

While the building of the Becontree Estate in the 1930s marked the most notable change for the area in modern times, the encroachment of industry began to show even before the Ford plant was built in the 1920s.

The future factory site was surrounded by a place that was home to thriving commerce and industry on a much smaller scale.


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One example is H.F. Van's drinks factory which produced carbonated mineral waters on Heath Street and Axe Street in Barking in 1876, the latter of which was later taken over and extended by R. White and Sons and demolished in 1972.

This was not far from the Barking Town Quay which once had the world's largest fishing fleet in the mid 1800s.

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It is the transformation from this stage of long-settled activity that developed over a long period of time to a sudden boom of mass-produced labour, mass-produced housing and mass-produce per se, that evokes a sense of quiet upheaval in the pictures.

Photographs from the 1930s of buildings, streets, industrial sites and docks,

show a place that is in transit and in anticipation of new times, new developments and a sense of orderly, entrepreneurial optimism.

Old and new, rural and industrial relicts existed side by side before pavements and concrete took over from the cottages and the fields.

Against a backdrop of nature and of the already existing buildings and roads which developed in accordance with nature, amid a timescale that allowed for an organic kind of growth, the brutal purpose of profit maximisation, large factory sites and synchronised work routines ushered in modernity.

Pictures of the construction of the Ford plant, of air shafts, chimneys and railways, show the drastic change which removed life from the rhythm of nature, but which offered opportunities, employment and welfare.

The legacy of Barking Power Station and Cape Asbestos factory may be the most striking example of this trade off between progress, convenience and income on the one hand, and health and nature on the other.

The latter began trading in 1913, while the power station was built in 1925.

Both were major employers of workers who did not know the deadly substance they were handling day by day -Asbestos- might cause cancer.

However dismal the industrial legacy may appear, it brought running water, toilets, gas and electricity into the new homes of those who came here to escape the squalor of the East End.

They would set off for shift work at Ford's massive car factory or at the Sterling Radio factory, or at the power station, and maybe they would sense that they were part of an historical development.

But change is definite and ongoing in an area that has been in a constant state of flux for over a hundred years - a place on the boundaries of London, but not quite placed in the countryside.

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