New chapter in life of historic wharf

A VICTORIAN wharf rejuvenated in the 21st century with nearly 1,000 homes and a �10million police base was once one of the UK s biggest fishing ports. Fresh Wharf in Highbridge Road, Barking, was perhaps the capital s most important 19th century fishing h

A VICTORIAN wharf rejuvenated in the 21st century with nearly 1,000 homes and a �10million police base was once one of the UK's biggest fishing ports.

Fresh Wharf in Highbridge Road, Barking, was perhaps the capital's most important 19th century fishing hub, unloading and storing stocks taken to Billingsgate Fish Market in the City.

The Hewett family, who started the fishing business along the River Roding in Barking, controlled 60 vessels known as smacks in 1815.

The 75ft boats carried up to 50 tonnes of fish and were manned by crews of eight to 10 men, going to the North Sea's Dogger Bank off the coast of England, Holland, Germany, Denmark and Iceland.

Fresh Wharf boss Samuel Hewett introduced ice to preserve the fish, which was collected by up to 3,000 farmers and workers on flooded fields and marshes around Barking.

The Hewetts built sluice gates that were opened at the onset of winter to flood the marshes before the ice was cut and brought to the wharf.

Most Read

It was kept in huge ice-houses along the river, with at least two built shortly before 1848.

For a time, some of it was also stored in a dismantled ship in Rainham and another ice-house in Dagenham.

Hewett also had the first English ice-making plant built in Barking, but it was too expensive and was closed. Artificial ice was brought from Shadwell, east London.

Virtually everyone in Barking worked in the fishing industry, concentrated on Town Quay and Fisher Street - now Abbey Road - according to the Hewett family.

But the wharf's heyday did not last long as the industrial revolution brought with it the railways, which allowed large fish stocks to be conveyed from North Sea ports, including Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, to London.

The Barking fishing industry began to decay from 1860, a decline compounded by a disaster in December 1863, which saw its fleet lose nearly 60 men who were killed in a storm off the Dutch coast.

The storm cost the Hewetts �7,000. and a directory from the year showed the fleet was halved, with only 27 smack owners in Barking.

But Fresh Wharf survived and grew into a ship-building and repair centre. The quays developed into the early 20th century with new infrastructure, which laid the foundations for today's ambitious developments.

Wharf walls and roads were built, turning the Roding quays into an industrial site used to bring timber and store petroleum.

Fresh Wharf became the standard London route to load municipal waste to be later dumped at sea.

It was blighted during the Great Depression after a River Roding bridge, built for the A13, stopped large ships reaching the quays.

The wharf's development was hindered by planning restrictions imposed for the nearby dual carriageway, which became the A406 North Circular Road.

The Hewett family are now rejuvenating the 17-acre site along the Roding with plans for a 950-home development, including a caf�, restaurant and shops, which were submitted to the council last month.

Students at Barking College have unveiled a 150ft mural with underwater scenes honouring the wharf's fishing heritage.

The hoarding will conceal the construction site being developed by Fresh Wharf Estates Ltd and Countryside Properties.

The quays also offer residential moorings and Muirhead Quay in Highbridge Road has become Barking and Dagenham's library headquarters.

A �10million police base being built at Fresh Wharf, which is due to open in November, will be an emergency response centre, sending out patrols on major incidents and has 30 glass door cells.

Fresh Wharf Estates boss Jules Hewett said: "Fresh Wharf is in the middle of an exciting mixed-use regeneration programme, which is providing superb living and employment opportunities.

"My family has been associated with Barking and the wharves alongside the River Roding for more than 200 years, so it's wonderful for us to have the opportunity to redevelop this historic site and to contribute to the exciting regeneration of Barking.