The Dagenham church that had fishy beginnings

AT SOME point the early 1930s the Post published a piece about a priest selling kippers on the streets of Dagenham. Reverend Herbert Marshall was a man more used to giving sermons than flogging fish, but he was determined to raise some cash for a new ch

AT SOME point the early 1930s the Post published a piece about a priest selling kippers on the streets of Dagenham.

Reverend Herbert Marshall was a man more used to giving sermons than flogging fish, but he was determined to raise some cash for a new church in Rogers Road on the Becontree Estate, so was happy to do his bit to help.

At that point Rogers Road already had a church, the original St Georges, built in 1929. This little building, really only a church hall, was a hive of activity for many years. Besides being used as a place of worship, the church held cinema nights on a Fridays and concerts on Saturdays, with the rest of the week being given over to the scouts, cubs, brownies and a boys brigade. The building was even hired out to the Essex Education Committee as a Feeding Centre for children and to the newly formed Dagenham Pipers for their rehearsals.

But with so many activities going on Rev Marshall, the Priest-in-Charge at the time, and many residents felt St George's was an inappropriate place to worship.


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On at least one occasion a funeral service had to be conducted while the children's meals were being cooked in the choir vestry.

In 1934 Rev Marshal decided a new bigger and better church building was sorely needed. With the backing of the Bishop of Chelmsford he approached an architect firm who said the new church would cost �5700 to construct.

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The diocese agreed to pay this amount, but church members were told they'd have to cover the cost of the furniture and the organ. Hence the need for a bit of kipper selling. But Rev Marshall wasn't the only one to get involved in the fund raising activities. Another vicar, Rev Byles, played a barrel-organ around the streets of the parish and asked for donations as he went along.

At 3pm on December 30 a stone laying ceremony was held at the site of the new church and the first stone was laid by Miss Philipa Wilson, the daughter of the Bishop of Chelmsford. The stone still remains in place today, but is now preserved behind the wall of a new kitchen.

Building work on the church was completed in 1935 and the new St George's, built to a simple design owing to the limited funds available, was opened on May 31 1935. More than 300 people attended the event.

Over the next few decades the congregation at St George's grew steadily, and the church became the centre piece of the Becontree Estate community.

The church's talented football team were always at the top of the Diocese of Chelmsford League and the Sunday School was so popular nine teachers were recruited to accommodate all the children.

And then there were the numerous guilds, including the Mothers Guild (always on hand to give childcare and washday tips), the garden fetes, the choirs and the day trips to the seaside.

But in the late 1970s the number of church goers started to dwindle. For a number of years the only activities still running at St George's were the Brownie, Guide and Scout groups. At one point the congregation only had six people.

But the present vicar at St George's, Rev. Simon Smallwood, has worked hard at enticing the community back to the church. There are now a number of children's clubs, a musical group and the Sunday service is filling up.

As the church approaches its 75th year Rev Smallwood believes the future of St George's looks bright.

The POST would like to thank Suzanne Harrup, of Croppath Road, Dagenham who provided us with her well-researched history of the church.

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