Town square works set to usher in new phase in the history of Barking Market

As town planners prepare to unveil proposals to open a new square at Barking Market, reporter John Phillips takes a look at the history of the shopping street, which stretches back 800 years.

Traders faced a watershed moment this spring as the council announced plans to open a new square at the heart of Barking Market in East Street.

Street sellers feared the proposed square, near Barking Magistrates’ Court, could split their street in half and eventually wipe out up to 100 stalls.

Market company Charfleets likened the square to a “Covent Garden piazza” with restaurants and coffee shops that could not work in the outer London borough, while traders worried about their jobs collected 1,200 signatures calling for the plans to be revised.

But the storm appears to have passed – Charfleets director Frank Nash said in March that council officers had given the traders assurances that they could return to the public square after the works have been completed.

This episode was not the first upheaval in the history of the market, which is believed to have come into existence a century after the Norman Conquest.

Historical records show that market rights were issued by a charter emanating from the French-born King of England, Henry II, between 1175 and 1179.

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The market place is further mentioned in 1219 and in 1456, according to records cited in the Victoria History of the County of Essex, published in the 1960s.

The publication states that Barking Abbey in The Broadway owned the market until the dissolution, when Henry VIII abolished monasteries and convents between 1536 and 1541.

The old Court House, which stood at the heart of Barking Market until it was knocked down in 1923, was built near St Margaret’s Church in the Broadway in 1567, according to Barking: A History, by Sue Curtis.

The building was paid for by Queen Elizabeth I who ruled during the latter part of the 16th century.

The important edifice contained a hall on the first floor where the court was held while the adjacent market place had rows of sheds and shops, including a butter market, according to the book.

The corn market was held beneath the open arcades of the court and the market bell hung in a bell-cote on the northern end of the building’s roof.

During the dissolution Henry VIII appropriated church assets but in 1616 King Charles I transferred ownership of the market, the market place, the market house and other buildings to Samuel and John Jones, who settled them in trust for the parish.

After the dissolution, the king retained some market rights, while in 1662, the owner of Barking Manor, Sir Thomas Fanshawe, transferred ownership of the market house and 24 shops to Barking churchwardens, stipulating that the income should be used to provide “poor relief”.

Minutes from Barking Vestry, published in the 1950s, show that income from these shops and the market generally decreased and the market itself had “very little importance”.

Barking parishioners invested to retain the market, spending more than �10 flooring it in 1705, with further work done on shops and surrounding buildings in 1717 and 1733.

But the market decayed again in the early 19th century, according to Barking Vestry minutes, until it “completely ceased to exist”.

The vestry spent decades debating what to do with the Court House, then rented it to officials who turned it into a town hall in around 1850.

Later in the 19th century it was used for dances, penny readings and other social events.

John Walsh, the current manager of Barking Market, says records show a street market operated in The Broadway from 1931 to the mid-1960s.

The trading area extended to North Street while an indoor market was open at Blake’s Corner, near Vicarage Field Shopping Centre, from 1922 until 1971.

In 1992, there was a small market of 50 stalls at the end of East Street and in 2000 Charfleets was brought in to boost trade.

Mr Walsh, 51, said: “We increased this to nearly three times the number of traders in June 2000.

“We now operate four very successful days a week.”

The market has come a long way, having been torn between the monarchy and the church before it was wiped out in the Victorian era.

The year-long works to build the new market square could begin this summer, according to Charfleets.

It is now hoped that the plans, soon to be published, will usher in a new era of change that will accommodate the needs of 21st-century shoppers.

Charfleets director Frank Nash, 52, said: “The council does appear to be listening to the traders. Lots of things, you can’t stop completely, but you can reach a compromise.”