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Abbey Gate in Barking could be in for a makeover if plans get the green light

PUBLISHED: 12:00 08 June 2020

Curfew Tower back in the day. Picture: Valence House

Curfew Tower back in the day. Picture: Valence House

Archant

An historic gem could get a makeover if plans get the go-ahead next month.

The Curfew Tower, or Abbey Gate, as it is today. Picture: Be FirstThe Curfew Tower, or Abbey Gate, as it is today. Picture: Be First

Curfew Tower, the main gateway into the ruins of Barking Abbey and St Margaret’s Parish Church, would see its approach cleared of clutter and improvements to the surrounding landscaping under the proposals.

A bronze model of the abbey would also be set up to explain the historic importance of the site.

The tower, also known as the Abbey Gate is the last of three gateways left standing after Henry VIII dissolved and destroyed the holy site between 1539 and 1541.

Colin Bannon, heritage townscape manager at the project’s backers Be First, said: “In the past curfews have been used to shut people away, but with this project we want to do the opposite.

An aerial view of the Curfew Tower. Picture: Be FirstAn aerial view of the Curfew Tower. Picture: Be First

“We want to restore the tower as the centrepiece of this historically important site and create a dramatic approach to it which will draw people in and encourage them to relax and to learn about the history at the same time.”

The project includes reuse of existing materials such as the Yorkstone flagstones and granite sets, and works to trim and maintain most of the existing trees. It has funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Be First hopes the revamp will entice shoppers, neighbours and visitors to explore a quieter part of East Street and understand more about Barking’s rich history.

Colin said: “We’re keen to hear what people think and have published the plans on our website.”

The design concept and proposals. Picture: Be FirstThe design concept and proposals. Picture: Be First

The tower is Grade II* listed and also known as the Fire Bell Gate. The original medieval belfry was built in 1370, and the current tower dates from around 1460. The upper storey was largely rebuilt in the late 19th century.

The names Curfew Tower and Fire Bell Gate arose from the tolling of the bell from the tower, reminding people to extinguish all fires and lights, before the nightly curfew, which rang until1900.

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The Abbey Gate, as it is also known, was the central of three gateways to Barking Abbey. Barking’s Holy Rood, dated to between 1125 and 1150, is a rare stone representation of the crucifixion, which resides in the tower.

A computer generated image of the proposed design. Picture: Be FirstA computer generated image of the proposed design. Picture: Be First

This holy relic probably once stood in the open and was visited by many paying pilgrims who were believed to have benefited from this spiritual experience.

It was eventually moved into the Curfew Tower and in 1400 the original roof-loft chapel was licensed for services, which is the earliest known record of the tower. The upper room in the current tower is still the Chapel of the Holy Rood.

Unfortunately, the rood is quite damaged, probably because many Roman Catholic images were defaced during the dissolution and destruction of Barking Abbey.

The Curfew Tower continues to stand proudly as the gateway to the Grade I listed St Margaret’s Church and graveyard, as well as the Abbey ruins.

The tower was used in an old council seal. Picture: Be FirstThe tower was used in an old council seal. Picture: Be First

St Margaret’s also has ancient Christian origins but was designated as a parish church around 1300, so it survived the Tudor period and was converted to the Church of England.

The tower was so distinctive that it was used as the motif of Barking’s Urban District Council from 1895 and more recently the National Lottery Heritage Fund has proudly displayed its image to promote the aims of a wider Barking heritage project.

These are to restore, research and interpret the historic buildings of East Street and surrounding area.

This project’s backers hope the makeover will more fully engage locals and visitors with Barking town centre’s ancient heritage.

Plans for the area. Picture: Be FirstPlans for the area. Picture: Be First

Community engagement with schools, Barking and Dagenham College, heritage volunteers, building and business owners is also part of the East Street project.

Heritage tours, a town trail, an historical interpretation and a mural commemorating lost buildings and heritage in East Street are expected to result from it.

To learn more about the plans and comment visit yourcall.befirst.london/curfew-tower

For more about the Barking town heritage project go to yourcall.befirst.london/barking-heritage or visit @heritagevolunteers on Facebook.


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