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VE Day 75: How the Second World War left its mark on Barking

PUBLISHED: 16:30 08 May 2020

Damage from the bombing of Barking Quay. Picture: Barking and Dagenham Archives and Local Studies Centre at Valence House

Damage from the bombing of Barking Quay. Picture: Barking and Dagenham Archives and Local Studies Centre at Valence House

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On VE Day we celebrate the near-end of the Second World War. But how did the conflict affect Barking town centre? Historian Simone Panayi finds out.

St Peter's following its bombing. Picture: Barking and Dagenham Archives and Local Studies Centre at Valence HouseSt Peter's following its bombing. Picture: Barking and Dagenham Archives and Local Studies Centre at Valence House

At this time, when only a few shops and services remain open, we are reminded of previous crises, such as the Second World War.

During the conflict there were more than 1,700 bombing incidents across Barking and Dagenham; and thousands of casualties, including 426 lives lost.

A V2 rocket's propulsion unit. Picture: Barking and Dagenham Archives and Local Studies Centre at Valence HouseA V2 rocket's propulsion unit. Picture: Barking and Dagenham Archives and Local Studies Centre at Valence House

Volunteers for the National Lottery Heritage Fund Barking Town Heritage Project have been sharing their findings about key buildings in East Street: the art deco Burton building, engraved with elephants; Marks & Spencer’s cream-coloured corner store of 1935, and Woolworth’s pilasters.

These stores disappeared due to changes in fashion and commerce, but the buildings remain while other structures vanished.

Central Hall. Picture: Barking and Dagenham Archives and Local Studies Centre at Valence HouseCentral Hall. Picture: Barking and Dagenham Archives and Local Studies Centre at Valence House

Air raids in Barking resulted in the loss of some of its most prominent buildings – devastated during raids or demolished in the aftermath.

Blake’s Corner was a striking building with a prominent clock tower, on the intersection of East Street and Ripple Road.

Frogley's painting of The Paddock. Picture: Barking and Dagenham Archives and Local Studies Centre at Valence HouseFrogley's painting of The Paddock. Picture: Barking and Dagenham Archives and Local Studies Centre at Valence House

This was previously the site of an 18th century house called The Paddock. Built by a brandy merchant, it was later home to the Whitbourn family, Barking millers, and finally brewer Thomas Glenny.

Around 1911, councillor Arthur Blake built his distinctive ironmongery here, but it suffered bomb damage during the blitz.

Blake's store. Picture: Barking and Dagenham Archives and Local Studies Centre at Valence HouseBlake's store. Picture: Barking and Dagenham Archives and Local Studies Centre at Valence House

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The late Sid Westbrook recalled the bombing. He was walking down Ripple Road. A constable jumped on top of the teenager to shelter him from debris.

Sid remembered seeing the clock tower sitting intact, on top of the rubble, after the raid.

The grand corner store was replaced by the current rounded building in the 1950s.

This initially housed Timothy White’s Chemist – then Boots.

One of the most tragic days was Sunday, January 14, 1945. A V2 rocket hit St Paul’s Church in Ripple Road, just after the service. Eight people were killed and 52 seriously injured, including choir boys.

That evening, 14 more people were killed in another V2 incident in London Road, which destroyed most of Central Hall.

Central Hall had been the epicentre of Methodism in the area, as one of 99 spiritual and entertainment centres funded by Joseph Rank in the 1920s.

It provided films, concerts and variety acts, designed to attract people away from public houses and alcohol.

The Methodist Recorder of 1957 describes an “Historic Day on Barking Bomb Site”: the building of the new Methodist Church.

VE Day must have brought huge relief to the people of Britain.

It may be difficult to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day, but as we too look forward to a time when families and friends can be reunited, we can look back to the fortitude of previous residents and that well known ‘blitz spirit’.


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