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Barking Abbey Ruins Barking & Dagenham

Barking Abbey Ruins

Barking Abbey Ruins, May 1999. Photo: S Williams

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This is the site of Barking Abbey, which had been founded in 666 AD, restored by King Edgar in 970 AD, and eventually dissolved in 1539 by which time it was the greatest Benedictine nunnery in the country. In 1910 Barking Town UDC purchased the site to create an area for public recreation and during associated road works the Abbey foundations were discovered. The site was carefully excavated to reveal the ruined foundations. The Abbey Playing Field, incorporating the site of Barking Abbey, was opened as a public garden in 1913. There are plans for re-landscaping of the whole Abbey Green site including the Abbey Ruins, subject to full approvals in 2011.
Ancient Bell Tower, Barking Abbey, reproduced from Edward Walford, 'Greater London' vol. I, 1898
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Barking Creek, reproduced from Edward Walford, 'Greater London' vol. I, 1898
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Previous / Other name: The Abbey of St Mary's
Site location: Abbey Road, Barking, Essex
Postcode: IG11 > Google Map
Type of site: Public Gardens
Date(s): C5th; 1911
Listed structures: Scheduled Ancient Monument
Borough: Barking & Dagenham
Site ownership: LB Barking & Dagenham
Site management: Parks & Countryside Ranger Service
Open to public? Yes
Opening times: unrestricted
Special conditions:
Facilities: Partly accessible to wheelchairs
Events: Annual classical concert with fireworks in May
Public transport: London Overground/Rail/Tube (Hammersmith & City, District): Barking. Bus: 5, 62, 87, 169, 179, 238, 287, 366, 368, 369, 387.
Ancient Bell Tower, Barking Abbey, reproduced from Edward Walford, 'Greater London' vol. I, 1898
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Barking Creek, reproduced from Edward Walford, 'Greater London' vol. I, 1898
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The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/04/2009
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news.

Fuller information:

Barking was one of the earliest Saxon settlements in Essex. The curtilage of Barking Abbey dedicated to Our Lady was founded in 666 AD by St Erkenwald, with his sister St Ethelburga as the first Abbess. The Abbey was probably razed to the ground by invading Danes in late C9th and restored by King Edgar in 970 AD. William the Conqueror stayed in the Abbey while the Tower was being built, and confirmed the Abbess in the possession of all her territories, rendering her pre-eminent abbess in England. The office of Abbess was held by many eminent women including three Queens, two Princesses and Mary Becket, sister of St Thomas. Elizabeth, the wife of Robert the Bruce was detained there from 1306-1314.

The greatest Benedictine nunnery in the country at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Barking Abbey was dissolved in 1539 and its buildings demolished, providing the King with a new house at Dartford and materials to repair Greenwich Palace. The last Abbess, Dorothy Barley, was given a pension of 200 marks a year, and the nuns were similarly provided for. Only the Curfew Tower (or Fire Bell Gate Tower), rebuilt c.1460, remains intact with its C12th/early C13th carved stone rood in the chapel over the Gateway which leads into St Margaret's Churchyard (q.v.).

In 1910 Barking Town Urban District Council purchased the site of the Abbey with a view to laying out most of the area for public recreation, during roadworks for which a drain/culvert and the Abbey foundations were discovered in 1911. The Abbey site was carefully excavated and cleared by the Urban District Council in co-operation with the Essex Archaeological Society to reveal the ruined foundations, providing evidence that the church had been 333 feet long. The Abbey Playing Field incorporating the site of Barking Abbey was opened as a public garden in 1913. The site is bordered to south and east by the ancient stone walls of St Margaret's Churchyard, and to the north and west by a newer wall erected when Central Area Open Space (q.v.) was being laid out in the early 1970s. Re-landscaping of the whole Abbey Green site is due to be undertaken in 2011 following a Design for London sponsored competition for a public realm masterplan won by Lynch Architects. It is part of the wider Barking Riverside and Town Centre Regeneration scheme. Lynch's scheme will create a landscape in which fragment, form, and spatial organisation are part-literal and part-fictional embodiments of historical precedent relating to the Green, and the nearby ruins of Barking Abbey. The scheme's approach to the Green and the site of the Abbey is part of a wider masterplan by the practice designed to regenerate what are currently retail shed sites along Barking Creek, and to strongly support the listing of the Abbey ruins as a World Heritage Site.

Sources consulted:

Barking Official Guide (1931); Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed 1993); 'Barking Abbey Grounds - a record of the realisation of the Scheme prepared for its official opening by the Worshipful the Mayor, Cllr Mrs CSM Godfrey JP on 5 May 1975'; James Howson 'A Brief History of Barking & Dagenham' (LBBD Libraries Dept, 6th ed 1990); Arthur Mee 'The King's England: London North of the Thames except the City and Westminster' (Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 1972); Sue Curtis, 'Barking, A History' (Phillimore, 2006)
Grid ref: TQ440839
Size in hectares: 1.5
On EH National Register : No
EH grade:
Site on EH Heritage at Risk list:
Registered common or village green
on Commons Registration Act 1965:
Protected under London Squares
Preservation Act 1931:
The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.
On Local List:
In Conservation Area: Yes
Conservation Area name: Town Quay & Barking Abbey
Tree Preservation Order: Yes
Nature Conservation Area: Yes - Local Importance
Green Belt: No
Metropolitan Open Land: Yes
Special Policy Area: No
Other LA designation:

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