Barking had several annual celebrations, from street parties to Barking Carnival. Over the years the social and food smells of the food and drinks served would have changed, but the good memories of those participating remain the same. From hot dogs to toffee apples, cinder toffee to bonfires, these are collective community memories smells shared by many.
Here are some memoirs of these well remembered community occasions:
"In 1890 the Vicar of Barking decided to throw open a yearly event called the Annual School Treat to all the elementary children in the town. This meant that there was no less than 2136 kids to be catered for. They assembled at 1.30 pm and marched in procession around the town centre. There was the children of the Church School, headed by the Town Band. The remainder of the children were behind these. They arrived at the Vicarage Field and scattered to enjoy the 'fun of the fair' for which each child had appropriate tickets. To ease congestion when tea was served the tickets were different colours, either red, yellow or green. A flag was raised, and holders who had that ticket colour were lined up and marched off to tea. The day ended at dusk with a firework display to which the parents and others were admitted. Five years later the Annual Treat catered for 3600 children, who were placed in groups of 900, and it was a daunting task for those who had to feed and amuse such a vast gathering of youngsters. 1895 marked the last year of Dr. Hensley Henson's ministry in Barking, and the following year the Annual Treat was restricted to children of the Church School only, as clearly an event of this magnitude was becoming far beyond their resources."
In July the Vicarage Field was used for massive shows of dogs, poultry, flowers and local industries. An interesting insight into the development of technology of the late 19th century was contained in the Report of the Show for 1892. It claimed it was a novelty for the people of Barking to listen to the opera performed by the English Opera from a tent in the Vicarage Field. The National Telephone Company achieved this by connecting a temporary line between the tent on the Vicarage Field and the 'live' performance via Messrs White's telephone, (presumably R. Whites minerals). The programme was relayed on both evenings of the show between 8pm and 10pm, but no details are given of the means of amplification by which the Barking audience enjoyed the performances.
“A yearly event of great importance to inhabitants was the Barking Fair, held 18th, 19th and 20th October. The swings and roundabouts made a great show. Everybody made a point of visiting the fair. We children were taken out in the morning, were always given a farthing, which we usually spent on ginger-bread or ginger-nuts, jumbles, and those curious little china-head dolls with black hair and red eyes”
“The men behind the stalls all more of less wore earrings. There were the usual fair ‘wonders’ - fortune tellers, juggles, performing animals...The stalls were loaded with cheap ribbons, cheap china… There was very little fruit visible in those days, but huge piles of nuts of all sorts and tons of toffee and boiled sweets.”
"In the evening of the fair days, the streets of Barking were almost solid with people, who came in from all the surrounding villages...the people danced to the strains of accordions, concertinas and barrel organs.”
Remembered by EM Stor
Donkeys were hired out for children to ride.
“It was very amusing to see the fishermen and their wives having donkey rides.”
The days on which the fair was held (October 22, 23 and 24th) were the festival days of St Ethelburga, the first abbess of Barking. The fair had various “shows, stalls, shooting galleries and travelling theatres”. Most of the public houses had booths erected for dancing in their rear gardens and for three days the town represented some gigantic carnival. On the horse pond stood Wombells travelling Menageries. Waxwork and other sows with the usual handsome decorated fronts and Fredericks Travelling Theatre.
The last fair was held in 1874 and in October 1875 the police were stationed at the roads leading into the town and turned back the showmen, who did not realise an Order had been past by Home Secretary for the abolition of the fair. Mr James Holmes of the George Inn was a great supporter of the fair and in commemoration he gave away to his customers Ginger Bread and Nuts - his wife continuing the tradition and custom after his death in 1881.
“It is perhaps true to say that in 1866 Barking people enjoyed much fresher and healthier food than at the present day. People kept their own Pigs (a sucking pig was not an uncommon dish), made their own sausages, cured their own bacon and hams. Butchers slaughtered their own beasts which had been grazed on the marshes. Market Gardeners supplied vegetables grown at home. Milk and Butter could be had from the Farms. Home-brewed beer was common, and Ginger Wine, the usual refreshment offered visitors, with home-made cake and biscuits."
Alex Glenny was the last of four Glennys to work at the Barking Brewery. On the sale of the Brewery to Messrs Taylor Walker & Co. Ltd., in 1929, he wrote the following vignette on sixty-five years of Glenny stewardship:
In the days of our grandfathers it was customary for farmers to brew their own beer to supply the workers with refreshments in the fields at harvesting time and on other special occasions. The Barking Brewery had such a beginning. Dr George Glenny started the Brewery in 1864 to meet the demands of a few farmers who had not the plant 0r the necessary skill to produce satisfactory beer themselves.
The first brew was made in the potato shed of the late Mr. W. W. Glenny and, apart from farm consumption, the first cask of beer was purchased by Dr Galloway, of Cambridge Road, Barking. In those days Dr Glenny had only one assistant, the late Mr H. Prior.
Many yarns are told of the early days of the Brewery. Mr H. Prior, the son of Dr Glenny's first assistant, tells of the following amusing incident. An employee going home to his dinner, neglected to close the brew-house door. A sow and her litter of pigs, finding the door open and some beer handy in waste tubs, drank freely. When the men returned in the afternoon they found the pigs helpless and the tubs empty. They had to carry the intoxicated pigs into the yard, where they slept off the effects of their hearty indulgence.
The excellency of the brews soon became known and sales grew apace, but Dr George was satisfied with setting the ball rolling, and sold the business to his brother, Mr Thomas W. Glenny, who acquired a site on the east side of Linton Road, and built the Brewery.
Trade increased from month to month, licensed houses were acquired, and the business grew to one of considerable importance. In those days the Brewery was run on empirical lines. Mr Thomas W. Glenny saw grounds for improvement and in 1890 introduced his nephew, Mr George W. Glenny, to the Brewery; when he had grasped the elements of brewing, he served his pupilage under Mr G. D. Atkinson at Messrs Fenwick's Brewery, Sunderland. Later, Mr G. W. Glenny studied under Mr Chaston Chapman, FRS FIC, an illustrious chemist and scientist. On his return to the Barking Brewery, Mr G. W. Glenny introduced many new methods, and the Brewery was not only run on more scientific lines, but produced an infinitely better beer.
This information comes from Tony Clifford’s history of Brewing in Barking here.
Fisher Street & Tasty Treats
Fisher Street (it became part of Abbey Road in 1910) was a modest street that ran south from Town Quay parallel to Barking Creek. The smells you would have encountered there would have varied significantly over time. The odours or fish and tar and freshly-cut timber would have assaulted your senses for hundreds of years. Then, perhaps, the manure that was carted through the street to fertilise adjacent market gardens would have been dominant – Barking was once famous for growing potatoes, cabbages, asparagus and peas.
A number of factories had premises just off Fisher Street and there’s no doubt that stronger odours would have come from them: sweet smells from the soap factory, pungent ones from the gas works; the sour smell of whale oil from the jute factory; the delicious scent of roasting malt barley from Randall’s Malthouse; and, undoubtedly less pleasant odours from Warne’s Rubber Factory.
Fisher Street was just 500 metre long. It had a hundred houses in 1900 and there was everything the residents needed right on their doorstep.
On the corner by Town Quay was Eugene Bracci’s ice cream parlour. Then, as you turned into Fisher Street, there was a sweet shop, a bicycle shop and then came The Rose & Crown, one of five pubs on this short street. If you were feeling hungry, there was Mrs Green’s Eating House and, just on from there a Shrimp and Winkle stall. Cross the road and you could buy fish and chips for just one old penny (£1.50 in today’s money).
The Fisher Street Mission acted both as church and community centre with a Sunday school, music, games and other social events.
There was a Greengrocer’s next to France’s (one of two bakers on the street). Then came Charlie the Barber, Mrs Dear the Butcher’s. There was also a General Store, a Dairy, a Fishmonger, a Shoe Shop, a Shop selling special supplies for boats and ships, there was Mrs Millar’s Coffee Shop and Dining Rooms and, right at the end of Fisher Street, The Fishing Smack pub (a ‘smack’ is the name for Barking’s distinctive fishing boats).
Florence Rowe, a local resident, remembers “the appearance in the street of two men with a barrel-organ. One would turn the handle to produce the music and the other would sing a song of which copies were sold at sixpence a time. Usually a crowd would gather round and they sold those songs like hot cakes.”
Another local resident claimed: “I recall the Barking days of my youth amongst the happiest of my life. How fragrant was Fisher Street!”
Fisher Street changes its name to Abbey Road in 1910. It was changed by the council in response to requests from tradesmen, residents and manufacturers in the area.
EM Story’s childhood memories of 1865:
“Near the top end of Hart Street stood some 4 foot posts that offered opportunity to the many boys about the streets for games, much shouting and rough-and-tumble play. There was no compulsory school attendance at that time, and the streets were full of children.
The most abject poverty abounded in the neighbourhood and part of Fisher Street. There was, in spite of it, heavy drinking. My father decided one very cold CHristmas to five 58 of the poorest families each a sack of coal and a piece of beef. What was his disappointment later to find that many of them had sold the meat to get drink! His charity was not repeated.
Fisher Street, as its name implies, was close to the water. It's old wooden cottages and non descript dwellings were rat infested. On the further side they backed on to the quay and the creek. As one passed the dwellings one caught glimpses of ships, sailing ships, the masts and sails moving in the breeze."
Did you know that R.White’s Lemonade factory was based in Barking?
Commercial production of carbonated water was rare until the 18th century when a Manchester apothecary introduced apparatus capable of aerating 12 gallons of water in one operation and by the 1790s soda water was being prepared and sold in London by a recently arrived German called Jean-Jacob Schweppe. In 1833 the medicine tax was lifted from carbonated drinks, leading to a rise in their consumption for pleasure, especially in the US where flavouring syrups were added for the first time and the ‘soda fountain’ invented. (Source: J. Howson, ‘A Bit of a Gas: Barking and the mineral water trade’)
Increased demand brought a large number of small manufacturers into the business, and one of them was HF Van of Barking, son of a North Street chemist and a former employee of Beckton Gas Works. In 1876 he opened a Coffee Shop opposite the Town Quay and corner of Heath Street. HF Van made his own mineral waters . He took the premises to Heath Street known as the Wine-Stores to manufacture ginger beer and other soft drinks. His trade increased allowing him to purchase land on the Bifron Estate and built the factory in Axe Street. It was considered the largest of its kind near London. The main building was 120 foot by 70 foot and was entirely covered by a slated roof on the southern face as possible, without the glare of the sun, and it was so arranged that vans could pass in and unload their empties and then pass into the stock room, reload and pass out of the factory. Soon after its erection, he formed a liability company but this appears to be unsuccessful due to lack of capital. It eventually sold to Mr White and Mr Sons of Camberwell, who greatly enlarged it and made many improvements. Mr Van left the town and went to Woolwich, where in 1907 he again started making mineral waters and various hot drinks.
“Around the late 1880s, R White’s had a plant capacity of 600,000 bottles of mineral water and 38,000 gallons of ginger beer per 12 hour day, which probably made them one of the first mass producers in the business.”
R Whites became a public company in 1894. The extended factory was bounded by St Ann’s, St Paul’s and Gascoigne Road and Axe Street, and was demolished during the winter of 1972/3 after production had been moved to a new factory in East Ham.
Granary & Malt
The smells of the granary and the malt roasters by the riverside are recalled in several memories as distinctive Barking scents.
The Granary is one of the few remaining buildings by the riverside and Town Quay. It has now been converted in Cultural Industries studios and offices.
Henry Whitbourn recalls of his father’s job at Barking Granary:
"As soon as I got to the gate a great black something on the other side pushed against the gate with such force that the gate sung back and tumbled me, lantern and all, into a laurel close to the gate, and my clothes being all over flour (I had been in the mill) the wet on the laurel bush made it all paste. After Father was gone, Mother found out he had his old floury hat which he goes to the mill in"
Ernest Baker also recalls of this area:
“Barking Town Quay, where there was plenty of activity in my young days, with sailing barges from the medway towns bringing timber and bricks. The town Quay had always been a very interesting place, with Ridley’s Flour Millers use of the Granary, Hewett’s Fishing Company at Fresh Wharf, Page Calnan’s the Builder’s Merchants”
Florence Rowe recalls vividly a visit as a child to the Malt Roasters in her Edwardian memories:
“Sometimes Grandma would ask me to take Uncle Sam’s lunch up to him. He was a malt roasted, and the smell of the roasting malt was delicious. The roasting was done on the top floor and Uncle Sam would often take me to the loading door overlooking the river to see the view”
Jams & Pickles
A firm of Jam and Pickle makers established themselves either on the borders of the Parish of just over it at East Ham. Market gardeners round Barking found it profitable to grow a small silvery onion, much in demand by this firm, and brought their products to a large drying shed where the vegetable was duly prepared by skinning for bottling and packing. There still remains at East Ham a thoroughfare known as "Onion Skinners' Lane". This preparatory process became quite an industry at Barking, many women being employed in skinning onions. The word onion had several variants; at one time the vegetable had “rather a plebian reputation”. Bread and cheese and onions was considered outside 'respectable' society; the smell of the pungent bulb was a sign of poverty.
The onion skinners gained quite a reputation for their strong odour:
“There was no doubt about it, for should their title escape you, there was no mistaking the odour.
They were, so to speak, impregnated by the odour, not perhaps of sanctity but of Onions, which might have been rather more healthy, according to some records of the way holy men lived and had their being.“
Quote from Fred J Brand, 1869
Other anecdotes told us that women who worked later on in the 20th century at a local Epicure and pickling factory would not be picked up by the bus driver. The driver would ignore their requests at the bus stop, speeding past them as he didn’t want their strong odours on their clothes and skin entering the bus!
Handys Sauce was another local factory that later would have generated all sorts of sweet and vinegary smells from its manufacturing at Ocean Preserving in Barking.
Smog & Pea Soup Fog
From the 1820s up to the 1960s, London was famous for what people called “pea soup fogs”. These smoggy fogs were caused by the immense quantities of coal smoke that came from factories and from houses - at that time everyone had coal fires to heat their home. The worst “pea-souper” was the Great Smog of 5th to the 9th December 1952. During these five days, the soot-drenched fog was so bad you couldn’t see the fingers on your outstretched hand. As many as 12,000 people died from breathing-related problems.
Pea-soupers were a London-wide problem. Local Barking resident Vic Howard remembers: “… it was part of our lives every winter. Barking was, after all, the home of Europe’s largest coal-fired power station... there were 17 tall chimneys on that building, belching out smoke day and night. Then there was Beckton Gas Works… Our housing estate was neatly placed between the power station and the gasworks. No wonder we never saw much of the sun even on a summer’s day.”
“For those of us who still had young lungs, smog was just an inconvenience. Breathing it was difficult enough though. You wrapped a scarf around your head to try to filter out the smell and the acrid taste, but that didn’t help much. It still gripped the back of your throat.”
Coal was dirty and mucky and that meant the job of keeping your house clean was really difficult. The soot dust that came from coal fires was hard to wash out of clothes which became smutty again when they were hung up outside to dry on washing lines. Coal fires produced ash and cinders that had to be cleared out every morning and your chimney had to be swept to avoid catching fire - this job was given to small children who climbed up inside the chimney to clear out the soot. Coal was dirty, mucky and dangerous.
The Great Smog led to some important changes in the law – to the Clean Air Act – and this made everyone think more about how to solve the problem of air pollution. For instance, it became illegal to burn coal at home and in factories. The last of the pea-soup fogs was in 1972 and, both Beckton Gas Works and Barking Power Station closed in 1976. Although the air we breathe today is certainly a lot cleaner – although there is still more that could be done to reduce pollution in the air.
Edward Steane’s Soap Factory was by Town Quay. Creating ‘Steane’s Patent Pumice Stone Soap’. Here are some childhood memories of the daughter of a soap maker told about the 1860s, by Mrs EM Story:
“Not far away from the jute works stood my father’s soap manufactory. The owner of the soap factory premises rented to my father was a Mrs Kennedy. The soap factory stood on the quay. It was a memorable day for me, as a child, when my big, strong father carried me in his arms to see for my little self the place where the soap was made. We passed through a great green gate, and up a wide path facing the water, and I remember the sh-sh-sh of the exhaust steam as it emerged from a small pipe high above me into the air.
From the office he carried me to the floor where the huge iron frames were clamped together, and filled with cooling soap. Surely there was enough soap here to wash a town! I was held up that I might look for a moment or two into the huge coppers in which soap was boiling, and presently, to my delight, I was allowed to hold a wooden handle attached to a wire, and my hand, guided firm by my father, pulled the wire across the great slab of soap, which was placed on a cutting table, and by this means cut a bar from the slab. Proud child that I was, I told of this exploit to my infant friends for weeks. To this day I never use a knife for household soap, but pull a fine string through it.
It was here that the forerunner of all the sand-soaps was made. It was known as “Steane’s Patent Pumice Soap” and capital stuff it was too. I don’t know anything in the way of cleansers to equal it. The pumice-stone used was imported from Mount Vesuvius. It was ground as fine as flour, and was stirred into the soap as it was on the way to cooling. The soap was “crutched” skilfully and carefully, and often, and when manufactured was of a grey colour, smooth and very effective.”
Sweets & Ice Cream
We can imagine the sweet smells that would have drifted through the air thanks to various sweets and ice cream being manufactured in Barking. However, as our reminiscents sessions demonstrated, sweet smells on mass aren’t always pleasant as we imagine.
A sweet shop was situated in Heath Street, the Fisher Street end. The family lived above their shop, as many shopkeepers did, and attached to the shop building was a fine garden with a summer house and bees that they kept. A memoir of Mike Green at Valence House recounts:
“A sweet factory with boiled sweets was a constant tease to children that passed them and sometimes you could actually see them being made.
Old Mr Carter, a benevolent, white-bearded and white-headed man, kept a number of fine white glass jars filled with sweets. Sugar-candy- the candy on a string variety- was a special favourite, and whenever as a small child I visited his shop he used to lift me up onto the counter, raise the glass stopper of the biggest candy jar and invite me to draw out for myself a piece of the delicacy. This he would break up for me and pack it professionally in white paper, handing it to me with a marked seriousness as my own particular parcel of groceries.”
The Revd Samuel Lodge recalls of the sweets of his childhood:
“Grandma was quite a round little body, with her hair brushed down flat and parted in the middle. She always reminded me of the portrait of Queen Victoria. She used to make scrumptious bread puddings, all greasy and full of plums and raisins.
Then there was Mrs. Whitbourn the “barley-sugar woman” for the simple but substantial reason that the good old soul never called on our mother without bringing heaps of barley sugar for the consumption of the boys” Downey carried a basket full of delights, oranges, nuts, apples, hard-bake, brandy-balls, peppermint drops and other abominations”
Eugene Bracci was a local ice cream seller on Fisher Street, shown on the illustrated archive map hand drawn by Florence Rowe in the early 1900s.
Later on, Dicky Bird’s Ltd was a local factory that made ice creams and wafers.The factory known as Dicky Bird's produced a range of different products from 1937 to the early 1960s - from ice cream and lollies to novelty Christmas crackers. In addition there were cold storage services and oxy-acetylene welding facilities.
Dicky Bird's was established in a factory in Alfred's Way, Barking after 1933 when Ice cream had become popular throughout the world in the second half of the 20th century, after cheap refrigeration became common.
Dicky Bird's were well-known for their delivery force which rode three-wheeler box cycles and later, motor bikes that took ice cream from door-to-door throughout southern Essex.
In January 1963 MICA (Ice Cream) Ltd was created from Dicky Bird Ltd and in the same year, Lyon's refrigerated food specialist, Douglas Minto was made a director and chief executive of the new company. The small independent Barking firm of Dicky Bird thus became part of the J. Lyons & Co. food empire.
Butterkist would become one of Dagenham’s most celebrated enterprises between the 1950s and 1980s, until the world’s largest popcorn plant was demolished in 1993.
The American confectionery company had a large factory on Blackbourne Road that employed many workers locally. Reports of women workers not wanting to eat popcorn after witnessing men workers’ sweat dripping into the vats during the factory processing though!
Here is a reminiscence shared by a local resident during one of The Barking Stink reminiscence sessions about time working at Butterkist factory:
“I remember that when it was liquorice making day, you’d hear the windows upstairs in the offices go ‘bang, bang,bang’. The girls in the offices would be closing shut and slamming all their windows, as they all hated the smell of the liquorice.
Oh, the other sweets, the popcorn, they all smelt lovely. We’d get our packs each week to take home. But the liquorice....it was an awful smell. Really bad. Nobody liked it come liquorice day, no.”
Margaret, Aged 85-95, Worked at Butterkist Factory for 10 years.