Market Gardening & Manure
Throughout the nineteenth century, Barking’s main industry alongside fishing was market gardening. Vegetables were grown in huge quantities and animals (mainly pigs) were raised too.
“The cultivation of vegetables on a wholesale scale for the supply of the London markets, commonly known as market gardening, has been, for rather more than a century, and still is, a large and important industry in Barking. Mixed farming dominated the area until the mid 18th century, when market gardening became important. Many farmers grew vegetables and crops in rotation, some alternated between market gardening and arable farming.”
Barking was one of England’s top producers of vegetables like potatoes, cabbages, apples, plums, walnuts, turnips, celery, beans and peas too. Horse-drawn carts full of vegetables groaned through the streets, transporting piles of soil-covered produce, to Barking Station and from there by railway to London markets like Covent Garden. T.Pittman, of Barking, in 1807 was “probably the largest potato-grower in England”.
Potatoes were the first vegetable to be grown extensively in Barking:
“cultivated to an extraordinary extent and proving extremely extremely profitable”. The proximity of Barking to Spitalfields Market and Covent Garden, only three to five miles away, meant that soon potatoes became a staple industry of Barking. The soil was good quality, the air was fresh and clear, there was space for land and the proximity to London was ideal for bringing in manure and transporting out produce to market (via boat and carts). Carts “groaned, heavy-laden with veg”.
As London tastes and appetites for more varied vegetables, fruits and nuts developed, so the crops that Barking market gardeners grew developed and diversified to provide for it.
For the gathering of fruit and other lighter work in the gardens, young women were brought in specially from Wales: “These strong, hardy, frugal maidens worked with great determination, and perseverance, facing rain and mud without complaint.” Mr William Glenny, a prominent Barking farmer, provided lodging and labour for some of these women on his farm.