A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1966.
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The agrarian history of Dagenham has been broadly similar to that of Barking. Any early differences between the two places would in any case be masked by the nature of the main surviving records. Dagenham is not named in Domesday and there is no doubt that then, as later, it was part of the manor of Barking, the entry for which makes no distinction between the different areas of this large manor. (fn. 1) The rental of 'Westbury and Dagenham' for 1321–2, which probably relates partly to Dagenham parish, is similarly undifferentiated. (fn. 2) Local differences were, in fact, much more important between the south, centre, and north of each parish than between the two parishes as a whole, and it would probably be quite wrong to think of medieval Dagenham as a kind of colony of Barking. The meaning of the name Dagenham, and the fact that it occurs in the 7th century, (fn. 3) suggest the existence of a settlement at least as early as that of Barking. When Dagenham and Barking became separate parishes the boundary between them was drawn from south to north, so that each included in the south a belt of alluvial marshland, in the centre valley gravel, and in the north heavily wooded London clay.
At Dagenham, as at Barking, the earliest settlements were on the valley gravel. These included Dagenham village and all the medieval manor houses, and in that part of the parish there were arable open fields, a feature which probably existed at Barking, but of which there is less evidence there. In 1844 arable open fields still survived in two places in Dagenham. (fn. 4) Dagenham Little Common (about 9 a.) lay north-west of the village, occupying the area now bounded by Rockwell Road, Hunter's Hall Road, Pondfield Road, and Reede Road. Adjoining it was Dagenham Great Common (about 20 a.), which extended south as far as the present Buttfield Close. About a mile south-west of the village, immediately north of Ripple Road, was Dagenham Common, which comprised about 21 a. It has been suggested that the name Ripple, meaning 'a strip', may have been derived from the open field farming in the area. (fn. 5) In Dagenham Great and Little Commons (taken together) most of the strips were between 1 a. and 2 a. in size, and there were six different owners. In Dagenham Common the amalgamation of holdings had left only six strips, the two largest of which were of 6 a., and there were only two owners. One of the strips in Dagenham Great Common belonged to Roger Reede's almshouse charity, of Romford. The first edition of the Ordnance Survey six-inch map, surveyed in the 1860's, shows as 'Dagenham Common' the area occupied in 1844 as Dagenham Great and Little Commons. (fn. 6) The former common at Rippleside is not named. The Barking-Upminster line of the London, Tilbury, and Southend Railway, opened in 1885, ran over the centre of the common north-west of Dagenham village. Parts of the common, particularly to the north of the railway, appear, however, to have remained uninclosed until 1921 or later. (fn. 7)
The open fields described above were probably survivals from a much larger system. There is little evidence to show when inclosure took place. It had certainly started by the beginning of the 14th century. An inclosed field of 20 a. was sold in 1307, and one of 2 a. in 1316. (fn. 8) The arable tenements listed in the 1456 rental seem to have been mainly in compact parcels. (fn. 9) The process of inclosure was certainly well advanced by 1540, (fn. 10) and can be seen in 17th-century maps which exist for various parts of the parish. (fn. 11) The recent inclosure of 'three parcels of land called Thirty Acres … formerly being in one parcel' is mentioned in 1563. (fn. 12)
In the south of the parish there were marshland commons used originally for sheep pasture. In the 17th and early 18th centuries there were in all about 120 a. common, lying in several different parts of the marsh. The main portion, called Dagenham Common (which was quite distinct from the arable field with the same name), comprised about 56 a. (fn. 13) By 1844 the total area of marshland commons had been reduced to about 70 a. (fn. 14) Six commons then remained: Kingsland, in the north of the marsh, beside the Beam; Sickle Corner, south of Kingsland; Little Common, east of Dagenham Breach; Oldfield, north-west of the Breach; Petty Common, south of Oldfield, and West Common in the extreme south-west of the marsh. The reduction in area since the 18th century was accounted for by the disappearance of Dagenham Common.
North of the ancient settlement area were the common wastes of the parish, consisting mainly of Hainault Forest (fn. 15) of which Chadwell Heath was an outlier. In early times these commons were used mainly for swine pasture. After the inclosure of Hainault in the mid-19th century the only substantial piece of common waste remaining was Becontree Heath (about 19 a.). This was controlled by the lord of the manor of Barking until about 1900, when his rights were bought by Dagenham parish council. (fn. 16) Part of the heath survives as an open space.
The existence of these three types of ancient common, each in a different part of the parish, combines with the Domesday particulars to show the early pattern of local agriculture. The ancient settlements in the centre of the parish, with the arable fields near by, were flanked by forest swinepastures to the north and marshland sheep-pastures to the south. This pattern also appears in an account of 1321 relating to a year's farming at 'Westbury and Dagenham', two farms belonging to Barking Abbey. (fn. 17) Westbury (fn. 18) lay in the south of Barking parish. The identity of the 'Dagenham' farm is not certain. (fn. 19) The account shows a well-developed system of mixed farming. Some of the few references specifically to Dagenham show that attempts were being made to convert to arable part of the marsh there. Ploughing of the marsh was difficult and expensive, and the reclaimed land remained under the constant threat of flooding. (fn. 20) During the late 14th and early 15th centuries there was in fact a succession of floods on this part of the coast, (fn. 21) which almost ruined Barking Abbey and must have been equally if not more disastrous to smaller landowners. By the Dissolution the abbey seems to have recovered a good deal of lost land. (fn. 22)
Mixed farming continued in Dagenham throughout the Middle Ages, as is illustrated by an inventory relating to the manor of Marks in 1479. (fn. 23) The arable lands under crops comprised 100 a. wheat, 50 a. rye, 36 a. oats, and 26 a. peas and oats. The amount of pasture was not recorded, but there were 340 sheep and 220 fleeces, suggesting sheep farming on a substantial scale. There were 27 cows pastured at Gobions (in Havering) and another 14 at Gale Street, on a small parcel of marshland belonging to Marks.
Customary labour services, which were still important in 1321, had by 1456 been mainly converted into money rents, though a few tenants in Dagenham, as in Barking, still did reaping service at harvest time for the abbey as lord of the manor. (fn. 24)
The dissolution of the abbey probably affected Dagenham much less than Barking. With the exception of Cockermouth, which had been acquired by the abbey in the 14th century, none of the larger farms in Dagenham was demesne of the abbey, and there was therefore no major change in land ownership after 1539. At Barking (fn. 25) the dissolution was followed by a boom in grazing to provide meat for the London market, but there is no evidence of anything similar at Dagenham. Mixed farming, without strong specialization, seems to have continued at Dagenham throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. This can be seen in the wills of William Barber (d. 1543), of Surmans Farm, (fn. 26) and of John Mott, of Motts (d. 1619), (fn. 27) in a survey of Cockermouth (1564), (fn. 28) and in depositions (c. 1672) concerning Thomas Bonham of Valence. (fn. 29) There is some, but not much, evidence of commercial grazing in the 16th and 17th centuries. (fn. 30) One reason for the apparent absence of large graziers in Dagenham was the survival of common rights in the marshes, and of large numbers of small holdings there, each attached to 'upland' farms. (fn. 31) Equally important was the continued threat of flooding. The breaches of 1594 and 1621 were followed in 1707 by one even more serious, which was not finally repaired until 1721. (fn. 32) These disasters, and other floods of which less is known, had a depressing effect on local agriculture and must have discouraged experiments and large investment in marshland farming. Attempts to repair the breach of 1707 are said to have cost the marshland landowners about £40,000, and caused some of them to forfeit their holdings for non-payment of rates.
Towards the end of the 18th century Dagenham began to grow vegetables for the London market. According to one statement peas and beans were 'first gathered green' in the parish about 1788. (fn. 33) The dispute as to whether the new produce should be subject to great or to small tithes, which raged from 1811 to 1840 (fn. 34) shows the importance of the change; the main crops in dispute were peas, beans, coleseed, and potatoes. Potato-growing seems to have been started about 1800. In 1807 one grower had 40 a. potatoes in Dagenham Marsh. (fn. 35) Market gardening gradually increased throughout the 19th century, though its development was slower than in Barking. In the 1890's fruit-growing also was started on several farms, including Stockdales, which was operated by Wilkin & Sons, the Tiptree jam-makers. (fn. 36)
In Dagenham, as at Barking, the land used for market gardening was fertilized by London sewage, brought by river. The building of the North London Outfall Sewer, which discharged at Barking Creek, suggested schemes of diverting the sewage and pumping it on to the land. An Act of 1880 sanctioned such a scheme for Dagenham, similar to that practised at Lodge Farm, Barking. (fn. 37) The scheme was not, however, put into effect, partly because of the uncertainty surrounding the Dagenham Dock schemes, which affected the future of the land. (fn. 38)
Older types of farming, with wheat as the main crop, continued alongside market gardening. In 1844 there were 3,405 a. arable in the parish, 975 a. pasture and over 1,000 a. forest. (fn. 39) There were some 23 farms of over 50 a.; 9 of these were between 50 a. and 100 a., 11 between 100 a. and 200 a., and 3 over 200 a. The largest, of 435 a., comprised Valence, with several other holdings. In 1851, when the total population of Dagenham was 2,494, there were 36 farmers and 4 market gardeners, assisted by 558 other agricultural workers. (fn. 40) The disafforestation of most of Hainault Forest in 1853, completed in 1858–66, (fn. 41) increased the area of farm land in north Dagenham. Rural life in that part of the parish about 1880–90 has been described by Mr. A. E. Baker. (fn. 42) The main crops in the Marks Gate area were then wheat, oats, and barley, with some vegetables and fruit. Pigs were bred on most of the local farms and provided the small farmers with their main incomes. One farmer kept sheep. There were no cows, but most farmers kept goats. (fn. 43) In the 1880's straw and hay were being produced at Dagenham on a scale large enough to provide a living for at least ten dealers, most of whom were at Becontree Heath. (fn. 44) Their main trade was no doubt with London, and this declined with the development of motor transport. By 1922 only two straw dealers were listed. (fn. 45)
The growing of reeds, mainly for thatching and hurdles, was carried on for centuries at Horseshoe Corner on the Thames shore. This crop certainly went back to the early 18th century, and it probably originated long before. In 1721 the 'reed ground' comprised about 100 a. (fn. 46) In 1823 it was stated that reed-production had declined. (fn. 47) There were 83 a. reed land in the parish in 1844. (fn. 48) Since 1935 the former reed shore has been used by Samuel Williams & Sons as a coal-storage site supplying power stations in the London area. (fn. 49)
At the end of the 19th century, after the clearance of Hainault Forest, there was more land under cultivation in Dagenham than ever before, but building had started at Chadwell Heath and twenty years later much of the land in the parish was taken over for housing. Farming continues in the north and east, and in 1951 there were still 280 agricultural workers and gardeners in the borough. (fn. 50) The surviving farm land is mainly arable, producing cereals and vegetables. There is a little sheep-grazing on the grass lands of the forest.
In 1841 there were six windmills in the parish: three close together at Chadwell Heath, one in New Road, near Beam Bridge, one at Becontree Heath, and the other at Marks Gate. (fn. 51) Only one of these, at Chadwell Heath, was in existence in 1770. (fn. 52) The two other mills at Chadwell Heath had been built by about 1810. (fn. 53) All three were post mills. In 1841 they were owned by Archer Moss, whose family carried on the business until 1914. (fn. 54) One of them was demolished about 1893 and a second in 1903–4. (fn. 55) The third, which had been converted to steam power, was closed during the First World War. The Beam River mill appears in directories up to 1886. (fn. 56) A drawing of Becontree Heath made in 1820 shows in the background a tower mill. (fn. 57) It was situated at the south-east corner of the heath. By 1894 it had been converted to steam. (fn. 58) In 1365 there was a windmill called the New Mill on the Havering part of the manor of Marks. (fn. 59) There was a windmill on the same manor in 1479. (fn. 60) It is not certain that there was a mill at Marks Gate between the 15th century and the 19th. The windmill there which existed in 1841 was worked by the Drake family from 1848 or earlier; it was closed about 1892 and demolished in 1917. (fn. 61) It was an octagonal tower mill, reputed to be the tallest in Essex. (fn. 62) One writer states that it was built in the late 18th century by the Mildmays, but according to another it was built 'about 1850'. (fn. 63)
Until the 19th century the occupations followed in Dagenham were nearly all connected with agriculture or with small crafts and trades typical of a village. A pinner and a bowyer occur in 1519. (fn. 64) There are various references to tanners in and after the 15th century, (fn. 65) and in 1851 there were five in the parish. (fn. 66) The most important tanyard, which probably existed from the 15th century to the early 20th century, was at Sharps (now Ashbrooks) in Bull Lane (now Rainham Road North) beside the Wantz Stream, this part of which was called Tanners Brook. (fn. 67) There is evidence of brickmaking, on fields belonging to Valence and to Parsloes, at least as early as the 17th century. (fn. 68) Among other less common occupations in 1851 were those of three yarn manufacturers, two foresters, and a reedhurdle maker. Modern industrial development, mainly on the Thames shore, began about 1849, when Charles Hulse, Edward Sage, and John Burge were leasing an ice-house, tramway and wharf near Dagenham Breach. (fn. 69) They may have been supplying Samuel Hewett of Barking, the owner of a large fishing fleet, who had recently started to use ice for refrigeration to enable his boats to stay longer at sea. (fn. 70) In 1863 the ice-house was occupied by Robert Hewett, son of Samuel, who owned or leased much other property in this area, including a manure factory. (fn. 71) In 1865 he transferred most of his Barking trawlers to Norfolk ports, (fn. 72) and vacated the icehouse and factory, which by 1866 were in the possession of the Dagenham Dock Co. (fn. 73)
An abortive scheme for a dock at Dagenham, linked by railway to the existing line at Chadwell Heath, had been proposed in 1846. (fn. 74) The idea was taken up again in 1854 by Sir John Rennie (1794–1874), and others. (fn. 75) Two Acts, of 1855 and 1862, gave powers to connect Dagenham Breach to the Thames by means of a lock, with a railway to the newly-built London and Tilbury line. (fn. 76) In 1865, after several unsuccessful attempts, a company was formed for the purpose, work started under Rennie's direction, and a pier was built, but in the following year the contractors got into difficulties and could not continue. In 1866 another Act was obtained, with wider powers, (fn. 77) but no further action was taken, and in 1870 the company was liquidated. (fn. 78) The property, which included a jetty and branch railway, eventually passed to the National Bank, which had been the mortgagee. (fn. 79) In 1881 another enabling Act was passed (fn. 80) but no more was done. In 1887 the land was bought by Samuel Williams (d. 1899), lighterman of Lambeth (Lond.). He and his successors enlarged their business at Dagenham and extended it to include civil engineering, bargebuilding, ship-owning, fuel-trading, and other activities. Their development of the area attracted other firms, and Dagenham Marsh was thus gradually transformed into an area of heavy industry. (fn. 81)
Before 1887 the only industry on the river bank had been a short-lived munitions factory (c. 1872), and a small candle factory, opened about 1870 near the mouth of the river Beam. (fn. 82) The site which Williams took over was thus very much as it had been when Perry finished closing the Breach in 1721. (fn. 83) During the next few years much of the foreshore was filled in and was raised to the height of the river wall. Two new jetties were built, forming a tidal basin with a quay on the new line of foreshore, and the first of a number of new buildings was erected. In 1903 Samuel Williams & Sons completed a new deep-water jetty, the first concrete structure of its kind on the Thames, capable of carrying railway tracks and heavy lifting apparatus. The coal trade was attracted to the docks in its early years. Colliers could discharge their cargoes there at any state of the tide. In 1905 the company secured a controlling interest in John Hudson & Co. (London) Ltd. During the First World War this firm established a fleet of ships to bring coal from Scotland and Tyneside, and from this sprang the Hudson Steamship Co., which carries cargoes from Dagenham all over the world. John Hudson & Co. is now one of the largest organizations in the fuel trade.
By about 1907 S. Williams & Sons owned the river front from Horseshoe Corner to the River Beam, and by the purchase of Pound Farm had acquired all the land west of Chequers Lane, with some north of Ripple Road. East of Chequers Lane their property extended north to the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway. In 1908 Williams, jointly with the railway company, built Dagenham Dock station. They now considered their Dagenham Dock estate ripe for further industrial development, and between 1909 and 1914 built four factories, designed by Charles Heathcote & Sons, for leasing to other firms. (fn. 84) In 1911 they built a new jetty to accommodate the Dreadnought Thunderer, the last warship to be launched in the Thames: this had been built at Canning Town, in West Ham, by the Thames Ironworks, and was fitted out at Dagenham. (fn. 85) Further development of the dock area took place in the 1920's. In 1924 there was still much open land on each side of Chequers Lane. (fn. 86) But in that year the Ford Motor Co. completed its first purchase of land from S. Williams & Sons, and in 1929–31 built its works, among the largest in Europe, to the design of Charles Heathcote & Sons. (fn. 87) Two associated factories were opened on the site at the same time by Briggs Motor Bodies and the Kelsey Hayes Wheel Co. Both were subsequently taken over by Fords. The Ford works, several times enlarged, now covers 600 a. and includes a jetty, power station, blast furnace and several miles of private roads and railways. About 6,000 workers were employed there in 1934, 12,000 in 1937, and 35,000 in 1963. (fn. 88) Since 1931 a number of other factories have been built on the Dock estate. (fn. 89)
North of Dagenham village, near the Four Wants, a light industrial area began to develop about 1900, when a munitions factory was opened. (fn. 90) This appears to have been short-lived, but between 1910 and 1913 the Sterling Telephone and Electric Co., and W. J. Fraser & Co., chemical engineers, opened adjoining factories. (fn. 91) Others were built in the 1930's and after 1945. The two original firms have moved elsewhere, but others have taken their place, and there are now some 20 factories in this area, mainly in Wantz Road and Rainham Road South. (fn. 92) Among these firms is May & Baker Ltd., manufacturing chemists, at whose factory, opened in 1934 on the former Stockdales Farm, was developed 'M & B 693', the first drug to prove effective in the treatment of pneumonia. (fn. 93) Another light industrial belt, of similar size, lies near the railway at Chadwell Heath, and particularly in Selinas Lane. Most of this development has taken place since 1930, and much of it since 1951. (fn. 94) A third group of light industries, comprising about 40 factories, has been built since 1945 on the Hainault estate.
Dagenham Marsh, or Dagenham Level, where the great breach in the sea wall occurred in 1707, extends from the Thames north to Ripple Road and New Road, and from Highams (formerly Hyelms) Wall to the River Beam, comprising some 550 a. It is now occupied mainly by factories, including the great Ford works, but until the present century was farm land, mainly pasture. (fn. 95) The methods used to protect it from flooding have been similar to those used in Barking (fn. 96) and other coastal parishes. The original responsibility for the sea defences rested on the tenants of marshland. In the early 16th century, and no doubt earlier, the largest tenants in Dagenham Marsh were Barking Abbey, lord of the manors of Barking and of Cockermouth, and St. Anthony's Hospital, London, lord of Valence. (fn. 97) Through the 'watergang'—a special session of the manor court—the abbey could put pressure on its tenants to discharge their responsibilities for land drainage. More effective, however, were the government commissions de walliis et fossatis, empowered to supplement the work of individual tenants by levying local rates and empressing local labourers for repair work. (fn. 98) These commissions, first issued in the 13th century, were by the 15th century being given parliamentary authority, in a series of Acts, culminating in the Statute of Sewers (1532). In the 16th century the work of the commissioners of sewers was being grouped in 'levels'. In 1563 Dagenham was under the control of a court of sewers whose area extended from West Ham to Mucking. Dagenham Level, which contained most of the parish marshland, then comprised 536 a. (fn. 99) A much smaller area, to the west of Highams Wall, was in Ripple Level, which lay mainly in Barking. (fn. 100) Before the Dissolution Barking Abbey had owned 150 a. in Dagenham Marsh. By 1563 the Crown had sold 83 a. of this and had leased the remainder. A survey of that year lists 58 owners, including lessees of the Crown, in this level. Each owner was responsible for a specified length of sea wall. Dagenham Marsh later came under the control of the commissioners for the Havering levels, whose jurisdiction, in and after the 18th century, extended from Bromley (Mdx.) to Hornchurch. (fn. 101) By 1735 the area (in Dagenham) under the administration of the commissioners had increased to 565 a. (fn. 102) Under the Land Drainage Act (1930) Dagenham Level came under the control of the Essex Rivers Catchment Board, which, under an Act of 1948 was merged in the Essex River Board. (fn. 103)
The Act of 1930 empowered the catchment boards to levy rates from upland areas not themselves subject to flooding. Until then the maintenance of sea defences had remained the responsibility of those holding land in coastal areas. The account of the farmer of Westbury and Dagenham for 1321 (fn. 104) includes payment for repairing the sea walls, including Highams Wall, an earthwork, running north from the river to Ripple Road, designed to limit the spreading of flood water after a breach in the main coastal wall. (fn. 105) The burden of individual responsibility for the sea defences was sometimes too heavy even for the most wealthy marshland tenants. In and after 1377, for example, Barking Abbey repeatedly asked the Crown for exemption from other obligations because of flood damage. The trouble evidently started with a severe storm in the winter of 1376–7, the effects of which were felt for years. (fn. 106) In 1409 the nuns of Barking pleaded that they had spent more than £2,000 on the enclosure and saving of their lands, but in spite of this had lost by flooding 600 a. of meadow in Dagenham Marsh and 120 a. wheat in another marsh. If this was true the whole of Dagenham Marsh must have been flooded. On that occasion the king excused the abbey payment of certain taxes up to the value of £50 a year for 10 years. (fn. 107) Most of the abbey's Thames-side lands were again flooded in 1462. (fn. 108) These floods of the 14th and 15th centuries may have been the cause of the breach immediately west of Highams Wall, which was allowed to become permanent and was, by 1563, defended by a wall shaped like a horseshoe. (fn. 109) The land outside the wall was used for reed-growing. (fn. 110)
In 1594, after a breach in the river Beam, the commissioners of sewers ordered the resulting creek to be 'inned', at the joint expense of Dagenham and Havering levels. (fn. 111) The Beam (sometimes called Dagenham Creek) was again breached in 1621. The commissioners employed (Sir) Cornelius Vermuyden, then a young man, to carry out repairs. (fn. 112) He rebuilt the walls of the Beam, 'inned' it, and built a new sluice across its outlet to the Thames. The commissioners, who apparently considered his work unsatisfactory, refused to pay him in cash, and eventually made him a grant of marshland. (fn. 113) Such grants had been facilitated by an Act of 1571, which provided that the commissioners might seize lands whose owners had failed to pay sewer rates. (fn. 114) Vermuyden's work left Dagenham with two interconnected creeks branching from the west side of the Beam, about ½ mile north of the Thames. (fn. 115)
The continuing responsibility of individual tenants for the sea defences, and the hardship this sometimes involved, is shown in a letter written in 1689 by Thomas Bonham, lessee of Valence, to his landlords at Windsor. (fn. 116) He stated that the marshland belonging to this estate had been twice flooded in recent years and had cost £14 an acre to reclaim, to the 'utter undoing' of his predecessor Henshaw and to the 'no little impairing' of Bonham's own property. A breach made on one night had caused £150 worth of damage. At least 10 a. belonging to the estate were still flooded. Valence included about 100 a. marshland, and its lessees had a heavier burden, in times of flooding, than anyone else in Dagenham. (fn. 117)
On 27 September 1707 the commissioners for the Havering levels ordered the repair of a section of wall in Dagenham which the owner, Mrs. Susan Uphill, had allowed to decay, and was in great danger of being 'blown up'. (fn. 118) These instructions came too late. On 29 October an exceptional tide tore a gap of about 14 feet in the wall at Sandcreek Sluice. This widened steadily and by 13 November nearly 1,000 a. marshland were flooded. A map drawn in February 1708 shows the main channel of the breach extending inland for about ½ mile, and linked with the creeks of the Beam in the shape of an inverted 'U'. (fn. 119) If the proper action had been taken the damage might have been repaired quickly and cheaply, but the commissioners were dilatory, successive contractors were incompetent, and the burden of repeated sewer rates became so heavy that some of the marshland tenants defaulted and were dispossessed. There was probably corruption as well as mismanagement during the thirteen years which elapsed before the breach was finally closed. At first the commissioners appear to have used casual labour. When this proved ineffectual, they employed as contractor George Jackson, who was to receive £6,000. He was later joined by John Ward, of Hackney (Mdx.), and others. Much of this and the following information comes from the polemical pamphlet compiled for William Boswell, a later contractor. Ward's later record lends colour to Boswell's charges against him. (fn. 120) Ward figures, with other notorious villains, in one of Pope's Moral Essays. (fn. 121) Boswell states that Ward soon 'got the start of' George Jackson, treated him as a subordinate, and eventually contrived his dismissal and imprisonment for debt. Meanwhile Ward had obtained large sums of money from the commissioners of sewers, for mending the breach, and at the same time was buying cheap lands in the marshes thrown on the market by the ratepayers' insolvency. That Ward did obtain 'decreed' or forfeited lands is certain. (fn. 122) In October 1713 his repairs to the breach were completed, but four months later the new works were swept aside by a storm which also damaged the walls in several other places in Dagenham Level. Dagenham Breach had now become a matter of national importance. The tides flowing in and out of it had built up a huge sandbank in the Thames, opposite the mouth of the breach, which threatened to bring shipping to a standstill. It was also clear that the mending of the breach was now beyond local resources. A landowners' petition at the time stated that during the past seven years repairs had cost them £40,000 in rates. After representations by the City of London, as conservators of the Thames, and by the Masters of Trinity House, Parliament hastily passed an Act entrusting the repair of the breach to a body of trustees empowered to raise funds by means of a 10-year levy on ships using the port of London. (fn. 123) It was also provided that defaulting ratepayers could buy back their lands before 1 December 1714. One of the main promoters of the Act was John Lethieullier, lord of Aldersbrook in Little Ilford, and other estates in Barking, Ilford, and Dagenham, who had been the largest purchaser of forfeited marshlands in Dagenham and Havering levels.
The trustees appointed by the Act included the lord mayor, aldermen, and recorder of London, the M.P.s for Essex, Kent, Surrey and Middlesex, local landowners, representatives of Trinity House, military engineers, and others, over 100 in all, with a quorum of 9. They met at Guildhall, under the chairmanship of the lord mayor. Sixty-three attended the first meeting, on 29 July 1714, but later attendance was usually between 10 and 20. The secretary was David le Gros, who from 1715 was also treasurer. Among the trustees with local interests the most active were John Lethieullier, John Ward, John Austen, William Blackborne, John Mayhew, and Col. Joseph Bennet. According to Boswell's pamphlet, Lethieullier, Mayhew, and Bennet had been associated with Ward in his earlier attempt to stop the breach.
The trustees immediately considered tenders, including one from Capt. John Perry, and on 5 August 1714 made an agreement with William Boswell, shipwright and former naval warrant officer, who was to stop the breach and repair the sea walls within fifteen months, for £16,300. His hasty attempts were unsuccessful, and in November 1715 the trustees exercised their right to cancel his contract without payment. He attributed his failure mainly to the intrigues of his enemies, especially John Ward, who, he said, had hoped to get the new contract for himself, or for Capt. John Perry, his friend, and having failed to do so tried threats and bribery to persuade Boswell to give up the undertaking. Boswell alleged that his work was hampered by sabotage, and that some of his workmen were in league with his enemies. Some of this was probably true. In August 1714, before he needed an excuse for failure, he reported that he had been offered bribes and threatened, and a man named Stephen Peters admitted to the trustees having done this on behalf of a rival contractor, who is not named. Boswell claimed to have spent £8,000 on the breach. From 1715 to 1722 he fought a succession of legal battles against the new contractor, Perry, to recover the cost of materials left behind at the breach, and was eventually awarded about £1,200. The fact that he could conduct such a campaign shows that his backers were wealthy and determined, but little is known concerning them.
The trustees' treatment of Boswell seems harsh, but their motives are obvious. Between 1707 and 1714 large sums had been spent in futile attempts to stop the breach, and they were resolved to prevent a repetition of this. They were exercising statutory powers and might be called to account by Parliament at any time. Not least important were their financial limitations. The tolls which produced their income amounted to about £4,500 a year. Over the whole 10-year period covered by the Act of 1714 a total of £45,800 was collected, but when Boswell's contract was signed that income had only just begun, and the trustees had no reserves. They could have made a large advance to Boswell only by borrowing. There is no evidence that they considered this in 1714. Under the Act they were not allowed to pay more than 6 per cent. interest on loans, and this was evidently not attractive to lenders. When the trustees tried to borrow from the Bank of England in September 1716 they were refused. Even if they had had more money they might not have been more generous to Boswell, for their confidence in him had been eroded not only by his failures at the breach, but also by his casual attitude to them as his employers, shown in his frequent failure to attend their meetings when summoned.
In June 1716 the trustees signed a new contract with Capt. John Perry, who in 1714 had made a tender of £24,000 and who now raised it to £25,000. Perry (1670–1733) was a former naval officer and a skilled engineer, who had recently been comptroller of maritime works to Peter the Great of Russia. He agreed to close the breach, then 400 ft. wide and to repair the walls for 200 yds. on either side of it, by 1 November 1717; and he was to maintain them for a further three years. Within six months after stopping the breach he was to erect a sluice to remove the back water, and repair the walls from Rainham Creek to the Half Way Tree; and he was to maintain them for fifteen months. By October 1719 he was to remove the sandbank in the Thames. The circumstances of Boswell's failure made it possible for the trustees to be more generous to his successor. Since they had paid Boswell nothing they had by June 1716 accumulated about £9,000. They promised to pay Perry £3,000 on the signing of the contract and further sums, not exceeding £12,000, as required by him, up to the time when the breach was stopped at low water. He was to receive £6,000, thirty days after the stopping of the breach, and the final £4,000 thirty days after the removal of the sandbank. He was to give security against each advance of money. It was a much more realistic contract than Boswell's, but even so the work eventually cost the trustees £15,000 more than expected and it took twice as long to complete.
In his Stopping of Dagenham Breach Perry chronicles his enterprise. He describes the crude methods of previous contractors, in particular their use of old warships, filled with rubble, which had been scuttled in the breach, only to be pounded to pieces by the tides. His own more scientific plan has been summarized, with a commentary, by a modern engineer. (fn. 124) One of its main features was the use of dovetailed timber piles in the foundation of the dam. His work started in the spring of 1716, and at first went well. By July 1717 he had closed the breach at low-water, and on 4 September he reported that he had turned the tide out of the levels, but on 10 September an exceptionally high tide re-opened the breach and caused a financial crisis. Up to that date the trustees had authorized payment to Perry of £17,000, of which £11,560 were in cash and the remainder in the form of 'assignments' or credit notes payable as further tolls were collected. They had a cash balance of under £2,000. (fn. 125) After Perry had reported on the damage they granted him a further £4,000 assignments, bringing the total authorized to £21,000, and the total assignments outstanding to £9,440. They had stretched the terms of the contract in his favour and had mortgaged their income for over two years in advance. During those years they steadily paid off the assignments until, by Michaelmas 1719, only £904 out of the £21,000 were still owing. Perry himself had received £12,229. The remaining £7,867 had been assigned to his backers in repayment of their loans. No new payments were authorized between September 1717 and November 1720, and during that period only Perry's determination and the confidence he inspired in his backers prevented the collapse of the undertaking.
By July 1718 the breach had again been stopped and the tides turned out, but in September the new walls were overwhelmed by another high tide. By then, according to Perry, he had spent £3,000 more than the trustees had voted. They refused his appeal for a further advance, but having secured further loans from his backers he carried on, and in June 1720 turned out the tides for the last time. In January 1720 he had asked the trustees for the final £4,000 due on his contract, and in November they authorized further assignments of £2,000. In May 1721 he reported that he had completed all his work on the breach and the adjoining sea walls, and was clearing away the sandbank. The trustees then authorized another £1,500, and in July the final £500 due to him on his original contract. They did not require security for these two payments. Meanwhile they were supporting his petition to Parliament for more money, and this was granted by an Act empowering them to pay him another £15,000 from the toll revenues. (fn. 126) In August 1721, soon after the Act, they authorized payment of the whole of that sum; this was done over the next three years, by instalments paid to his backers. According to Perry his total expenses— up to 1721— were £40,473. This, however, was not the end of his work at Dagenham. During the next two years, until the summer of 1723, he was clearing away the sandbank. This was a task which he disliked and from the first had tried to evade. He had begun to devote part of his time to work elsewhere and gave less and less attention to Dagenham. His operations there in 1721–3 probably did not involve much further expense, but to this was added, according to his own statement, £2,000 which he had to pay— mainly to Boswell— as a result of lawsuits arising out of his work at the breach. In May 1723 he appealed to the trustees for a cash advance, saying that he was destitute and that his creditors would not accept assignments in lieu of cash. When the trustees refused, he asked to be discharged from further attendance upon them. They accepted his resignation, and employed another contractor, John Aust, to finish removing the sandbank at a cost of £150, which they deducted from the money assigned to Perry.
The last payments of Perry's assignments were made in 1724. He had received a total of £39,902, of which £12,229 had been paid to him in person and the remaining £26,673 to his backers. On his own estimates this was about £2,500 less than his expenses, excluding his operating costs for 1721–3. Whether this means that the stopping of the breach was a financial disaster for him is, however, far from certain. The contract seems to have provided him with a living for at least five years. It was probably a good living, to judge from the big house which he built beside the breach for his official use. His work at Dagenham confirmed his reputation and led to a valuable contract with the Adventurers of Deeping Fen (Lincs.). (fn. 127) There is also little doubt that part, at least, of the £2,500 deficit was met by his backers, who had probably made a good profit on his undertaking.
Previous accounts of Dagenham Breach have said little about Perry's backers. The trustees' minutes state their names, the sums in which they were bound as securities for him, and the repayments made them on his assignments. Fourteen persons gave security bonds, in sums totalling £23,000. Repayments were made to all except one of these, and to three other persons who had not given bonds. The largest repayments were received by Henry Bland, Russia merchant (total £8,268), Charles Goodfellow, attorney (£7,774), Capt. John Hazlewood, deputy master of Trinity House, and one of the original trustees (£3,000), (fn. 128) Samuel Holden, merchant (£2,073), Timothy Perry (£1,700), Art Stephens (£1,100), and Champion Branfill (£1,094). There is no obvious relationship between the payments and the size of the security bonds: Bland, for example, was bound in a total of £1,550, but Goodfellow in £5,583. The repayments probably included interest at a high rate. In 1716 Perry told a House of Commons committee that 'he promised gentlemen to be security for him at 50 per cent. lent'. (fn. 129) At this rate his backers could afford to write off a substantial part of their loans and still make a good profit. In the Act of 1721 it is stated that some of them were prepared to write off £5,967 of Perry's debts, but the figures quoted above suggest that they actually wrote off much less than this. The total of £39,902 paid to Perry and his backers was only £571 short of the amount claimed as expenses up to 1721, and even if the backers also met Perry's legal expenses and his operating costs for 1721–3 it is unlikely that their profits were cut by more than £3,000. If, in the end, their profits were large, they need not be regarded as profiteers. They had risked not only the money lent to Perry but the security bonds given to the trustees. Most of them had supported him throughout, in spite of appalling setbacks. Not all were equally staunch. In 1718–20 some were inclined to withdraw. At that stage, says Perry in his book, 'had not my good friends the Russia merchants, who knew me in the Czar's service, stood firmly by me, I should never have been able to go through with my undertaking'. The worst crisis occurred early in 1720, when several of the backers refused his request for further security. The others eventually brought them into line by inducing the trustees to threaten to 'put in suit' the previous bonds given by the reluctant backers.
Among the backers were four of Perry's relatives. Timothy Perry, who stood security for £333, received £1,700 in repayment of loans. Samuel Perry (security for £1,275), received £400. Mrs. Sarah Perry (no security), also received £400, and Weedon Perry (security for £2,250), received no repayments. Samuel Perry was, for at least part of the time, a working partner of Capt. John, often appearing before the trustees on his behalf. The will of Timothy Perry, proved in 1733, mentions his son Weedon, his cousins John and Samuel Perry, and Weedon's son William. The last was probably William Perry of Penshurst (Kent), who became Capt. Perry's heir. (fn. 130) In spite of Boswell's allegations there is no proof that John Ward had any financial interest in Perry's undertaking. The evidence before the House of Commons committee in 1716 suggests that Ward and Col. Bennet tried to form a syndicate for this purpose, but without success.
The breach of 1707 left a permanent mark on local topography. Perry built his dam across the mouth of the breach, leaving the channel behind it as a lake of about 55 a., extending north and east to the earlier breach in the river Beam. (fn. 131) Gradual filling-in, mainly during the past 40 years, has reduced the lake to about half its original size. (fn. 132) On its east bank near the sea wall, was the Breach House, built by Perry. (fn. 133) This became the meeting-place of the commissioners of sewers, who resumed control of Dagenham Level in 1721.
The breach also brought changes in the ownership of the lands in the level. A survey of 1727 shows that some 300 a. there had been 'decreed' for nonpayment of rates. (fn. 134) Among defaulting landowners had been the Mildmays, who had lost marshland formerly belonging to their manor of Marks. (fn. 135) Many of the forfeitures had been made under an order of 20 August 1712, which disposed of 246 a. belonging to 29 owners in Dagenham and Havering levels. (fn. 136) The largest purchaser of decreed land had been John Lethieullier, who according to Boswell was a friend of John Ward. Ward himself held some decreed land in 1727, though less than might be imagined from Boswell's pamphlet. Another survey of Dagenham Level, with a map, was made in 1735. (fn. 137)
In the late 18th century Dagenham Breach (otherwise Dagenham Lake or Gulf) became a place of resort for the gentry. An angling club, with headquarters at the Breach House, is said to have existed from 1792 until 1812. The club dinners, attended by members of the government, gave rise to the whitebait dinners, later held at Greenwich. (fn. 138) This, or a similar club, seems, however, to have existed before 1792. It was said of Bamber Gascoyne (d. 1791) that he was 'one of that festive society held at Dagenham Breach which, during Lord Sandwich's presidency at the Admiralty had éclat as well as merriment, the Admiralty barges being frequently employed in carrying the company to the Breach'. (fn. 139) John Montagu, Earl of Sandwich (1718–92) was First Lord of the Admiralty in 1748–51, in 1763, and in 1771–82. (fn. 140)
The dinners at Dagenham were brought to an end in 1812 by the demolition of the Breach House. (fn. 141) The lake and adjoining land, which then belonged to Sir Charles Hulse, lord of the manor of Barking, were later leased to Richard Webb, who built two cottages there. Webb sold his interest to Joseph Fry, who with his wife Elizabeth spent summer holidays there between 1824 and 1833. (fn. 142) In 1848 Charles Hulse and Edward Sage leased the lake and the cottages and built a large ice-house to supply the London market and the Barking fishermen. (fn. 143) The lake continued to be a public angling place until the industrial development of this area. (fn. 144)
Hainault Forest was part of the royal Forest of Essex, the history of which has been described in a previous volume. (fn. 145) Hainault is a corruption of Hyneholt, meaning '(monastic) community wood'; the community referred to was Barking Abbey, owner of Hainault Forest during the Middle Ages. (fn. 146) In the following account the modern form of the name is used throughout.
The Forest of Essex, as defined in 1225, included inter alia those parts of the parishes of Barking and Dagenham to the north of the main road from London to Romford. (fn. 147) In 1228 Henry III withdrew his agreement to the boundaries of 1225 (fn. 148) and a mid-13th-century document shows that the forest then included the whole of Barking and Dagenham. (fn. 149) Edward I, by a perambulation of 1301, restored the 1225 boundaries. (fn. 150) In 1301, as in 1225, the whole of the royal manor of Havering was within the forest. The boundary to the south of the main London road, much of which was explicitly stated to be also the boundary between Havering and Dagenham, was then defined as starting from a cross set 'at the head of a … lane called Wytheslane', and ran by Wythedenebroke (now the Wantz Stream) (fn. 151) and Havering Well to Dagenham Beam (bridge) and down Mardyke (now Beam River) to the Thames.
In 1641 another detailed perambulation was made. (fn. 152) The parts of Dagenham and Barking parishes to the north of the London road were still within the forest, but all the Liberty of Havering, except a small area in the north-west, had been excluded. The south-eastern forest boundary started at the Havering Stone 'at the head of Beamesland Lane'. The position of this stone, which stood on the Dagenham boundary in the High Road, Chadwell Heath, is marked by Chapman and André. (fn. 153) This was no doubt the point where stood the cross mentioned in 1301. From there the forest boundary ran north on a course described in the perambulation and marked on a map probably made at that time. (fn. 154) Other boundary stones in Dagenham were the Marks Stone and the Warren Stone, both near Marks manor house. (fn. 155) The Havering Stone and the Warren Stone are now (1964) at Valence House, Dagenham; the Marks Stone is still in place near Warren Farm. (fn. 156) For most of its course the forest boundary was the same as that between the parish of Dagenham and the Liberty of Havering. It included the fence which divided the royal park of Havering from the manor of Barking. In the Middle Ages the repair of this fence was the duty of the Abbess of Barking, as owner of Barking manor. It has been suggested that this obligation, and by inference the boundary concerned, was of Saxon origin. (fn. 157) The legal boundaries of the forest fixed in 1301 remained unchanged until the disafforestation of 1851. (fn. 158)
Barking Abbey's wood of Hainault is first mentioned by name in 1221. (fn. 159) Its extent is not precisely defined in medieval records. The name seems to have been used mainly to denote that part of the forest of Essex within the abbey's manor of Barking, but it may sometimes have been used in a narrower sense with reference to the woodland in the same area. At the Dissolution the ownership of the abbey's forest passed to the Crown. Much of it, including most of the area that was still woodland, remained Crown property (fn. 160) and was not included in the grant of Barking manor to Sir Thomas Fanshawe in 1628. The parts of Hainault Forest in which the Crown owned the soil (in addition to the ancient prerogative rights which it exercised throughout the Forest of Essex) became known as the King's Woods: these were mostly in Barking and Dagenham, but also extended into Chigwell, Lambourne, Stapleford Abbots, and Navestock. (fn. 161)
Although the legal boundaries of the forest changed so little between 1301 and 1851 the amount of woodland was gradually reduced by small inclosures. Some of these were made by royal licence, such as that granted in 1393 to three men to assart 30 a. at Clayhall, (fn. 162) and that to Smart Lethieullier in 1742, to fell Newlands Grove, in East Hainault Walk. (fn. 163) Elizabeth I, as lord of the manor of Barking, granted at least two licences to assart, one for 9 a., the other for 5 a., in return for faithful service. (fn. 164) After the Crown Land Allotments Act of 1831 some small inclosures were made in the forest by the parish vestries of Barking and Dagenham to provide allotments for the poor. (fn. 165) Other inclosures were made without licence. In 1630 it was stated that 25 houses had recently been built on unauthorized inclosures within the forest area of Barking and 7 in Dagenham. (fn. 166) By c. 1641 the woodland in Hainault Forest extended south only as far as Aldborough Hatch. (fn. 167) This is much the same area as that shown in maps of the late 18th century. (fn. 168)
Government plans of 1653 for the disafforestation of all royal forests were reversed in the following year. (fn. 169) In 1793 the Commissioners of Woods, Forests, and Land Revenues issued a report largely devoted to the royal forests in Essex and accompanied by a map of Hainault Forest drawn in 1791 by Joseph Pennington. (fn. 170) In reply to a petition from the inhabitants of the forest parishes for the disafforestation of Waltham and Hainault, mainly on account of the damage to neighbouring gardens caused by deer, the commissioners recommended that Hainault should be disafforested but that its woodland should be preserved to provide timber for the navy. In 1817 the Commissioners of Woods and Forests put these proposals into a Bill which met with some local opposition and never passed beyond the House of Commons. (fn. 171)
In 1849 the Portman Commission was set up to investigate the administration of the New Forest and Waltham (which included Hainault) Forest. (fn. 172) On its recommendation an Act was passed in 1851 for the disafforestation of Hainault. (fn. 173) The award made under this Act disposed of some 4,000 a., of which 2,842 a. had been Crown property, constituting the King's Woods. (fn. 174) By the award 1,917 a. of the King's Woods were allotted to the Crown, together with over 100,000 trees, mainly hornbeams, growing there. The remaining lands remained unallotted, as commons: these included 528 a. in Barking and 43 a. in Dagenham. Compensation was paid to the Lord Warden of Waltham Forest, for the loss of his rights in Hainault, and funds were set aside to provide cash payments in place of the annual loads of fuel from the forest previously given to poor widows in Barking and Dagenham. (fn. 175) Sir Charles Hulse, who had claimed the soil of the forest as lord of the manor of Barking, received an allotment of 45 a. around Furze House. In 1853 the Crown grubbed up the forest. This was done at high speed, with men working day and night. (fn. 176) The timber was sold, much in excess of the value placed on it in the disafforestation award, for £48,000. (fn. 177) Three new farms were created: Forest and Hainault farms, in Barking, and Foxburrows in Dagenham. (fn. 178) Forest Road, New North Road, Romford Road, and Hainault Road were made. In 1858 the process of disafforestation was completed by the Hainault Forest Allotment of Commons Act, (fn. 179) and the awards made under it in 1858 and 1865–6, which disposed of the lands, including Chadwell Heath, left unallotted in 1851. (fn. 180)
The Crown estates at Hainault were enlarged by purchase. In 1828 Aldborough House Farm had been bought, (fn. 181) and also a small farm at Ley Street, Ilford. (fn. 182) After the disafforestation Gobions Farm, Romford, was purchased from W. P. Johnson (1854), the manor of Marks, and Warren, Pigtails, and Lowland farms from the Mildmay trustees (1855), and Furze House, with land at Marks Gate, from Sir Charles Hulse (1858). (fn. 183) In 1929 Aldborough Hatch Farm was bought. (fn. 184) In 1938 the Crown sold 932 a. at Fairlop to the City of London, for use as a municipal airport. Some runways were built during the Second World War for military use. (fn. 185) Aldborough House and Aldborough Hatch farms were immediately re-sold to Ilford Borough Council, which purchased the remaining land from the City in 1955. About two-thirds of the airfield site is now (1964) agricultural, the rest, some of which is being worked for sand and gravel, is for recreational use. (fn. 186)
All that remained of Hainault Forest after disafforestation was a small area, mostly in Lambourne, but extending into Dagenham and Chigwell. In 1902, on the suggestion of Edward North Buxton, one of the leaders of the successful fight to preserve Epping Forest, (fn. 187) the London County Council agreed to purchase and preserve this remnant of forest, with the aid of contributions from the Essex County Council, and the councils of the county borough of West Ham and the urban districts of Ilford, Leyton, and Wanstead. A total of 803 a. were acquired, (fn. 188) and opened to the public in 1906. (fn. 189) In 1934 the L.C.C. bought further land bringing the total area of the modern Hainault Forest up to 1,108 a. (fn. 190)
The Forest of Essex was divided into administrative areas known up to the 16th century as bailiwicks, and subsequently as walks. In 1292 the bailiwick of Becontree included Hainault. (fn. 191) By 1489 Hainault had become a separate bailiwick. (fn. 192) In the 16th century a further sub-division was made, into East (or Chapel) Hainault Walk and West Hainault Walk. (fn. 193) These are shown on the map of c. 1641 mentioned above. (fn. 194) From then until the 19th century the Hainault walks remained unchanged and each usually, though not always, had a separate chief forester. (fn. 195) Each parish wholly or partly within the forest, including Barking and Dagenham, appointed a reeve and four men to represent it at the forest courts. (fn. 196) It was the duty of the reeve to brand with his parish mark all cattle entitled to graze in the forest. Barking parish, because of its size, had two different marks and marking places. (fn. 197)
During the Middle Ages Barking Abbey, as the owner of Hainault, enjoyed extensive rights there. In 1221 Henry III licensed the abbess to have estovers there as she had done in the time of King John, and also to have dogs to hunt hares and foxes in the forest. (fn. 198) Her forest rights were confirmed in 1323–4, when she produced six charters, that of Œthelræd, c. 687, one of William I, one of Henry I, one of Stephen and two of Henry II. (fn. 199) What forest rights were conveyed by Œthelræd are a matter of speculation. (fn. 200) It has been suggested that the right of estovers, already mentioned, was rooted in Saxon custom. (fn. 201) Another ancient right belonging to the abbey, confirmed after a judicial inquiry in 1292, was the exemption of its woods from the visits of the forest regarders. (fn. 202) The abbess was also entitled to fee deer. (fn. 203)
During the 50 years after the dissolution of the abbey there seems to have been a relaxation of control over Hainault. In 1582 a forest commission investigated abuses concerning 'fee' and 'livery' wood, and interrogated old inhabitants concerning the administration of the forest before the Dissolution. (fn. 204) It is plain from the findings of the commission that Hainault was being pillaged on all sides by gentlemen, the forest officers, and the local inhabitants. It was even being stated at this time that Hainault was not part of the royal forest at all. (fn. 205) The result of the inquiry was an Exchequer decree of the same year laying down rules relating to fee and livery wood. (fn. 206)
How far such rules were effective depended upon the policy of the government and the efficiency of the forest officials. During the 1630's, for example, when the king was seeking to augment his income by enforcing the forest laws, there was a good deal of action against offenders. (fn. 207) During and after the Civil War, when the Essex forests were controlled by Parliament and their future was uncertain, there was much unauthorized cutting of wood. (fn. 208) The administration of the forest was not, however, completely neglected. At a Parliamentary committee, meeting at Romford in 1645, the woodward of East and West Hainault walks complained that those having the right of livery wood now sent carts with five instead of four horses, and that those receiving 'spray' wood sent carts with three instead of two horses. The committee ordered the rules to be enforced and offenders to be prosecuted. (fn. 209) In 1656 commissioners appointed by Cromwell reported serious spoliation of Hainault and suggested ways of preventing it. (fn. 210) In the early 19th century, when disafforestation was being considered, the Crown connived at, if it did not actively encourage, breaches of forest law, including some in Hainault. (fn. 211)
The formulation and enforcement of rules designed to protect the forest were complicated by the existence of many private rights. Some 74 tenements in Barking and Dagenham, including the manors of Marks and Wangey, were entitled to estovers, later called fuel assignments. (fn. 212) In one respect at least these rights were wider in Hainault than in other parts of the Forest of Essex: in Barking, Dagenham, and Stapleford Abbots lopping was carried out in the middle of the 'fence month'. (fn. 213) It has been suggested that this custom was of Saxon origin. (fn. 214) Other customs, or claims based on custom, probably arose, much later, through the failure of the forest officers to resist illegal practices. For example the lords of the manor of Barking in the 18th and 19th centuries seem to have carried out some forest inclosures through the manor court. (fn. 215)
The right to pasture cattle in the forest, and the parish marks with which the animals were branded, have already been mentioned. Swine were allowed in the forest at pannage time. (fn. 216) In 1321 two local farms employed boys to keep the pigs in Hainault and to pull down the acorns for three weeks at that time. (fn. 217) Sheep were usually held to be non-commonable, though this rule was often broken. Sir George Hervey of Marks in Dagenham bought from Elizabeth I the right to pasture sheep in Hainault Forest and is said to have surrendered it to James I in return for £600. (fn. 218) In 1850, just before the disafforestation, the forest tenants were asked to submit their claims in respect of common rights in Hainault. William W. Boulton, of Whalebone Farm, Dagenham, claimed the right to graze 20–30 head of cattle, 6–10 horses, and some swine. (fn. 219)
Parts of the forest were let out to tenants in groves. The tenants of Marrowes Grove at Chadwell Heath, Dagenham, are mentioned in c. 1530. (fn. 220) Under what conditions these tenancies were granted is not known, except that they were held from the Crown. Warrants to view the groves for licence to fell were issued by the Lord Chancellor to forest keepers. A number of original warrants have survived, including those for Tantony Grove (later part of Heath Field), at Chadwell Heath, in 1633 and 1755, (fn. 221) and for Wallers Coppice in Dagenham in 1634. (fn. 222) Licence to fell Wallers Coppice was refused, 'there not being sufficient covert near for the deer to shelter in'.
The Abbess of Barking's rights to receive fee deer from the forest and to hunt hares and foxes there have already been mentioned. Other freeholders had similar rights. (fn. 223) Among them was the lord of the manor of Marks, who had free warren by a royal grant of 1605, (fn. 224) and was still receiving fee deer as late as 1810. (fn. 225)
It seems unlikely that there was large-scale felling of timber trees in Hainault Forest during the Middle Ages. Barking Abbey, though owner of the forest, could not fell without a royal licence. Such licences were granted in 1251, 1291, 1319, and 1338. (fn. 226) The forest came into the hands of the Crown at a time when the navy was being expanded and Woolwich dockyard was being built. These developments were partly responsible for the rise to prominence of the port of Barking (fn. 227) and it is clear that Hainault provided much timber for shipbuilding and repair, especially in the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1662 Pepys saw many trees in the forest being felled for the navy. (fn. 228) In 1721 1,245 trees were cut for the navy and in 1725 2,075. (fn. 229) In 1794 470 loads of oak were felled in Hainault for the navy. (fn. 230) As already stated the commissioners who reported in 1793 on the future of Hainault recommended that it should continue to provide naval timber. By 1851, when disafforestation took place, the building of wooden warships was almost at an end. The profitable sale of timber after disafforestation has been mentioned above.
There were a number of official buildings in the forest, including the chapel in East Hainault Walk. (fn. 231) Chapel Lodge, sometimes called New Chapel Lodge, Chapel Hainault Lodge, or Lawn Farm, stood south of Hog Hill, in Dagenham. The farmhouse was built or rebuilt in 1609–10 by Robert Tressall, Surveyor General of Woods. (fn. 232) It was repaired by the Crown in 1680 and 1725. (fn. 233) The farm was a clearing in the forest, occupied by a forest keeper, and also used for sheltering horses during the fence month. In 1791 it consisted of 150 a., and was in the possession of the Lord Warden of the Forest. (fn. 234) At the disafforestation it passed to the Crown, the then Warden receiving compensation for its loss. (fn. 235) The farmhouse was demolished after 1875. (fn. 236)
Hog Hill House, now Hainault Lodge, stands on the top of the hill surrounded by hornbeams which recall the ancient forest. (fn. 237) This was an ancient inclosure of the Crown. The house was built or rebuilt about 1725 jointly by the Crown and the Lord Warden. In 1731 the Warden was licensed to cut two rides to the house. (fn. 238) Part of the building was demolished in 1772, the remainder being made into a forest keeper's house. (fn. 239) The present house, built after 1852, is an annexe of Oldchurch Hospital.
Dagenham was included in the manor of Barking, for which only one medieval court roll survives, that for 1440–1. (fn. 240) Courts baron, of which no records are known, were held for the manors of Gallance, in the 14th century, of Marks, from the 15th century, and of Cockermouth from the 16th. (fn. 241) Occasional churchwardens' accounts for 1673–81, and a few other notes relating to parish business, are contained in one of the early parish registers. (fn. 242) Vestry minutes survive from 1789 to 1836 (fn. 243) and later.
Between 1789 and 1836 attendance at vestry meetings, indicated by those signing the minutes, varied between seven and twelve. The vicar, or in his absence the curate, usually attended. In and after 1819 the vestry appointed a poor relief committee. A select vestry was set up in 1830. There were two churchwardens, two overseers of the poor and two surveyors of the highways. Until 1799 both churchwardens appear to have been elected by the vestry. In that year the vicar, Edward Chaplin, claimed the right to appoint one of the wardens. The vestry, though then accepting his candidate, questioned his right of nomination. In 1800 and 1801 the vicar's nominations were ignored, and the vestry continued to choose both wardens until 1827, when the vicar, T. L. Fanshawe, refused to accept one of the wardens elected in vestry and nominated another man. The matter was referred to the chancellor of the diocese who stated that the vicar could not legally invalidate an election in vestry, but that, in principle, one warden should be chosen by the vicar. This opinion was apparently accepted in future elections. (fn. 244)
The parish clerk, who was appointed by the vicar, was by the early 19th century performing duties approximating to those of a sexton. By that time there was also a vestry clerk, who conducted vestry business. (fn. 245) In 1832 the vestry appointed a salaried officer as assistant overseer and surveyor.
Separate rates were levied by the churchwardens, overseers, and surveyors. The surveyors' rates were low since their income came mainly from compositions for statute labour. In and after 1803 there were many complaints against the rating assessments of the parish, and in 1827 a new valuation was carried out.
In 1673–81 the parish appears to have owned almshouses which were maintained out of the church rate. (fn. 246) The origin, location and later history of these is not known. By 1780 there was a parish workhouse. (fn. 247) This was probably in Workhouse Lane, which was north of Church Elm Lane. (fn. 248) In 1810, however, a house called Wrights, in Church Elm Lane, which belonged to John Comyns's charity, was converted into the workhouse. (fn. 249) It continued to be used as such until 1836. A mistress of the workhouse (d. 1785) and a master (d. 1788) occur. (fn. 250) A new master was appointed in 1797, when the vestry approved a new scheme for managing the poor. There was accommodation in the house for about forty. In 1829 the average number of persons there was 23, and in 1831 25. Men were employed in the workhouse garden, or on local farms. Women did domestic work in the house. (fn. 251)
Outdoor relief, in cash or in kind, was given for a wide variety of purposes and on a fairly generous scale. It was not, however, indiscriminate. Some of the largest payments were clearly designed to enable their recipients to become self-supporting: seamen were helped to rejoin their ships and a man who had lost a hand was allowed money to set him up in business as a pedlar. (fn. 252) Unemployed men were sometimes put to repairing the parish roads, their wages being subsidized out of the poor rates. Pauper children were dealt with by apprenticeship. Between 1697 and 1816 116 were thus bound to parishioners of Dagenham. In the second half of this period many parishioners paid fines to avoid this duty. (fn. 253) Occasionally children were apprenticed to masters outside the parish. (fn. 254) Apprentices were assisted by Uphill's charity. (fn. 255)
Special measures were taken to cope with food shortages during the wars with France. In 1795 the vestry, urging strict economy in the use of bread, meat, and flour, granted a special rate to subsidize the sale of bread to the poor and opened a subscription list for the same purpose. Similar measures were taken in 1799 and 1800.
In 1783–5 the poor rate averaged £373. (fn. 256) The average for 1813–15 was £2,027. (fn. 257) The rate for 1831 was £1,366. (fn. 258) The proportionate increase seems large in comparison with those in some other parishes in south-west Essex for which figures have been examined, (fn. 259) but part of it was no doubt due to a fairly rapid rise in population at Dagenham.
In 1836 Dagenham became part of the Romford Poor Law Union. It became an urban district in 1926 and a municipal borough in 1938. (fn. 260) It is now (1963) divided into 7 wards, and has a council of 7 aldermen and 21 councillors. (fn. 261) Since 1928 there has been a Labour majority on the council.
In 1840 the Metropolitan Police District was extended to include Dagenham. (fn. 262)
The Barking Gas Co., founded in 1836, was authorized to supply Dagenham under an Act of 1867. (fn. 263) The mains had been extended to Chadwell Heath by 1904 and to Dagenham village by 1905–6. (fn. 264) In 1912 the Barking company was taken over by the Gas Light and Coke Co., which in 1948 became part of the North Thames Gas Board. (fn. 265)
The houses built during the 1920's on the Dagenham portion of the Becontree estate were at first fitted with gas but not with electricity. The County of London Electric Supply Co. did not extend its mains to Dagenham until 1934, although Dagenham had been within its statutory area since 1913. After 1934 electric light became available, though its use was limited by the high cost of installation. (fn. 266) In 1960 the Eastern Electricity Board began to lay new cables to provide power wiring to houses. This was expected to take five years. (fn. 267)
A drainage scheme for Dagenham village was carried out in 1905–6. (fn. 268) In 1924 Romford Rural District Council constructed new sewage works for Dagenham at Rainham Creek, in Hornchurch. These soon became inadequate, and in 1931–4 Dagenham Urban District Council built two main sewers and greatly extended the sewage works. (fn. 269) This works processes the sewage into a dry fertilizer called 'Dagfert', from the sale of which £1,500 was made in 1960. (fn. 270)
The South Essex Waterworks Co., established in 1861, was empowered to supply Dagenham, among other places. (fn. 271) The company's mains appear to have reached Dagenham about 1870 (fn. 272) though it was many years before the whole parish was supplied. (fn. 273) By 1914 the company had an artesian well in Dagenham. (fn. 274) Additional works were provided when the Becontree estate was built. (fn. 275)
Chadwell Heath cemetery, Whalebone Lane North, was opened in 1934 by the urban district council. (fn. 276) Eastbrook End cemetery, Dagenham Road, previously known as Ilford Park cemetery, was opened in 1914 by a private company. It was bought by the borough council in 1960. (fn. 277)
Dagenham has about 1,000 a. of public parks and open spaces. (fn. 278) In the extreme north of the borough is part of Hainault Forest. (fn. 279) St. Chad's Park, Chadwell Heath, originated in 1831, when the Crown granted 4 a. of the ancient heath as allotments for the poor. When the heath was inclosed in 1866, 7 a. of it, including the allotments of 1831, were preserved for public use. (fn. 280) In 1928 the urban district council bought 34 a. of Blackbush Farm to extend the park. The other ancient heath, Becontree Heath, was acquired by the council as a park in 1931. The council also owns Central park (formerly Eastbrook Farm), Valence park, (fn. 281) Old Dagenham park (formerly Leys Farm), and Goresbrook park. Parsloes park is maintained by the L.C.C.
A part-time fire-brigade was formed in 1904 by the parish council. In 1927, after some years of controversy between the old and the new residents of Dagenham, a full-time brigade was formed. (fn. 282) A new fire and ambulance station was built in 1937 in Rainham Road North, forming part of the lay-out for the projected Civic Centre. (fn. 283)
Most of the houses in Dagenham belong to the L.C.C., but the borough council has built some 4,500 houses or flats. About two-thirds of them, including the estates at Heath Park and Marks Gate, have been built since 1951. (fn. 284)
Rush Green Hospital, Dagenham Road, was opened in 1900, originally as an isolation hospital for Romford, Dagenham and Hornchurch. (fn. 285) It was greatly enlarged after the building of the Becontree estate. In 1939 it became a general hospital. The Dagenham Sanatorium, Rainham Road South, was opened in 1899 as a smallpox hospital for the county borough of West Ham, and later became a tuberculosis sanatorium. (fn. 286) When the Becontree estate was built a new general hospital was at first planned, but it was eventually decided to enlarge the King George V Hospital, Ilford, and to provide an outpatients department of that hospital (opened in 1931) in Five Elms Road, Dagenham. (fn. 287) This department is now (1963) a chest clinic.
Dagenham public libraries have been described in a previous volume. (fn. 288) They comprise a headquarters building, with a local history museum at Valence House, and 8 branches, including the Fanshawe library, opened in 1964 to replace a temporary building. (fn. 289)