The ancient parish of Barking: Roman Catholicism and Protestant Nonconformity

A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1966.

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, 'The ancient parish of Barking: Roman Catholicism and Protestant Nonconformity', in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5, (London, 1966) pp. 231-233. British History Online [accessed 27 May 2024].

. "The ancient parish of Barking: Roman Catholicism and Protestant Nonconformity", in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5, (London, 1966) 231-233. British History Online, accessed May 27, 2024,

. "The ancient parish of Barking: Roman Catholicism and Protestant Nonconformity", A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5, (London, 1966). 231-233. British History Online. Web. 27 May 2024,

In this section


A letter from Clay Hall, dated 1584, refers to a thatcher, William Forest, who was said to have been converted by his master, Austin Belson. (fn. 1) In 1582–6 several Barking persons, including members of the Burr family, were presented at quarter sessions for recusancy. (fn. 2) The churchwarden's presentments of local recusants in 1640–1 included five members of the Stitch family. (fn. 3) Thomas Stitch of Newbury, charged with recusancy before the House of Lords in 1646, produced certificates of church attendance from the vicar. (fn. 4)


Churches founded before 1830.

The strength of Puritanism in Barking in the early 17th century has already been mentioned. (fn. 5) During the Civil War and Interregnum this showed itself not only by the appointment of lecturers and in schemes for parochial reorganization, but also in the formation of a Quaker meeting. There is even a hint, in 1655, of unitarian activities, the suppression of which was ordered by the government. (fn. 6) After the Restoration Edward Kighley, minister of the new chapel at Aldborough Hatch, appears to have been ejected from his cure, and in 1672 he was licensed as a Presbyterian to teach and preach in his house at Aldborough Hatch. (fn. 7) A Presbyterian congregation, said to number 200, existed at Aldborough Hatch in 1690–2, with John Gidleigh as minister. (fn. 8) Another nonconformist minister connected with Aldborough Hatch was Edward Whiston (d. 1697), who is said to have preached there twice every Sunday even when over 90. (fn. 9) There is also a reference to Samuel Hardy, who was 'chaplain to Esquire Heal at Overy Hatch' between 1683 and 1690. (fn. 10) Hardy's employer was presumably John Neale (d. 1698), owner through his wife of one of the moieties into which the Aldborough Hatch estate was divided after the death of Isabel Kighley, mother of the above Edward Kighley. (fn. 11) It seems probable, therefore, that from the Restoration until the end of the 17th century the Presbyterian congregation gathered at Aldborough Hatch house, under the patronage first of the Kighleys and then of the Neales. There is no evidence that it continued to meet after John Neale's death, when the estate passed to Richard Jory, but it is possible that the chapel at Aldborough Hatch house, which Jory's niece, Frances Bladen, later endowed for Anglican worship, had been used by the Presbyterians in the previous century. (fn. 12)

A Congregational meeting appears to have existed in Barking town for a short time in the late 17th century. Richard Taylor, who was minister there from before 1683 until his death in 1697, was said in 1690–2 to have a good estate of his own and to keep a coach. (fn. 13) He may have been identical with William Taylor, who in 1676 was said to have a Presbyterian conventicle at his house in Barking. (fn. 14) Barking is included in a list of dissenting meetings drawn up in 1715–16, (fn. 15) but no later reference has been found to this congregation.

The present Congregational church has no connexion with the 17th-century meeting. (fn. 16) In 1782 George Gold, minister of the Brickfields Congregational church in West Ham, began to hold services in a hired house at Barking. A church was formally constituted in 1785, and a meeting-house erected in the Broadway. The first minister was J. Kennett Parker (1804–18), in whose time 50 members joined the church. In 1829 the congregation was estimated at 350–400. (fn. 17) Since Parker's time there has usually been a settled minister and vacancies have been short. The church, which had been enlarged in 1805, was rebuilt in 1824–6, during the pastorate of George Corney (1836–60). Joseph Smedmore (1860–79) promoted the erection of a new and larger building, opened in 1864, and the addition of new schoolrooms in 1877. After the First World War, when many residents in the older part of Barking were moving into the new houses north of the railway, the church sold its building in the Broadway, and in 1929 erected a new one in Upney Lane. (fn. 18) The former church in the Broadway was a ragstone building on the site of the present Market Hall. (fn. 19)

The London Itinerant Society opened a chapel at Barkingside in 1818; this still existed in 1847; it may have been identical with the Independent chapel mentioned in 1870. (fn. 20) In 1829 the congregation was said to number 80–100, and the pulpit was supplied by students from Homerton College (then in Mdx.). (fn. 21)

A Quaker meeting was formed at Barking about 1658. (fn. 22) In 1664 Edmund Blatt of Barking, who was probably a Friend, was presented in the archdeacon's court for creating a disturbance during service time in the parish church. (fn. 23) In 1672 the Friends bought ½ a. land in North Street for a burial ground, and in 1673 paid £87 for part of a house on the opposite side of the road called Tate's Place, which was converted into a meeting-house. (fn. 24) A list of conventicles compiled in 1676 gives the names of several persons, all London tradesmen, who were apparently connected with this meeting. (fn. 25) Barking was at first part of the Ham and Waltham Monthly Meeting, and from 1691 of the Barking Monthly Meeting. (fn. 26) In 1729 the Barking and Ratcliff Monthly Meetings were amalgamated, but this arrangement lasted only until 1732, when Barking became again a separate monthly meeting. (fn. 27) By 1815 union with Ratcliff was again being discussed and this was effected in 1821. (fn. 28)

Although the meeting at Barking was never very strong, the meeting-house was partly rebuilt in 1758 at a cost of £233, of which £77 was provided by local members, and the balance by other Friends. (fn. 29) In 1766 the Quakers were the largest dissenting group in Barking, (fn. 30) but after 1780 they lost ground. Here, as elsewhere, one cause of the decline was probably their refusal to allow their members to 'marry out'; a number were lost in this way. (fn. 31) In 1830 the meeting was closed. (fn. 32) The meeting-house and burial ground were retained by the Friends, but for the next 60 years were used only on special occasions. (fn. 33)

Prominent among early members of Barking meeting was William Mead (1628–1713), owner of Gooshays in Havering, and a friend of George Fox, who left £100 in trust for the meeting. (fn. 34) Another member who was also a landowner was John Fowke (d. 1691) of Claybury. (fn. 35) Richard Claridge, a Friend whose refusal to pay church rates, and consequent sufferings, are described in his biography, was a schoolmaster at Barking in 1702–7. (fn. 36) He also refused to serve parish office, but James Hawkins, another Quaker, became a churchwarden in 1734. (fn. 37)

The meeting was revived in 1891, by the joint efforts of the Bedford Institute Association and the Home Service Mission, and extensive social work was undertaken under the direction of H. Steele. In 1908 a new meeting-house was built in the 'Queen Anne' style of the period. It is used as a social centre under the Bedford Institute Association as well as for Friends' meetings for worship. (fn. 38)

A writer of c. 1860 states that the meeting-house 'appears to have been built in James I's time'. (fn. 39) This could be about right. In the entrance hall of the present building are two stone fireplaces, and a small room on the ground floor ('the oak parlour') is panelled in oak. These features, taken from the old house, date from the 16th or early 17th century. Drawings made in 1905 show an irregular building with a Georgian front. (fn. 40) It is thus clear that the house, though partly rebuilt in 1758, retained some of the earlier structure. In the present meeting room is preserved the elders' bench from the old house. There, and also in the oak parlour, is a small library, relating mainly to Quaker history and worship, and including some 17th-century items. Opposite the meeting-house is the cemetery, where are buried, among others, William Mead and Elizabeth Fry (1780–1845).

Between 1693 and 1711 there were Baptists at Barking, meeting in houses licensed for the purpose. (fn. 41) No later reference has been found to this congregation. In 1821 a licence was issued for a Baptist meeting in Fisher Street (now Abbey Road), (fn. 42) but no permanent church was formed at that time. In 1796 George Evans, minister of the Baptist chapel in Brunswick Street, Mile End, began open-air preaching at Ilford. (fn. 43) This was followed up in 1799 by John Sandys from Harlow, who held services in hired rooms. Soon after that Thomas Pratt, coal and timber merchant, gave land behind Ilford Broadway, a meeting-house was built, and in 1801 a church was formally constituted on strongly Calvinistic principles. Pratt was one of the leaders of the church until his death in 1833. The first pastor was John Hutchings (1802–7). Membership increased rapidly, and in 1803–4 a new chapel was built on leasehold land in High Road; a schoolroom was added three years later. James Smith, pastor 1808–34, worked vigorously, not only at Ilford, but at Chadwell Heath and other neighbouring places. His preaching so much impressed Miss Drusilla Davies of Walthamstow that she gave £1,000 stock to augment the minister's stipend. (fn. 44) In 1829 the congregation of the church was estimated to average 250. (fn. 45) The success of the Baptists at this time is said to have stimulated the Anglicans to build St. Mary's church. (fn. 46) In 1835, during the ministry of James Cubitt, the church split over the question of Open Communion, some members seceding to form a 'cave of Adullam' in Ilford Lane. In 1836 the church decided on the Open Communion and this caused another schism, a minority seceding to form Ebenezer Strict Baptist church. (fn. 47) Cubitt was succeeded by E. R. Hammond, during whose ministry the members who still believed in the Closed Communion tried to get their way by using Miss Davies's endowment as a lever. In 1840 Hammond was told that unless he signed the Calvinistic articles of 1801 he would not receive the income from the endowment. He resigned, the church adopted the Closed Communion, and a third group of schismatics began to hold meetings at Turrett Place, Roden Street.

James Woodward, pastor 1840–70, brought back the Adullamites, and the members at Turrett Place, promoted temperance and social work and started a mission church at Horns Village. In 1851 it was agreed that Baptists belonging to Open Communion churches should be admitted to communion, and shortly before 1880 Open Communion was fully restored. During the ministry of James Young (1880–91) the freehold of the site was purchased (1882), the chapel was enlarged and renovated (1887) and a day school (fn. 48) started. Under James Parker (1892–1903) the High Road Baptists promoted the formation of new churches at Seven Kings and Cranbrook Road (1899), (fn. 49) and later gave support to the Kingston Road Tabernacle. (fn. 50) In 1897 they built a Gospel Hall on the corner of St. Mary's Road and Green Lane. In 1907, soon after Frank H. Smith (1903–47) became minister, a larger church was built on a new site in High Road. In 1921 a recreation ground of 3 a. was bought in Horns Road, and in 1936 the Gospel Hall was rebuilt as a youth institute. New churches were promoted in Ashurst Drive (1929), Claybury Park (1936), and Hainault (1948). (fn. 51) The membership of the church, which in 1825–30 was about 90, was affected by the controversies of the next decade, and remained below that figure until the expansion of Ilford, when it rose to a peak of over 500 in the 1920's. (fn. 52)

The Moravian, John Cennick, is said to have caused a religious revival at Barking about 1750, (fn. 53) but this does not appear to have resulted in the formation of a church.

Methodism was brought to Barking about 1781, when Thomas Coke and others preached in the open air. (fn. 54) John Wesley visited the town in 1783 and 1784. (fn. 55) The evangelists met strong opposition, which seems to have reached its peak in 1785, when the parish vestry referred to disorders arising from the increasing influence of the Methodists, and when the curate was suspended for his ineffective opposition to them. (fn. 56) The tide of hostility is said to have turned in favour of the Methodists after an inn-keeper had mounted a horse-block and parodied one of their preachers; he announced that he would be there next Sunday, but by then he was dead and buried. John Childs, a Soho shoemaker who had regularly preached at Barking, sent six of his workmen to live and preach there, two cottages were obtained from a Quaker, and by 1791 Barking had been placed on the plan of the City Road or First London circuit. (fn. 57) The first chapel was a wooden building in Bull Street, the western end of the present East Street. It was licensed in 1797 (fn. 58) but was in use before that. (fn. 59) About 1800 the freehold was purchased for the society by friends in London. The membership of the church, which at first numbered 20, declined to 11 in 1805 and later to 3. By 1825, however, there was a Sunday school with 59 children and it was presumably from this that the Wesleyan day school later developed. (fn. 60)

Barking became part of the Spitalfields circuit, formed in 1824. In 1829 it was under the Romford minister, and had 53 members and 300 adherents. (fn. 61) In 1833 a separate Romford circuit was formed, and in 1848 this became the Barking and Romford circuit, with a minister stationed at Barking. (fn. 62) The chapel was affected by the Wesleyan Reform controversy. In 1851 a group lead by James Smith took out a licence for a room, also in Bull Street, and this was no doubt the society listed on the 1852 plan of the 3rd London Wesleyan (Reform) circuit. (fn. 63) No later reference has been found to the Reformers at Barking. The original Wesleyan society continued, and in 1869 built a new chapel. (fn. 64) A separate Romford circuit was formed in 1876; Barking continued as the head of a circuit until 1904, when it was transferred to the East Ham Mission. (fn. 65) In 1928 a Central Hall was built on the opposite (north) side of East Street, at a cost of £53,000, of which £30,000 was given by Joseph Rank. The old chapel was demolished and the Capitol cinema built on the site. (fn. 66) Most of the Central Hall was destroyed by a rocket during the Second World War. Services were held in a temporary hall until 1958, when a new church was built at the rear of the site, with a frontage on London Road. The East Street frontage is now (1963) occupied by a supermarket.

In 1817 a licence was taken out by H. E. Webster for a Wesleyan meeting at Ilford. (fn. 67) In 1829 there was a Wesleyan society there, with 15 members; it was in the Spitalfields circuit, under the Romford minister. (fn. 68) In 1844–7 there was a chapel at the corner of Back (now Roden) Street and Barking (now Ilford) Lane. (fn. 69) In 1851 the society, still small, was meeting in a chapel in Ley Street. (fn. 70) About this time it was seriously weakened by the Wesleyan Reform struggle. (fn. 71) The Reformers had a society in Ilford in 1852, and this was probably the origin of the United Methodist Free Church there. (fn. 72) The old society was still in existence in 1863, when it was in the Barking and Romford circuit. (fn. 73) It died out soon after that, and certainly before 1878. (fn. 74)


  • 1. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1581–90, 203.
  • 2. E.R.O., Q/SR 80/57, 81/22, 92/36, 97/19.
  • 3. E.R.O., Q/SBa 3.
  • 4. Hist. MSS. Com. 6th Rep. App. 146.
  • 5. See p. 225.
  • 6. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1655, p. 372.
  • 7. G. L. Turner, Original Recs. of Early Nonconformity, i. 462, 526; ii. 930; T. W. Davids, Nonconformity in Essex, 339–40; A. G. Matthews, Calamy Revised, 307.
  • 8. A. Gordon, Freedom after ejection, 38, 270.
  • 9. Matthews, Calamy Revised, 523.
  • 10. Ibid. 248.
  • 11. See pp. 192, 230.
  • 12. See ibid.
  • 13. A. Gordon, Freedom after ejection, 38, 365; Dr. Williams's Libr., Wilson MSS., No. F, vol. ii, f. 61; Trans. Cong. Hist. Soc. vii. 67.
  • 14. Hist. MSS. Com. 11th Rep. App. VII, 16.
  • 15. Dr. Williams's Libr., Thompson MSS.
  • 16. The following account is taken mainly from a MS. history of the church, written about 1900, in the keeping of the present minister. See also S. Wilding, 'The Congregational Church at Barking'. Trans. Cong. Hist. Soc. vii. 67f.; Dr. Williams's Libr., Wilson MSS. No. F, vol. ii, f. 61.
  • 17. E.R.O., Q/CR 3/2.
  • 18. Inf. from Mr. P. A. Challis, church secretary.
  • 19. Cong. Year Bk. 1864, p. 274.
  • 20. Trans. Cong. Hist. Soc. vii. 323; Kelly's Dir. Essex, 1870.
  • 21. E.R.O., Q/CR 3/2.
  • 22. Jnl. Friends' Hist. Soc. xxxvi. 57.
  • 23. E.R. lvii. 60.
  • 24. W. Beck and T. F. Ball, London Friends' Meetings, 274–5.
  • 25. Hist. MSS. Com. 11th Rep. App. VII, p. 16.
  • 26. Friends' Ho., Cat. of Recs.
  • 27. Beck and Ball, London Friends' Mtgs. 278.
  • 28. Friends' Ho., Barking M.M. mins. 9th mo. 1815, 1st to 8th mo. 1821; Jnl. Friends' Hist. Soc. iv. 24.
  • 29. Barking M.M. mins., 2nd and 3rd mo. 1759.
  • 30. Guildhall MS. 9558, f. 18.
  • 31. E.g. Barking M.M. mins. 12th mo. 1783, 4th and 5th mo. 1792.
  • 32. Ibid. 4th mo. 1830.
  • 33. Ibid. 9th mo. 1831, 8th mo. 1833.
  • 34. For Mead see H. J. Mead, William Mead and his relations. For his will see Jnl. Friends' Hist. Soc. iii. 42.
  • 35. Jnl. Friends' Hist. Soc. iii. 153; and see p. 194.
  • 36. J. Besse, The Life of Richard Claridge, 140–59.
  • 37. E.R.O., D/AEM 9.
  • 38. Bedford Inst. Assoc. Rep. 1952–3, p. 9; inf. from: the librarian, Friends' Ho., London; the clerk to Ratcliff and Barking M.M.; and the late Mr. H. Steele.
  • 39. E.R.O., Sage Coll., Hist. Barking &c. ii. 433a.
  • 40. E.R.O., Bamford Drawings, Barking: two drawings of exterior of house, and one of interior of panelled room; the exterior front view is pl. f.p. 123 in the present volume.
  • 41. Gen. Reg. Off., Rtns. Noncf. Mtgs. before 1852: licences 1693, 1700, 1702; E.R.O., Q/SBb 50 (1710–11).
  • 42. Gen. Reg. Off., Rtns. Noncf. Mtgs., 20 Oct. 1821.
  • 43. Following account from: G. W. Barnes, Centenary Hist. Ilford Bapt. Ch.; F. H. Smith, Story of Ilford (High Road) Bapt. Ch. 1801–1951; E.R.O., T/Z 8 (Whitley MSS.).
  • 44. Char. Com. File 65829.
  • 45. E.R.O., Q/CR 3/2.
  • 46. See p. 257.
  • 47. See p. 260.
  • 48. See p. 265.
  • 49. See p. 260.
  • 50. See p. 260.
  • 51. See pp. 260–61.
  • 52. Bapt. Year Bks. 1855 f.
  • 53. E.R. lxiii. 86.
  • 54. Unless otherwise stated the following account of the origins of Methodism in Barking is taken from an article in an old bazaar handbook, written by Arthur Gilderson, and communicated by the Revd. B. Harvey. The article was based on the MS. account of Mr. Jackson of Leicester, son of one of the six sent by John Childs from Soho.
  • 55. Jn. Wesley's Jnl. ed. Curnock, vi. 391d, 471.
  • 56. See above, p. 226.
  • 57. Circuit Plan, Jan.–Apr. 1791, in vestry of Wesley's Chapel, City Rd.
  • 58. Gen. Reg. Off., Rtns. Noncf. Mtgs., 8 Apr. 1797; original licence in Barking Meth. ch.
  • 59. Lysons, London, iv. 100.
  • 60. See p. 247.
  • 61. Hall's Circuits and Ministers, 178; E.R.O., Q/CR 3/2.
  • 62. Hall's Circuits and Ministers, 256, 17; Mins. Wesleyan Conf. 1848, p. 19; ibid. 1849, p. 186.
  • 63. Gen. Reg. Off., Rtns. Noncf. Mtgs., 7 Apr. 1851; Meth. Arch. Dept., Circuit Plan, 1852.
  • 64. Lond. Gaz. 10 Dec. 1869, p. 6998; Kelly's Dir. Essex, 1906.
  • 65. Mins. Wesleyan Conf. 1904, p. 175.
  • 66. Methodist Recorder, 16 Feb. 1928; Kelly's Dir. Essex, 1929; personal knowledge.
  • 67. Gen. Reg. Off., Rtns. Noncf. Mtgs. bef. 1852.
  • 68. E.R.O., Q/CR 3/2; Hall's Circuits and Ministers, 178.
  • 69. E.R.O., D/CT 18.
  • 70. H.O. 129/7/197.
  • 71. Methodist Recorder, 27 Oct. 1904.
  • 72. See p. 262.
  • 73. E. Barrett, The Lamp still Burns, 8.
  • 74. Ibid.; Kelly's Dir. Essex, 1870; cf. 1878.