Barking is a district and suburban area of East London and the administrative centre of the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. It is 10 miles (16.1 km) east of Charing Cross. It was an ancient parish in the county of Essex that straddled the River Roding. Its economic history is characterised by a shift from fishing and farming to market gardening and industrial development on the River Thames. The railway station opened in 1854 and has been served by the London Underground since 1908. As part of the suburban growth of London in the 20th century, Barking significantly expanded and increased in population, primarily due to the development of the London County Council estate at Becontree in the 1920s, and became a municipal borough in 1931, and part of Greater London in 1965. In addition to an extensive and fairly low-density residential area, the town centre forms a large retail and commercial district, currently a focus for regeneration. The former industrial lands to the south are being redeveloped as Barking Riverside.
The manor of Barking was the site of Barking Abbey, a nunnery founded in 666 by Eorcenwald, Bishop of London, destroyed by the Danes and reconstructed in 970 by King Edgar. The celebrated writer Marie de France may have been abbess of the nunnery in the late 12th century. At the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, Barking Abbey was demolished; the parish church of St Margaret, some walling and foundations are all that remain. The parish church is an example of Norman architecture; Captain James Cook married Elizabeth Batts of Shadwell there in 1762, and it is the burial place of many members of the Fanshawe family of Parsloes Manor.
A charter issued between 1175 and 1179 confirms the ancient market right. The market declined in the 18th century but has since been revived.
Boat building has a long history, being used for the repair of some royal ships of Henry VIII. In 1848, 5 shipwrights, 4 rope- and line-makers, 6 sail-makers and 4 mast-, pump-, and block-makers are listed in a local trade directory. Hewett & Co continued in boat building and repair until 1899. Other industries replaced the nautical trades, including jute spinning, paint and chemicals manufacture. By 1878 Daniel de Pass had opened the Barking Guano Works (later de Pass Fertilisers Ltd, part of Fisons) at Creekmouth. Creekmouth was also the site of the major Barking Power Station from 1925 until the 1970s, burning coal shipped in by river; the current station known as Barking is further east near Dagenham Dock. In the 20th century new industrial estates were established, and many local residents came to be employed in the car plant at Dagenham.
Barking Town Centre is being regenerated through a number of schemes. It is one of the most deprived areas of Barking. The Abbey and Gascoigne wards in the town centre are ranked 823rd and 554th respectively – within the 10% most deprived wards in the country.
The regeneration intends to achieve a more sustainable economy by investing in new quality retail outlets and creating a business centre. The regeneration aims to enable people to widen their employment prospects, mainly through creating new “retail and business accommodation”, which will provide employment and increase the income for both existing and new residents. The regeneration also aims to improve people’s skills. This is mainly achieved through the Barking Learning Centre; which aims to improve literacy, numeracy and other basic skills people may be lacking due to a previous lack of educational development. It currently acts as a borough-based learning facility. The centre was officially opened on 10 June 2008 by John Denham, Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills.
The town centre development intends to improve the quality and range of housing, aiming to create 4,000 new homes: 25% will be intermediate housing, affordable for local residents to buy. There will be 4,000 socially rented homes, making it easier for first-time buyers and people with low incomes to rent a property. To help make the development more sustainable, all private sector homes were to meet the Government’s decency standards by 2010
Plans for the new town square were unveiled in September 2007. The development is part of the Mayor of London’s 100 Public Spaces, and it was completed in 2008, designed by muf architecture/art and Allford Hall Monaghan and Morris. It won The European Prize for Urban Public Space.
The town is situated north of the A13 road and east of the River Roding near its confluence with the River Thames in east London. The South Woodford to Barking Relief Road (part of the A406 North Circular Road) runs through the Roding Valley, and access to the town centre is by its junction with the A124, which until the late 1920s was the main route to and from London. Barking station is a local transport hub and is served by the London Underground, London Overground, c2c and London Bus and East London Transit routes. The east of Barking is served by Upney Underground station. The East London Transit bus rapid transit has a station beside the Vicarage Field Shopping Centre. The western end of the Yiwu-London railway line from China to the UK is located in Barking at the DB Eurohub. It ran its first service in January 2017.