Above: The only part of the abbey to remain standing is the 15th century Curfew Tower. To the left of this view can be glimpsed the nearby parish church of St Margaret.
Barking Abbey was a large religious house in the village of Barking which is now in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. Although this location is well outside our normal remit of Inner London, it is worth a mention for two reasons. In the first place we are really short of good visual aids when it comes to religious houses in the general London area, so this is a chance to examine the remains without having to travel too far. In the second place, there is a City church called All Hallows, Barking, which is quite close to the Tower of London, and that church has a connection with the abbey.
Barking Abbey was founded about AD 666 by St Erkenwald, with his sister, St Ethelburga, as its first abbess. Later abbesses included three queens – Alftrudis, widow of Edgar; Maud, wife of Henry I; and Matilda, wife of Stephen. The abbey was a Benedictine order, situated was in what was then a tiny village called Barking. The abbey stood near the parish church of St Margaret.
Above: The large open space in which the foundations of the ancient walls of the abbey can still be seen.
When the abbey was dissolved, in 1539. it was the greatest Benedictine nunnery in England. The abbey was dismantled and the materials used for royal properties at Dartford and Greenwich. The only part still standing is the 15th century Curfew Tower. The 12th century stone rood screen from the abbey church is in the chapel over the gateway leading into into the nearby St Margaret’s church. The site of the abbey is in Broadway, Barking, a road running parallel to Abbey Road. Both roads run south off London Road, to the SW of Barking underground station.
A large community like the abbey would have needed a good water supply. A look at the map will reveal that the abbey precinct was on the east side of the River Roding.
Above: The position of Barking Abbey shown on a Bing map.
While talking about Barking Abbey, it should be mentioned that there was another important religious house to the east of Inner London — this one was is in the London Borough of Newham — called St Mary Stratford Langthorne Abbey. There is an article in this series relating to Stratford Langthorne — under the title ‘Abbey Road DLR Station’. Barking Abbey should not be confused with that of St Mary Stratford Langthorne.
Finally, the reason why the City church of All Hallows, Barking, is so-called is because it was first established in AD 675 by the Anglo-Saxon Abbey at Barking. Several City churches were founded by religious houses far away from the City of London and were, in general, maintained by them until at least the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries.