Village life

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Creekmouth Village was a unique, largely forgotten hamlet at the southern end of what is now River Road in Barking, Essex, where the River Roding meets the mighty Thames.

Early records show the area was originally referred to as Barking Creek, later becoming Creek’s Mouth, Creeksmouth and, finally, Creekmouth.

The mention of Creekmouth Village to most local people will bring forth the response, “Never heard of it! Where is it?” This is lamentable, considering there is such a wealth of history and memories surrounding the old village.

The village, consisting of 50 houses, was built, tucked under the riverbank, in the mid 1840s -50s by the internationally renowned agriculturist and industrialist, Sir John Bennet Lawes. It was to house, primarily, his workforce at Lawes Factory, manufacturing chemicals and fertilisers, although many of the tenants worked on the river as lightermen and watermen.

The cottages were built in two rows with a muddy ‘backways’ between them. At each end were slightly larger cottages for the factory managers. Nearby were two gunpowder magazines, complete with cottages for the magazine keepers. One was called Magazine Cottage and, for a time, the other was known as Kames Cottage. Both stood in their own bit of ground. It is unknown where the name ‘Kames’ materialised. The first, stone-built magazine was built in the 1700s, followed a century later by the second, brick built magazine.

Despite the village being built, under the direction of, Mr John Bennet Lawes, there appears to be no plans or documents showing the outline of the village. It is interesting that the census of 1841 shows that six families were living at Creeksmouth but by the 1861 census – following the building of Mr Bennet Lawes’ factory and village, there was 1-6 Factory Cottages, followed by 1-6 Creekmouth Cottages and, finally, the rest of the the cottages are referred to: “Creeks Mouth” with no other numbers. It makes me wonder, as the cottages have 3 distinctive styles, they were actually built at different times, beginning at or around 1850.

Three of the cottages, facing the river, were converted into the first Creekmouth School, complete with large hall and two classrooms. This school closed in 1892 when a new School Board was set up in Barking. The children were sent on a two mile, muddy walk to Barking, to attend Westbury School.

The vicar of Barking approached Mr Lawes for permission for the church to take over the use of the now empty building. Mr Lawes readily agreed and the former school was transformed into the Creekmouth Mission Church. Dividing walls were knocked down, alter rails and choir stalls were added, classroom windows replaced with lancet windows and a bell installed. All this work was funded by Messrs Lawes & Co., and, on completion, the Lord Bishop of Colchester held a service of dedication.

The village also had its own shop and a public house, The Crooked Billet, first mentioned in historical records in 1719.

The village was cut off from the rest of Barking by extensive marshland. To get into town the villagers had to trudge two miles via a long, muddy lane. Part of the lane was subject to a toll and many of the villagers preferred to make their journey to Barking, for their supplies, by rowing boat. They would then have to wait for the tide to turn before rowing home again. Those villagers unfortunate enough not to have access to a boat would avoid the toll by walking along the often wet & slippery, narrow riverbank, to town. In dark, wet or foggy nights this exercise would become extremely dangerous.

A letter to the Essex Times, dated January 1870 read:

“….allow me to call the attention to the authorities to the filthy state of the footpath to Creek’s Mouth. Often women and children may be seen wending their way to the town, covered in mud, scarcely able to make headway…”.