A Brief History

‘It may be that with the growing complexity of life, and the growth in size of every organisation with which we have to deal nowadays, not to mention the fact that so much of the past is visibly perishing before our eyes, more and more people have been led to take an interest in a particular place and wish to find out all about it.’

— W. G. Hoskins, Local History in England (Longman, 1972)

I’m Steve, I’m 22 and have recently graduated from King’s College London with an MA in Medieval History. I am also an artist/illustrator. Working on the Open Estate project is allowing me to bring together my two loves – learning about history and making things! To do this alongside the wonderful people of the Gascoigne Estate has so far been a privilege, and I’m looking forward to continuing to learn about the area and it’s rich history.

Early History               

Throughout the 1700s, Sir Crisp Gascoyne, Lord Mayor of London (1700-1761) and his family owned the area of land now known as the Gascoigne Estate. At this time the estates were farmed to provide for the families who owned them. Sir Crisp’s grandson Bamber sold most of the estate to William Glenny, and the remainder of the estate passed on to James Cecil, Marques of Salisbury. It then passed to Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, the prime minister. By the late 1880s, the estate was beginning to be sold off for building works.[1]

From the earliest records, dating to around the eleventh century, Barking had predominantly provided employment through the fishing industry. According to the census over 1300 people were employed as part of the fishing industry by 1851: however, due to the construction of railways between London and further afield fishing sites, Barking’s importance as a fishing town declined, and by 1870 only three smacks operated there.[2] At this point various industrialists built factories in the area, and the lands of the estate were used to house the workers of these factories. Like much of the outer cities of England, rows of small terraced houses without amenities were built to house them. The industries that were established throughout this period included a jute-spinning factory, a soap factory, a tar distillery, and Lawes Chemical Co., manufacturer of agricultural chemical fertilisers.[3] Due to this expansion of housing and job opportunities in the area, between the 1860s and 1921, the population of this new southern district of Barking exploded, expanding from just over 5000 people to over 35000.[4] Many of the people who came to Barking came from Scotland, as workers left the shrinking agricultural economy to find work in the expanding urban centres in England.[5]

The Gascoigne Estate

Plans to tear down and rebuild the area between Abbey Road and King Edward’s Road surfaced in the 1950s. The now sixty-year-old terraced houses, lacking modern amenities, were considered untenable when compared against modern housing. There was a nationwide initiative to expand the housing market after the wartime destruction of many urban settlements, and this was accompanied by the state’s desire to bring more industrial jobs to so called ‘developing areas’. However, according to a report in the Barking and Dagenham Post published in 2013, the move to rebuild the area caused a rift between residents: two camps emerged – the council tenants and those who owned their homes. Those residents who had bought their homes in the preceding years were angry that these houses had been classified as ‘slums’, believing this allowed the council to lower the cost of the properties, and thus their compensation for moving. The other party, the council tenants, felt that the private owners argument would stop them from accessing their right to modern living conditions. In the end, a vote was held amongst residents, with a slim majority allowing the move to regenerate the area to go ahead.[6]

Throughout the 1960s, the area was cleared and rebuilt gradually, with high-rise towers and apartment blocks replacing the terraces. The process took around ten years, and was heralded as a move into the modern era. However, the promised good life of modern living in high-rise towers had various pitfalls. The area gained notoriety for high crime rates and poor integration of new communities and ethnic minority groups. As the BBC’s Domesday Book of 1986 recorded:

It is a large housing development built in the 1960s to replace poor housing. Most of the buildings are 3-storeys, but there are three 17-storey tower blocks and five 12-storey blocks. St. Ann's has 228 flats. Garage blocks      were built but they are being taken down now because of vandals and glue-sniffers.[7]

The estate received its worst press throughout the 1990s and 2000s, highlighted by the BBC’s Panorama series entitled ‘Tackling Tomorrow’s Tearaways’ which followed the struggles of young people on the now notorious estate in 2004.[8]In 1999, the estate received an index score of 11.1 for deprivation, placing it within the top 500 deprived places in the country. This statistic included low literacy, numeracy and employment levels.[9] Research by the Australian Institute of Criminology found that, ‘crime-prone neighbourhoods entail rather high levels of economic related disadvantage or stress, as a result of below average income per household and high rates of unemployment’:[10]The closing of many factories in the 1960s combined with an influx of people into the area after the war meant that opportunities for work became scarcer, which led to these wider social issues in this part of Barking.

Due to the high crime rates, Gascoigne was targeted as an area of high risk factor for young people entering the criminal justice system in later life. The local police team recognizes the improvements made over the last 8 years, with initiatives such as strengthening local partnerships and maintaining a visible presence on duty key to these changes.

At the time of writing, the gang related problems have been relatively quiet compared to previous years. The nature of the estate ensures that we will never permanently solve this problem, but it has improved. The long battle with drug consumption and drug related crime continues… We know from experience that if we have been visible throughout a shift then the crime falls. Crime generally goes up when we are off duty or stuck inside an office.

PC Scott Mahoney, Gascoigne Ward, 2015

An innovative interventionist approach was thus taken by the authorities, which included a Youth Inclusion Programme (YIP) under the New Labour government, aimed at improving the lives of particularly vulnerable children and their families. This work led to the formation of Baseline, a music-orientated project, which along with other initiatives, led to an overall reduction in youth reoffending in the area, and heralded the YIP as an overall success.

They were very 'hands-on' and had the respect of the kids that attended the venue. Our relationship with Baseline was initially difficult, but we worked with the staff to build up trust. When Baseline left the estate it left a hole that, in my opinion, was never filled. It was previously located in the perfect place for troubled local kids to attend.
PC Scott Mahoney, Gascoigne Ward, 2015

Second Regeneration: The Future

Since it’s low point in the late 1990s, various residents groups have been calling for the estate to be knocked down, stating that some of the housing had degraded into an unliveable state. In 1999, the three tallest tower blocks were torn down. In 2002, some residents of the estate signed a petition to have the area demolished and rebuilt, after the council had initially opted to upgrade some of the accommodation instead.  Now, thirteen years later, the wishes of these tenants seem to have been granted: regeneration of the estate began in late 2014. The project is projected to take until 2024. It will see the area completely taken apart and redesigned, and will include the building of a new medical centre, community centre, primary and secondary schools, flexible office space and community garden spaces. This work is being co-led by East Thames Housing and Barking and Dagenham Council.

[1]W R Powell ed., 'The ancient parish of Barking: Manors,' in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5 (London: Victoria County History, 1966), pp. 190-214, accessed October 1, 2015, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol5/pp190-214

[2] 'The borough of Barking,' in Ibid, pp.  235-248, accessed December 3rd, 2015, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol5/pp235-248



[5]Educational Scotland, ‘The effects of migration and empire on Scotland to 1939’ http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/higherscottishhistory/migrationandempire/effectsofmigrationandempire/index.asp

[6]Tony Richards, ‘Post memories: Row over plans for Gascoigne tower blocks in 1950s’, The Barking and Dagenham Post (May 2013), accessed October 1st, 2015, http://www.barkinganddagenhampost.co.uk/news/heritage/post_memories_row_over_plans_for_gascoigne_tower_blocks_in_1950s_1_2210386

[7]Domesday Book, BBC (1986) accessed December 4th 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/domesday/dblock/GB-544000-183000/page/10

[8]A transcript of this episode can be found at http://news.bbc.co.uk/nol/shared/spl/hi/programmes/panorama/transcripts/tacklingtomorrowstearaways.txt

9A Bold New beginning for Barking: SRB Challenge Fund Round 5 (1999) pp. 9-11