Barking Abbey

“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!”
– Genesis 28:16

Citing from Bishop John Inge’s book A Christian Theology of Place, the Right Reverend Dr Trevor Mwamba opens his Barking Abbey guidebook welcome letter with “The place in which we stand is often taken for granted and ignored in our increasingly mobile society.” Over recent years, the demographics of London areas, particularly the East End, has rapidly evolved from locally-born people to a population made up of people from all areas of the world. As a result, the history of the towns and cities of Britain are gradually fading into obscurity. An example of this can be found in the ethnically diverse town Barking; once home to one of the most important nunneries in the country, Barking Abbey, the commercialised town has almost forgotten its former roots.

Situated at one end of Barking Town Centre Market, St Margaret’s Church, dedicated to Saint Margaret of Antioch (289-304 AD), was originally built within the grounds of the former royal monastery, Barking Abbey. It originated as a chapel for the local people, its oldest section being the chancel built during the reign of King John (1166-1216), eventually becoming a parish church in approximately 1300. The abbey itself, however, is thought to have been founded as far back as 666 AD.

Most of what remains of Barking Abbey is the buried layout on the north side of the church, now named Abbey Green, some of which has been reconstructed. Fortunately, one part of the abbey survives intact. This is the Curfew Tower that was once one of the abbey’s three gateways. Built in 1460, many repairs have kept the Grade II listed building standing, a remnant of the past. On the upper storey, a small chapel can be accessed up a set of stairs, although, this is not used so often nowadays.

Historically, Barking was once a fishing and farming area, as remembered in many of St Margaret’s stained glass windows. A window on the east side, however, depicts a traditional Crucifixion scene flanked by two saints, St Cedd (right) and St Erkenwald, the founder of the abbey (left). In the 7th century, Erkenwald founded two monasteries, one for himself in Surrey and one for his sister Ethelburga. These abbeys were intended to re-introduce Christianity to the British Isles. Whilst Christianity had been made legal during Roman rule in the 4th century, it had begun to fall out of favour.

Ethelburga, later Saint Ethelburga, became the first abbess of Barking Abbey with the intention “to be a mother and nurse of devout women.” (Bede, 731 AD) Ethelburga was a holy, upright woman, constantly concerned for those under her care. Later, she founded the church All Hallows Berkyngechirche (now known as All Hallows by the Tower) in 675.

Barking Abbey was initially a double monastery of nuns and monks who shared the church whilst living in separate quarters. Later, in the 10th century, all double houses were reformed into single-sex abbeys. For the next couple of centuries, many abbesses were appointed by the kings of England, for instance, Matilda of Boulogne (1105-52), wife of King Stephen (c1092-1154), and King Henry II’s (1133-89) daughter, Matilda (1156-89). This ended in 1214 when the Pope insisted the nuns should be allowed to elect their own abbess.

After the Norman conquest in 1066, William the Conqueror (1028-87) took refuge at Barking Abbey whilst he constructed the Tower of London. It is thought the king may have fled here after unfortunate misunderstandings during his coronation. Later, the abbey also became the holding place of Elizabeth de Clare (1295-1360), who was forced to surrender some of her property to Hugh Despenser the younger (1286-1326).

As with all abbeys, monasteries and so forth, Barking Abbey succumbed to Henry VIII’s (1419-1547) Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539. Following this, the abbey was gradually demolished until only the Curfew Tower remained standing.  A lot of the building’s material was reused, for instance, to repair the roof of Greenwich Palace and to construct a new manor for the king in Dartford, Kent.

ees11608Due to its almost complete destruction, it is not altogether certain what the layout of Barking Abbey was, however, many rooms have been identified during recent excavations. The abbey’s main church sat at the heart of the site, its size similar to a cathedral: 103 x 30.5 metres (337 x 100 feet).

As well as the church, various chapels would have been found in the abbey, including the one that has been developed into St Margaret’s Church. Three grave slabs, attributed to the abbesses St Etherlburga, St Hildelith and St Wulfhilda, mark the position of the Saints Chapel. Other rooms, including cloisters, parlours, dormitories and the Reredorter have also been identified.

There are so many buildings that have not been excavated and have since been built upon. It is thought that the land belonging to Barking Abbey stretched as far as the River Roding, a tributary of the Thames, as shown in a drawing by Sir Charles Nicholson (1867-1949) based upon an original sketch produced in 1500.

St Margaret’s Church was fortunate to survive the Reformation and remained a parish church when the abbey was dissolved. Throughout the years, changes have been made to the building, including the plastering of the ceilings during the 18th century. The building was grade I listed in 1954 and has since been extended to house an office and refectory.

45150956_250210462310684_4637149440711327744_nWithin the church are a number of items that help to preserve the memory of the abbey and the history of the land and building since the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Remnants of floor tiles from the original abbey are conserved in a glass display cabinet. From these, the quality and appearance of the masonry can be appreciated.

Other discoveries are also kept in this case, for instance, a Breeches Bible, which predates the King James Bible by approximately 50 years. This was a variation of the primary Bible of 16th-century English Protestantism and would have been read and used by people such as Shakespeare (1565-1616) and Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658). It was the first mechanically printed, mass-produced Bible in England, thus the first made available to the general public. The reason for its name, Breeches Bible, is the wording of verse 7 in Genesis 3:

“Then the eies of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed figge tree leaves together, and made themselves breeches.”

The King James Bible, printed in 1611, changed the word “breeches” to “apron”.

dsc00485Also within the display cabinet are examples of more recent histories and gifts given to the church. One of these is a book of paintings presented in 2004 by local artist George Emmerson. For a decade, Emmerson had been producing watercolours of St Margaret’s Church, the Curfew Tower and grounds, of which this was the final result. He gave it as a gift to the church as a means of saying thank you for the kindness and help shown to him and it “is a tribute to the clergy and the many people who do voluntary work to keep the church alive and prosperous.”

St Margaret’s also pays tribute to the explorer Captain James Cook (1728-99) who was married to his wife, Elizabeth Batts (1742-1835) in the church on 21st December 1762. This year, 2018, has been a significant year for remembering Cook’s first voyage of exploration to the Pacific Ocean upon HMS Endeavour, which set sail 250 years ago. The church holds copies of newspapers about Cook’s demise in Hawaii and copies of the Marriage Register showing James and Elizabeth’s entry.

The church building itself is crammed full of history, from architecture to objects within the sanctuary. Although many renovations and extensions have occurred over the years, remnants of old decor can be seen in one corner of the ceiling where little cherub faces peer down at the congregation.

The timber beams and design of the roof over the North Aisle, which was built around the late 15th or 16th century, suggests the involvement of local ship-wrights. The Norman pillars in this section may have been taken from the abbey and the windows would have once been a traditional medieval style. In 1771, the windows were replaced with Georgian versions but the ones in place today were added in the 20th century.

Many bodies have been interred under the flagstones, which, unfortunately, are inevitably becoming illegible the more they are walked over. Some are now covered up by carpets and it is impossible to tell how many people are buried in total, nor their names. There are records of some of the people, for instance, William Pownsett whose tomb is more prominent. In his will, he asked, “to be buryed yn our lady chaple next unto my pew at Barking.”

On the walls around the building are monuments to those who had significant connections with the church. Some are more elaborate than others, a few including busts of the deceased. An impressive monument to Captain John Bennett (d.1716) remembers a wealthy man who became a captain in the Royal Navy at a young age. Another, featuring a skull, remembers the life of Sarah Fleming (d. 1715). Francis Fuller (d.1637), an official of the Exchequer who owned a number of estates in the parish of Barking is remembered in a monument featuring his bust in an oval niche.

During excavations of the abbey in 1912, an incised stone slab was unearthed in the Nun’s Cemetery. As well as words, it features an etching of a man named Martinus who was the first vicar of Barking from 1315 to 1328. This memorial stone is now kept in the sanctuary safe from the effects of harsh weather conditions that could permanently damage the inscription.

When renovations began in the late 1920s and 30s, George Jack (1855-1931) an architect, wood carver, stained glass artist and furniture designer for Morris & Co, became involved with the repair work. Jack was responsible for the fisherman’s stained glass window as well as a couple of memorial tablets and a pair of candelabra. For the Youth Chapel, Jack carved eight wooden figures of people with some association to the church. As well as two fishermen, these include James Cook, Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845), St Ethelburga, St Nicholas, St James and St John. They are still in remarkable condition today.

dsc00465On the Youth Chapel screen below the wooden figures is a contemporary painting by the artist Alan Stewart, which was unveiled by the Bishop of Barking in 2005. Titled Early in the Morning, the painting shows a black Christ in 21st-century clothing surrounded by disciples from a range of ethnic origins. This is to reflect on the diverse population of Barking and those who worship at St Margaret’s Church. The scene depicts Jesus serving breakfast to his disciples by the side of Lake Galilee as told in John 21 after his resurrection.

At the rear of the church is an octagonal stone font with a decorated wooden lid. This was painted during the renovations in the early 20th century. George Jack employed his daughter Jessie to help to paint his design onto the cover. Each of the eight segments features a bird and flowers on a blue background. Around the rim, carefully painted letters spell out the phrase “God hath given to us eternal life and this life is in his son”.

45192226_188526105356556_497570805895397376_nThe font, stained glass windows and wooden figurines are some of the most attractive objects in St Margaret’s Church, however, one carving often gets overlooked. In fact, people who attend services for years do not always notice it unless it has been deliberately pointed out.

At the end of each wooden pew is a distinctive carved design that, in some way, resemble leaves or a plant. Due to the similarities between each one, it is easy to miss the intriguing design at the end of one particular pew. Taking the same shape as all the others, this one features the heads of two dogs. The meaning of the carving is unknown but it is thought it could be a family’s coat of arms. This suggests that at one time wealthy members of the congregation may have paid to have their own pew where they would sit during every service they attended.

Although St Margaret’s Church may be tiny in comparison to the original Barking Abbey, its elaborate decor, architecture and age make it stand out from other churches in the area, particularly the more contemporary. It has also had a large share of notable clergymen, many of whom eventually became bishops. Even today’s vicar was once the Bishop of Botswana.

The Right Reverend Hensley Henson (1863-1947) was one of the many significant clergymen associated with St Margaret’s. Ordained in 1888, Henson was the vicar until 1895 when he became chaplain of an ancient hospice in Ilford. He was only 25, the youngest vicar in the country, when he joined the church, putting him in charge of an ever-growing working-class parish, whose population then stood at 12,000. Undaunted, Henson made a favourable impression on the congregation, a colleague later stating: “He came six months ago to a parish dead – 250 a good congregation in the church; and now, when he preaches, every seat is filled – 1100!”

St Margaret’s was only the beginning of Henson’s career; by 1900 he was appointed canon of Westminster Abbey. In 1917, he became Bishop of Hereford and it was only another three years before he also became the Bishop of Durham. During his final years, Winston Churchill (1874-1965) persuaded Henson out of retirement to resume his position as Canon of Westminster Abbey. It is said that Churchill was impressed with Henson’s strong views on ecclesiastical matters and his support of the Church of England.

Other vicars of St Margaret’s have gone on to be bishops including the Scottish Painter George Leslie Hunter (1877-1931), who went on to become Bishop of Sheffield, and William Chadwick (1905-1991) and James Roxburgh (1921-2007) who were both Bishop of Barking.

Today, St Margaret’s Church continues to welcome friends and strangers, inviting everyone to various services throughout the week and on Sundays. Visitors and regulars are also encouraged to enjoy tea, coffee, cakes and lunches in their cafe. Surrounded by a graveyard and the remains of Barking Abbey, the church is a beautiful, peaceful place to visit, both outside and within. It truly is a place of history and religion worthy of being used and remembered. It is thanks to places such as St Margaret’s that local history is recognised and commemorated.

Sunday Services:
8:30am – Said Eucharist
11am – Sung Eucharist
6:30pm – Evensong

The Voyages of James Cook

On the 26th August 1768, James Cook and 93 others set sail from England aboard HMS Endeavour on the first of three voyages that would change the world. This year marks the 250th anniversary of the merchant ship leaving Plymouth on a 1051 day trip in which numerous discoveries were made that helped to shape the world as we know it. In honour of this anniversary, the British Library recently put on a detailed exhibition about all three of Cook’s important voyages, featuring original documents such as maps, artworks and handwritten journals.

 

 

James Cook, born in Yorkshire in 1728, was the second of eight children of a Scottish farm labourer. Despite having been raised to work on a farm, Cook was lured by the sea, becoming an apprentice to John Walker, a shipowner in the nearby port of Whitby. His first assignment was aboard the cargo ship Freelove in 1748, however, it was not only a case of learning how to sail a ship. As part of his studies, Cook had to become proficient in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, navigation and astronomy, the latter which would put him on his path to fame.

By 1755, Cook had enlisted in the Royal Navy and was fighting in the Seven Years War. Although he had to begin at the bottom as an able-bodied seaman, his hard work during the global conflict soon saw him climbing the ranks. Cook returned to England in 1762, where he married Elizabeth Batts (1742–1835) on 21st December 1762 at St Margaret’s Church, Barking, Essex. Little is known about Cook’s home life because, after his death, Elizabeth destroyed many of his personal papers.

Whilst fighting during the war, Cook was stationed on the seas near North America where he took the opportunity to produce the first large-scale and accurate maps of Newfoundland. This, as well as his mastery of practical surveying, brought him to the attention of the Admiralty and Royal Society, which would result in his first overseas discovery voyage.

“Ambition leads me not only farther than any other man has been before me, but as far as I think it possible for man to go.” – James Cook

During the 18th-century, Europe was advancing with scientific discovery and technological development, seeking rational explanations for the existence of everything on Earth. Now referred to as the Enlightenment, this was a time when religion and traditions began to be challenged. The British Library included evidence of the ideas British people believed before the embarkation of HMS Endeavour, including incorrectly drawn maps featuring non-existent continents.

 

 

The first voyage took place between 1768 and 1771 with the purpose of observing and recording the transit of Venus across the Sun, which would help to determine the distance of the Earth from the Sun. This phenomenon is not common, therefore, it was crucial that this expedition was undertaken at this moment. Since 1769, the Transit has only occurred four times, the next being December 2117. Unbeknownst to the public, Cook, a lieutenant at the time, and the rest of the crew were also tasked with searching out new lands and trading opportunities, including the locating of the hypothesised southern continent, Terra Australis.

In order to view the Transit of Venus, Cook needed to be in Tahiti by June 1769, however, he visited many places before he reached the island. The first landfall was Madeira, off the northwest coast of Africa on 12th September 1768. This was followed by Brazil a few months later and Tierra del Fuego at the beginning of the following year. The group of islands was the southernmost inhabited place that Cook came across and lies off the tip of South America. The British Library had examples of weapons and jewellery belonging to the Haush people who inhabited the islands.

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Sir Joseph Banks by Joshua Reynolds

Whilst James Cook receives all the glory for the voyage upon HMS Endeavour and the later voyages aboard HMS Resolution, there were many other people with vital roles amongst the crew. At each destination, examples of plants and animals were collected, drawn and preserved to be taken back to England and studied by naturalists and biologists. The man in charge of this task was the young naturalist Joseph Banks (1743-1829), who paid for himself and his team to join the Endeavour voyage. His team was made up of a Swedish botanist, Dr Daniel Solander (1733-82); a secretary, Herman Diedrich Sporing (1733-71); two artists, Sydney Parkinson (1745-71) and Alexander Buchan (d1769); and four servants.

Joseph Banks came from a rich London family and became enchanted with nature and natural history from a very young age. After studying Botany at Oxford University, Banks was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, where he became aware of the planned expedition to observe the Transit of Venus. Knowing this would be a grand opportunity to study the wildlife of foreign lands, Banks quickly established a place for himself and his companions on board HMS Endeavour.

During the voyage, Banks and his team collected an estimated 1000 zoological specimens and 30,000 plants, 1400 of which species had never been seen before in the west. One of these plants was the now common bougainvillaea, named after a friend of James Cook, Louis Antoine de Bougainville. Descriptions and drawings were included as part of the British Library’s exhibition, including journals written in Banks’ hand.

The Library displayed a couple of specimens preserved from the original voyage, including a pencil sea urchin found in the Pacific ocean. Many of Bank’s other finds are currently kept at the Natural History Museum in London.

 

Amongst the drawings displayed throughout the exhibition were a handful of child-like impressions of the scenes James Cook and the other crew members saw on their journey. These were drawn by Tupaia, a high priest of Oro – the god of war – who Cook and Banks befriended in Tahiti. Tupaia’s intelligent knowledge of the area helped Cook to draw a detailed map complete with island names. Tupaia also acted as a tour guide to the crew, introducing them to new traditions and culture.

Drawings by Tupaia included a typical Tahitian scene, complete with traditional longhouse and canoes, a dancer and Chief Mourner at a funeral, and a depiction of a Māori trading a crayfish with Joseph Banks. The latter was drawn in New Zealand where Tupaia had accompanied Cook to act as an interpreter and help establish good relationships between the British and the natives. Tupaia’s ultimate aim was to return to England with Cook, however, he died after suffering from a fever in Batavia (modern-day Jakarta) in 1770.

Cook spent six months circumnavigating New Zealand, producing a detailed map of its coastline, thus disproving the theory that the Great Southern Continent existed in that area. From New Zealand, the ship sailed to eastern Australia, or New Holland as it was then known, landing at the Kurnell Peninsula, or as Cook named it, Botany Bay.

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‘Kanguru’

As with the other areas they visited, whilst Cook attempted to make relations with the natives, Banks and his companions took stock of the plants and animal species growing in the area. Shortly after disembarking, the team saw an animal ‘as large as a greyhound, of a mouse colour and very swift’. This, it turned out, was the native kangaroo, an animal that was alien to Europeans. Sydney Parkinson, the naturalist draughtsman, produced the first sketch of what they called a “Kanguru”.

Parkinson was offered a place on HMS Endeavour by Banks who was impressed with his talent for drawing flowers. As well as drawing the specimens Banks collected, Parkinson also kept a detailed journal of the things he saw, including the journey, weather, customs and languages. This was particularly valuable for the scientists back home who were unable to view the countries first-hand. Unfortunately, Parkinson never made it back to England, dying of dysentery, which he contracted in Indonesia.

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The Resolution and Adventure among the icebergs

Despite everything discovered on the first voyage, the Admiralty was determined to locate the Great Southern Continent and sent Cook, now a commander, on another expedition to find it. Aboard HMS Resolution, with Captain Tobias Furneaux (1735-81) following on its convoy ship, HMS Adventure, Cook set sail for Africa in 1772. From here, the aim was to keep going south, searching for this fictional piece of land. Although Cook disproved the existence of Terra Australis, he went so far south that he unintentionally lead the first expedition to cross the Antarctic Circle.

Similarly to the first voyage, Cook sailed with a number of other companions, including the naturalist Johann Reinhold Forster (1729-98) and his son Georg (1754-94), who produced a handful of paintings shown at the British Library. In total, 112 people sailed on HMS Resolution, many of whom produced written or visual accounts of the journey and findings. The exhibition displayed journals from the astronomer William Wales (1734-98) and sketches by William Hodges (1744-97), both of whom contributed to the development of scientific knowledge.

As well as Antarctica, Cook revisited Australia and New Zealand followed by the Friendly Islands (Tonga), Easter Island and Vanuatu. In 1775, HMS Resolution turned homeward, landing in Portsmouth on 30th July, bringing the news that the Great Southern Continent did not exist. Nonetheless, the Admiralty and Royal Society were pleased with Cook’s accomplishments and promoted him to the rank of Captain.

 

Having now accepted that the Great Southern Continent did not exist, James Cook was sent back to sea in 1776 from Plymouth to New Zealand and the Hawaiian Islands to attempt to discover the Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans, which would help to shorten the trade route. The Library displayed weapons constructed from reindeer skin and wooden armour worn by people met during the journey.

As with both the previous voyages, HMS Resolution was filled with people of a number of different roles, most importantly a botanist and the official artist, John Webber (1751-93).  Whilst Cook searched for the Northwest Passage, which turned out to be impassable, Webber produced numerous detailed drawings and paintings of the lands they visited.

Whereas HMS Resolution had sailed as far south as Antarctica on her previous voyage, she now went as far north as the Arctic. Journals by Cook and other crew members suggest that Cook struggled more with this journey, often losing his temper, forcing the crew to eat inedible walrus (or what he mistakenly called “sea horse”) flesh.

After leaving the Arctic, HMS Resolution sailed on, eventually landing at Kealakekua Bay, Hawai’i in January 1779. Their arrival coincided with the Makahiki, a Hawaiian harvest festival of worship for the Polynesian deity, Lono. As a result, Cook was forced to join in a peculiar ceremony, which was documented by the ship’s artist. Unfortunately, many of the crew thought Cook had shown himself as weak by joining in, rather than the composed captain as he was supposed to be seen.

The crew stayed in Hawai’i for approximately one month before setting off to explore the rest of the North Pacific. Regrettably, the foremast of the Resolution broke shortly after departing, forcing the ship to turn around and sail back to land – a decision that proved to be fatal. Before Cook could set back out to sea, some of the natives stole one of the small boats belonging to the ship. Cook was used to thefts and usually took people hostage until his possessions were returned. Unfortunately, in an attempt to kidnap the King of Hawaiʻi, Kalaniʻōpuʻu, Cook was attacked by angry Hawai’ians resulting in a blow to the head followed by repeated stabbing until he was dead. Four other Marines were also killed and HMS Resolution returned to England on 4th October 1780 to a rather subdued welcome.

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The first voyage is shown in red, second voyage in green, and the third voyage in blue. The route of Cook’s crew following his death is shown as a dashed blue line.

Although James Cook’s three voyages shaped Europe’s knowledge of the world, the results of his expeditions are still open to controversy. In documentary videos around the British Library featuring people from some of the countries Cook visited, the famous broadcaster Sir David Attenborough (b1926) looked into the negative impacts of the three voyages.

Controversial aspects include violence and unnecessary death in New Zealand and eventual imperialism in Australia. Other countries and islands were now of interest to people in Europe and were soon to be colonised, virtually eradicating native societies, traditions and countries.

The British Library attempted to show both the good and bad results of James Cook’s three voyages, however, by doing so, did not go into all that much detail about the trips and discoveries. Everything revolved around the items they had collected, such as drawings, journals and a few specimens; anything not visually documented was forgotten about, leading those who did not previously know much about James Cook wondering why it is mainly him and not other crew members that are remembered for the voyages.

In terms of science and geography, the voyages have shaped the way we view the world, including evidence of lives and religions pre-western colonisation. From the specimens collected, botanists, naturalists and scientists have been able to discover so much more about the properties of plants and animals from different locations. Although it is much easier to accomplish what Cook did today, with faster means of travel and scientific equipment, without Cook and the others to show Europe what was out there, the determination to learn more may not have flourished quite as strongly.

James Cook: The Voyages closed on 28th August 2018 to make way for the Anglo-Saxon exhibition opening on 19th October. However, those interested in Cook’s discoveries can view various documents and drawings at the Natural History Museum throughout the remainder of this 250th anniversary year.