A scale model depicting Dagenham Village in c1940.
Dagenham is first mentioned in a charter of Barking Abbey from the year 687. It was then almost certainly just the small farmstead (‘ham’ in Anglo-Saxon) of a man named Daecca, hence the name ‘Daeccanham’. Dagenham is not mentioned by name in the Domesday Book as it was part of the Manor of Barking. By 1205 Dagenham was large enough to have a chaplain, and the parish church of St Peter and St Paul was probably built around that time.
Dagenham parish church
The original building was constructed with Kentish rag stone, brought across the Thames. The North Chapel is mentioned as ‘new’ in a will of 1475 and the two bays separating the Chancel and North Chapel have moulded form centred arches, typical of late 15th century architecture. During the Reformation the church was plundered and spoiled, and the majority of its treasures confiscated. With the generous aid of the Fanshawe family, the building was later restored and strengthened. A stone buttress was added to the outside of the east wall, and can still be seen.
By 1770 the church was in a dangerous condition. The foundations of the tower had crumbled, causing the tower to press on the west and south portions of the Nave. Temporary repairs were carried out and plans made to rebuild the tower at a cost of £1,176.5s.
Disaster occurred on the morning of the second Sunday in Advent in 1800. The tower collapsed, destroying the nave and south aisle. A service would normally have been taking place at the time, but fortunately the vicar was late arriving with the keys and the congregation were still outside. All except the chancel and North Chapel had to be rebuilt. This was completed by 1805 and included a spire, which can be seen in old photographs.
In 1841 a new gallery was added, and in 1844 an organ installed in the gallery where the village orchestra had once performed. By 1877 it was decided to lower the floor of the Nave by 15 inches (the reason the windows seem so high today). During excavations a skeleton in armour was found in the Nave, together with the jaw bone and teeth of a horse. It is thought they are the remains of a warrior whose steed was buried with him. At the same time the organ was moved to the chancel, the pulpit replaced and the entire church refurnished with deal benches. The church was re-roofed in 1913 and the spire removed in 1921.
In 1938 electricity replaced the gas lamps, the organ pipes were placed in the gallery, and pumped by electricity, and the organ console enlarged.
End of the village
From Medieval times until the early 20th century, the basic layout of Dagenham Village hardly altered. The main road, Crown Street (named after the Rose and Crown pub), ran east-west passing the church and crossing the Wantz Stream. To the east the road met Bull Lane, which ran north-south and was named after the Bull pub. Yet all this was to change with the building of the huge Becontree Estate after World War One.
The construction of the Estate led to the village losing its rural character and its role as the centre of the community. By the 1950s and 1960s, many buildings that had once been important landmarks were in decay. In March 1963, a million-pound facelift was announced for Crown Street. At the time the waiting list for homes in Dagenham stood at 2,085. The new plan would provide for 334 families. The new estate was built beside the Cross Keys pub and the Parish Church, largely on former nursery land. The eastern end of Crown Street was diverted, and most of the medieval buildings along it were destroyed.
In the early 1970s the last part of Dagenham’s medieval village was cleared. Cottages on Church Street, beside the Cross Keys, were pulled down to provide a new village green. Archaeologists from the Passmore Edwards Museum studied these cottages during demolition and dated some them to the 1300s. Of the old village buildings, the only ones now remaining are the Parish Church, the refurbished Minor Hall next to the church, the Cross Keys pub, and the Old Vicarage.