Made in Barking and Dagenham

Made in Barking and Dagenham is a project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Collecting Cultures Programme. This exhibition explores how industry played a major role in shaping the modern landscape of Barking and Dagenham.

Our industrial history

Barking and Dagenham owes much of its character and appearance to industrialisation. In less than a century, industry transformed what were two fishing and farming settlements in Essex into expansive suburban towns within Greater London.

What makes Barking and Dagenham unique, however, is the astonishing range of industrial activity and endeavour.  Whilst many towns and cities were famous for making one type of product, for example Stoke-on-Trent for pottery and Sheffield for steel, Barking and Dagenham was producing a huge variety of interesting and bizarre products.

During the 20th century, industries based around, or producing, chemicals, food and drink, power and energy, mechanical engineering, iron and steel and minerals all flourished and diversified, and at times failed. Some were small-scale and short-lived, others gargantuan and long-lasting.

Barking and Dagenham’s manufacturing profile is unrivalled by any other London borough within Greater London.


The hundreds of industries in borough provided numerous jobs for the people of Barking and Dagenham.

The Barking Jute Works, sometimes known as the Abbey Works, was established by a Mr Thomas Duff in 1866 on the east bank of the River Roding at the southern end of Fisher Street. Men, usually married with families, came as engineers and supervisors. The majority of the jute workers were young females, usually single and often away from the control of their families. Determined to enjoy themselves, they developed a reputation for drunken brawling at weekends and bank holidays which made the town notorious in the 1880s and 1890s.

What we made

As mentioned above a wide range of products were made in Barking and Dagenham. From Butterkist Popcorn to rubber tyres at William Warne & Co.

The area is perhaps best known for producing cars for the Ford Motor Company. Ford opened its first factory in England in Manchester in 1911. The company has been associated with Dagenham since 1924, when it purchased a portion of land at Dagenham Dock from Samuel Williams & Sons Ltd. Construction of the Ford factory in Dagenham began in 1929 and it opened in 1931. The main Dagenham car production works closed in 2002, but a remodelled diesel engine plant remains on the site.

Factory buildings

The early factories that housed companies producing chemicals, fertilisers and iron were generally functional in design with little in the way of aesthetic or architectural considerations.

By the 1930s, industries, like Berger Paints, Ever Ready Batteries and Dicky Bird’s Ice Cream had invested in state-of-the-art premises inspired by the Modern Movement Designs. These buildings featured in the architectural press for their distinctive and innovative designs.


The different manufacturers in Barking and Dagenham readily embraced advertising and clever marketing of their products.

W. A. Smith and Co., producers of industrial clothing in Selinas Lane, Dagenham, were particularly successful in the development of a brand image and the use of a brand voice – that of Bolenium Bill. Bolenium Bill was a jolly rotund workman who wore the clothes produced by the company and appeared on trade cards, advertising plaques, shop signs, newspaper adverts and most unusually as an in-store resin model that sat on top of the counters in drapers and menswear shops.

Workers at play

As the twentieth century progressed, companies were increasingly concerned with the welfare of their workers, and encouraged social outings and clubs, as well as providing additional facilities such as canteens and recreation halls.

A new recreation hall was erected adjoining the canteen at Sterling Works during the First World War. Concerts here held here during leisure hours. The orchestra was made up of staff and workers employed by Sterling. The Sterling Bing Girls were a great success when it came to entertaining their fellow workers. Miss Wightman was particularly popular for her impersonation of Charlie Chaplin. A number of clubs emerged including a Sterling Athletic and Social Club, and the Sterling Cycling Club.