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Dagenham in the 1930s

My grandad was born in Balham and was one of 7 siblings. The family moved to Dagenham when grandad was a child. They were a happy family but like many others at that time they had a hard upbringing as money was scarce. The photograph below is of three of my grandad’s siblings on the door step of their home, which I think was number 4 Broad Street in Dagenham. I love this photo because despite their very basic clothing and scuffed boots, they all look very happy.

My grandad joined the Merchant Navy when he was 14 years old to earn money to help support the family. He travelled the world and visited countries such as South Africa, America, the Pitcairn Islands and Australia, amongst others. This may sound glamorous but I imagine it was the complete opposite - some of the journeys were hazardous and it was very hard work. The photographs below were taken on some of my granddads voyages.

My grandad is the person sitting on the rail in the top left hand corner of the first photograph and he is in the second photograph behind the wheel of the ship.

The pictures below demonstrate the type of journey he experienced and I've included pictures of a couple of the places that he visited.

My grandmother was born in Custom House and she was one of 5 children. When she was older she worked at a factory in Silver Town. When my grandparents first met my grandad was still earning his living at sea, but when they decided to get married he left the navy and looked for other work.

My grandparents were married in 1937 and I love the wedding photo below, my grandmother looked beautiful and my grandad very happy! Once married they lived in a flat in Dagenham that I think may have been called Castle Gardens, then later on they moved to Broad Street.

After leaving the navy and settling into married life my grandad worked at Fords as a charge hand in the foundry and he worked there until he retired.

When going through a box of family photos I came across two small books/essays that were neatly typed on very old, worn, yellow paper, that my great-grandfather had written under the name of “A. Watchman” in 1932. One is titled “A History of the Ford Motor Company’s Dagenham Estate” and the other “The Ford Estate at Dagenham - A History of Breach House”. I had not previously heard of Breach House so I looked it up online, it was built sometime between 1716 and 1720 at Dagenham Breach. It was rebuilt in 1792 and demolished in 1812 when it was replaced by the Gulf House. Elizabeth Fry (the famous prisoner reformer) and her family holidayed at the Gulf House from the mid-1820s to the mid-1830s.

The first ‘book’ by A. Watchman, A History of the Ford Motor Company’s Dagenham Estate, begins:

The development of Dagenham has been unprecedented in the history of England. In the year 1891, the population was 4324 which has increased to 100,000 in 1930. The estimated population at date of writing (July 1932) is 105,000. With the enormous project of the Ford Motor Company and other large developments, by the year 1939, the population is likely to increase to 150,000.

Between the River Thames and the main London – Tilbury road, called the Ripple Road, Dagenham, lies a belt of low lying partly marshy land about a mile and a half wide and here the Ford Motor Company has constructed the largest and most up to date factory in England. Much has been written about this great factory, but it is not generally known by many of the best readers of history that the site on which the Ford factory is built is one of the most historical 500 acres of land on the north side of the river Thames. We can trace the mention of the marshes in Essex to King John’s time “Roger de Crammervill being then attached to show cause why he did not stand to the determination made in the said King’s Court by a fine betwixt himself and the Prior of St. John of Jerusalem touching the banks, gutters and ditches in Renham (Rainham) Marsh”.

I will feature more of my great-grandfathers books in later posts.

Speak to you next week!


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