Barking is a suburban area of east London, England and the administrative headquarters of the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. It is located east of Charing Cross and is one of 35 major centres identified in the London Plan. It was historically a fishing and agrarian settlement in the county of Essex and formed an ancient parish. The economic history of Barking is characterised by a shift to market gardening, and industrial development to the south adjacent to the River Thames. The railway station opened in 1854 and was served by electric London Underground services from 1908. As part of the suburban growth of London in the 20th century, Barking significantly expanded and increased in population, primarily due to the development of the London County Council estate at Becontree in the 1920s, and became a municipal borough in 1931. It has formed part of Greater London since 1965. In addition to an extensive and fairly low density residential area, the town centre forms a large retail and commercial district, which is currently a focus for regeneration. The former industrial lands to the south are also being redeveloped as Barking Riverside.
Its name came from Anglo-Saxon Berecingas, meaning either "the settlement of the followers or descendants of a man called Bereca" or "the settlement by the birch trees".
"Barking", in British slang, is short for "barking mad". Barking is sometimes cited as the origin of the phrase. This is attributed to the alleged existence of a medieval insane asylum attached to Barking Abbey. However, the phrase is not medieval, and first appeared only in the 20th century. A more likely derivation is from comparing an insane person to a mad dog.
Barking was a large ancient parish of in the Becontree hundred of Essex. It was divided into the wards of Chadwell, Ilford, Ripple and Town. A local board was formed for Town ward in 1882 and it was extended to cover Ripple ward in 1885. In 1888 Ilford and Chadwell were split off as a new parish of Ilford, leaving a residual parish of . The parish became Barking Town Urban District in 1894 and the local board became an urban district council. The urban district was incorporated as the Municipal Borough of Barking in 1931. It was abolished in 1965 and split with the majority merged with the former area of the Municipal Borough of Dagenham to form the London Borough of Barking. Barking land that was west of the River Roding, which included part of Beckton, became part of the London Borough of Newham. In 1980 the Borough was renamed Barking and Dagenham.
The manor of Barking was the site of Barking Abbey, a nunnery founded in 666 by Eorcenwald, bishop of London, destroyed by the Danes and reconstructed about a hundred years later in 970 by King Edgar. At the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, Barking Abbey was demolished; apart from the parish church of St Margaret, some walling and foundations are all that otherwise remain on the site. The parish church is an example of Norman architecture; Captain James Cook married Elizabeth Batts of Shadwell there in 1762, and it is the burial place of many members of the Fanshawe family of Parsloes Manor. A charter issued between 1175 and 1179 confirms the ancient market right. The market declined in the 18th century but has since been revived.
Fishing was the most important industry in Barking from the 14th century, until the mid-19th. Salt water fishing from Barking began before 1320, when too fine nets were seized by City authorities, but expanded greatly from the 16th century. Fisher Street was named after the fishing community there. From about 1775 welled and dry smacks were used, mostly as cod boats, and rigged as gaff cutters. Fishermen sailed as far as Iceland in the summer. They served Billingsgate Fish Market in the City of London, and moored up at home in Barking Pool. Samuel Hewett, born on 7 December 1797, founded the Short Blue Fleet (England's biggest fishing fleet) based in Barking, and using smacks out of Barking and east coast ports. Around 1870 this fleet changed to gaff ketches which stayed out at sea for months, using ice for preservation of fish. This ice was produced by flooding local fields in winter. Fleeting involved fish being ferried from fishing smacks to steamer-carriers by little wooden ferry-boats. The rowers had to stand as the boats were piled high with fish-boxes. Rowers refused to wear their bulky cork lifejackets because it slowed down their rowing. At first the fast fifty-foot gaff cutters with great booms projecting beyond the sterns were employed to race the fish to port to get the best prices.
Until about 1870 the trade was mostly in live fish, using the welled smacks in which the central section of the hull, between two watertight bulkheads, was pierced to create a 'well' in which seawater could circulate. Cod caught live were lowered into this well, with their swim bladders pierced, and remained alive until the vessel returned to port, when they were transferred to semi-submerged 'chests,' effectively cages, which kept them alive until they were ready for sale. At this point they were pulled out and killed with a blow on the head before being despatched to market, where because of their freshness they commanded a high price. People who practised this method of fishing were known as 'codbangers.' By 1850, there some 220 smacks, employing some 1,370 men and boys. The Barking boats of this period were typically long carrying up to 50 tons. During the wars of the 17th and 18th century they were often used as fleet auxiliaries by the Royal Navy, based at nearby Chatham Dockyard. The opening of direct rail links between the North Sea ports and London meant it was quicker to transport fish by train from these ports straight to the capital rather than waiting for ships to take the longer route down the east coast and up the River Thames to Barking. In addition, by the 1850s the Thames was so severely polluted that fish kept in chests quickly died. Consequently, the Barking fishery slipped into decline in the second half of the nineteenth century. The decline was hastened by a storm in December 1863, off the Dutch coast, which caused the deaths of 60 men, and damage estimated at £6–7000. Many of its leading figures, including Hewett & Co, moved to Great Yarmouth and to Grimsby. By 1900, Barking had ceased to exist as a working fishing port, leaving only street and pub names and a large modern steel sculpture entitled "The Catch" as a reminder of its former importance to the town. The sculpture is sited in the roundabout at the end of Fanshawe Avenue. The local fishing heritage is recorded at Valence House Museum.
Boat building has a long history at Barking, being used for the repair of some royal ships of Henry VIII. In 1848, 5 shipwrights, 4 rope- and line-makers, 6 sail-makers and 4 mast-, pump-, and block-makers are listed in a local trade directory. Hewett & Co continued in boat building and repair until 1899. Other industries replaced the nautical trades, including jute spinning, paint and chemicals manufacture. By 1878 Daniel de Pass had opened the Barking Guano Works (later de Pass Fertilisers Ltd, part of Fisons) at Creekmouth. Creekmouth was also the site of the major Barking Power Station from 1925 until the 1970s, burning coal shipped in by river; the current station known as Barking is further east near Dagenham Dock. In the 20th century new industrial estates were established, and many local residents came to be employed in the car plant at Dagenham.
On 3 September 1878 the iron ship Bywell Castle ran into the pleasure steamer in Gallions Reach, downstream of Barking Creek. The paddle steamer was returning from the coast, via Sheerness and Gravesend with nearly 800 day trippers on board. She broke in two and sank immediately, with the loss of more than 600 lives, the highest ever single loss of civilian lives in UK territorial waters. At this time there was no official body responsible for marine safety in the Thames, the subsequent enquiry resolved that the Marine Police Force, based at Wapping be equipped with steam launches, to replace their rowing boats and be better able to perform rescues.