Cllr Darren Rodwell, Leader of Barking and Dagenham Council and David Harley, Interim Director of Development at Be First Regeneration, formally opened the improved public realm in front of the Curfew Tower, on Abbey Green on Thursday 25th May 2023, 1-2pm.

The Curfew Tower (formerly the Fire Bell Gate) is the only remaining gateway of Barking’s Saxon Abbey. It is a Grade II listed building which was originally built in 1370. The bell rang to remind people to put out fires and lights before the nightly curfew – a practice which didn’t cease until 1900. There is a chapel built into the tower – which holds a stone relic called the Holy Rood which was visited by pilgrims in medieval times and has also survived the demolition of abbey.

Rich in history, the ‘Abbey Gate’ – as it was also known – is the only gateway to Barking Abbey still standing, following the abbey’s closure and demolition during Henry VIII’s reign. The abbey ruins are listed as a Scheduled Monument by Historic England and are at the heart of the heritage Conservation Area in Barking town centre.

As part of the Barking Abbey and Town Centre Heritage Project delivered by Be First (the council’s development and regeneration company) and funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, contractors T Loughman & Co Ltd have completed landscaping works for the public realm in front of the tower. These improvements create an attractive and useful open space for the local community. The York stone has been re-set with a cobbled border to represent the ancient Church Path and draw people towards the medieval gateway, St Margaret’s Church, and abbey ruins. New heritage style street furniture, and lighting have been introduced, with additional uplighters to illuminate the historic tower at night. The replanted soft landscaping, including trees, now frame the Curfew Tower rather than obscure the view, as visitors approach from East Street.

The works promote Barking’s heritage too. A bronze model of Barking Abbey, and heritage mosaics celebrating Abbey Green and the protest heritage of the ‘Three Lamps’ have recently been installed. Meanwhile, pupils from St Joseph’s and St Margaret’s Primary Schools buried a time capsule of writings and illustrations about Barking’s past, present and future, before Loughman completed the works.

To celebrate these improvements to the public realm on Abbey Green we held an event on Thursday 25th May. The leader of the council, Cllr Darren Rodwell, and Interim Director of Development at Be First, David Harley, officially opened the space where local people and visitors can enjoy the green space and heritage of the site, and held a brief reception for stakeholders in this heritage project, including Revered Mark Adams, in St Margaret’s refectory.

Councillor Darren Rodwell, Leader of Barking and Dagenham Council said: “I’m delighted to unveil the new model of Barking Abbey and the new public space as part of our plans to improve the town centre and make more people aware of Barking Town Centre’s rich heritage.  You need to know your history in order to develop plans for the future and this scheme showcases how improvements can do this.”

David Harley, Interim Director of Development at Be First said: “Cherishing and raising awareness of the Borough’s heritage is a key part of Be First’s regeneration work and I’m delighted this project is providing an attractive setting for the historic Curfew Tower and a place of relaxation in a busy town centre.  This is part of a larger project involving restoring a number of the town centre’s historic buildings.”