A Creekmouth Love Letter
One of the great things I like about being a guide is when people bring their own stories to the walk. Meeting someone with a family story about the area is so exciting, you just can’t find these family stories in the books I do my research from. On my last walk in Dagenham one man had a really interesting story. He had come on the walk because he really wanted to find the village of Creekmouth. About thirty years ago, while clearing out things from his mother’s house, he found a love letter from his father to his mother dated 1931. His father had written the letter while aboard a coal ship moored in the Thames at a place called Creekmouth, when he was a young man, just 23 years old. The letter was sent to his mother in Sunderland. In River Road Creekmouth – there is still a post box even though Creekmouth village has disappeared – could this be where the letter had been posted 84 years ago?
A coal ship moored there would likely be unloading at Barking Power Station – at that time the largest power station in the UK with a voracious appetite for coal. With so many ships coming in and out of the London Docks, the stretch of the Thames known as Barking Reach was particularly congested, and combined with the time it took to unload a ship before modern cargo handling equipment, it’s no wonder his father had time to pen a love letter. Creekmouth village disappeared in the late 1950’s – all, that remains is the commemorative mural, the pub – The Crooked Billet (now a Romanian wedding venue), the school building (the office of a scrap yard) and of course the post box. However in the 1930’s Creekmouth had a close relationship with the ships in the Thames – the man on my walk told me his dad said that sailors would trade goods from their ship like scrap bits of wood, in return for fresh vegetables from the allotments at Creekmouth.
It’s a little bit of a shame that Londoner’s have lost this close relationship with the Thames as a port. In 2016 I will be doing a series of walks that look at the industrial and maritime history of the Thames, starting at Blackwall and working along the Thames towards the sea, one walk each month. You can see details of the scheduled walks here