Annie Dearman and Steve Harrison sing Barking Town

Annie Dearman and Steve Harrison performed this charming song of the East Coast fishery at the Frittenden Old Fashioned Night Out day of singing and dancing on the 31st March.

The words come from an old printed ballad – a ‘broadside‘ – made to be sold by street hawkers and around markets, fairs and doubtless pubs also.

Although there’s no indication of what the tune should be, the lyrics leave not doubt that the printer meant it to be sung to the tune used for the better known song Swansea Town.

Barking’s a very different place today, but in the first half of the 19th century it was a centre for the trawling trade, and only began to decline as a fishing port after about 1860.

This was partly because of the discovery of the ‘silver pits’ fisheries 70 miles off Spurn Point, after which most of the local fishing boat owners moved their home ports to Yarmouth, Hull or Grimsby.

However, another factor in the decline of trawling at Barking was was the development of the railway network, which made it quicker to transport fish from the new ports directly to London, and yet another was a dreadful storm off the Dutch Coast in December 1863 in which 60 Barking men drowned.

Annie comes from coastal Essex, and research by a family member has revealed that she might well have a family connection to the disaster off the coast of Holland and for her this knowledge has made this appealing little song seem very personal.

The story is that Edward Melvin (Annie’s great-great-grandfather), who was born between 1810 and 1820, lived near Barking Creek in the 1840 and 1850s; his father was a sailor and Melvin himself was a fisherman.

There are no records of Melvin’s death, but his wife (Elizabeth, nee Arnold) is listed as a fisherman’s wife in the 1861 census and as a widow in the 1871 census. Of the 60 who died, only about 15 men are named in press reports of the time – so it is therefore very possible that he was among those who were lost that day.

6 thoughts on “Annie Dearman and Steve Harrison sing Barking Town”

  1. I work at Dagenham only a few minutes from Barking – its amazing to think that there was 200 + smacks working from Barking in fairly recent history. I know the story – passed down from my Dad – but none of my colleagues have any idea about it – indeed most folk round here don’t know that Barking or Dagenham is anywhere near the Thames ! What a shame that there is not one Barking Smack left …..

  2. Hi Annie and Steve
    I wonder if you can offer me some guidance. Like Annie I believe my 3 x great grandfather William Priest may have lost his life in the Great Storm of 1863, he was 35 years old. He was a fisherman from Barking, and like Annie found, his wife is shown in the 1861 census as a fishermans wife and in the 1871 is a widow with 7 young children. We do know that he lost his life at sea as we have a memoriam card that states this, however I have not been able to find any death registration or list of names of the men who perished in the storm. I wonder if you have come across such a list in your research? Finally thank you for sharing your talents for music and research with us, simply wonderful! With thanks Danielle

    1. Hi Danielle
      Annie’s ancestor Edward Melvin lived at Arc Street, Byfrons Place, near Barking Creek. The info about the absence of records came from a local Barking archivist via Annie’s cousin. We’ve emailed him to see if either he has a list of the 15 names that were published in the press, or whether he can put you in touch with the Barking archivist. We’ll get back to you as soon as we hear back. Glad you enjoyed the music – you can find out more about that on our website at or via our Facebook page at
      Best wishes, Annie & Steve

    2. Hi again Danielle
      Annie’s cousin doesn’t have a list of the 15, unfortunately. However, the local archivist who should be able to help you is Linda Rhodes, who is based at the Local Studies Centre at Valence House Museum in Dagenham, run by the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham. Her email is
      Hope this helps. best wishes, Steve & Annie

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