Community ID
Alternate Names
Beorcingon; S. Mary and S. Ethelburga; Berking
Medieval Location
"in Berecingum" according to Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People at Beddanhaam; possibly an earlier sacral site, see The Saintly Female Body and the Landscape of Foundation in Anglo-Saxon Barking, 16-18.
Modern Location
Corporate Status
S. Mary and S. Ethelburga
Date Founded
666 (traditional date)
Date Terminated
Religious Order
none / Benedictine (after 946)
Benedictine (after 946)
Foundation Information

Traditionally,the community is thought to have been founded by Bishop Eorcenwald for his sister Ethelburga (Aethelburh, Hedilberga). Original site of small monastery at Beddanhaam probably the core of later complex of Ceorcingon, defined in Holdired charter with specific boundaries, q.v. About 870 it was destroyed by Danes and was refounded in 946 as a Bendictine community. It is possible that Barking was founded originally as a double house.

First Members

Hildilith, Torhtgyth

Notable Heads

Aethelburh served as the community's first abbess and was followed by Hildeth, who was among the dedicatees of Aldhelm's De Virginitate (Veiled Women, Vol. II, 28). Other notable heads included Oswyth, daughter of Edifridth, king of Northumbria, Cuthburg the sister of king Ina and Ethelburgh, the wife of Ina, king of the West Saxons. The monastery was destroyed by the Danes in 870. King Edgar is noted as the refounder. NULL became abbess at that time. NULL was supposed to have been abbess at the time of Edward the confessor. She was followed by NULL, and by one or two abbesses named NULL. NULL, the sister of Thomas Beckett served as abbess in 1173, followed by NULL, daughter of Henry II. The next abbesses were NULL, NULL for one year, and NULL. The next abbess was NULL, daughter of King John, from 1247-1252. She was followed by NULL (1252-1258), NULL (1258-1275), NULL (1275/6-1291), NULL (1291-1294), NULL (1294-1295), NULL (sometime between 1295 and 1318), NULL (1318-1329), NULL (1329-1341), NULL (1341-1352), NULL (1352-1358), NULL (1358-1377), and NULL (1377-1393). Dorothy Barley surrendered the abbey to King Henry VIII on November 14, 1539. 30 nuns were in residence at that time (Dugdale's Monasticon Volume 1, 435-437).

Notable Members/Residents/Guests

William the Conqueror was said to have retired there for a time before his coronation (Dugdale's Monasticon Volume 1, 436).

Population Counts

There were probably over 38 nuns, according to Knowles and Hadcock. JCR gives 20 nuns in 1473, 34 in 1499 and 24 in 1527. After the suppression the abbess and 30 nuns received pensions (Medieval Religious Houses in England and Wales, 210).

Dependent Communities

The following communities may have been dependent on Barking during the Wulfhild's tenure as abbess: Shaftesbury, Wareham (female) , Wilton,Southhampton, and Horton (See La Vie de Sainte Vulfhilde par Goscelin de Cantorbéry).

Other Ecclesiastical Relations

Chertsey in Surrey, another foundation of Eorcenwald


King Eadred; Aelfgar of Essex;

Relative Wealth

Barking was the third richest monastery in England in 1066 (The Wealth, Patronage, and Connections of Women's Houses in Late Anglo-Saxon England,161-164).


See Hodilred Charter, for grants by Hodilred, possibly kinsman, to Ethelberga of Beddanhaam and "terram quae appellatur Ricingahaam Budinhamm Deccanhaam Angenlabeshaam et campo in silua quae dicitur uidmundes felt." Charter lists specific boundaries, q.v. Barking held more than 100 hides of land in Essex, along with estates in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Middlesex, and Surrey (Veiled Women, 33).


According to Domesday book, the convent's net income in latter 11th century was 162 pounds, 19 shillings and 8 pence. The convent had no quota of knights to fill. In 1535 the net income was over 862 pounds.

Early Documents

Hodilred Charter from Ethelred probably originally from the late 7th century, in a post-750 ms, see Hodilred Charter. Bede's description of foundation also includes material from Ethelburga's successor, Hildilith's "Libellus"; from King Eadred dated 950 granted Barking 4 hides at Lippanwelle and 4 at Ciricdune (see Veiled Women, 30 n. 6).

Architecture & Archaeology

Evidence of high status settlement in early 8th century: timber structures, maybe at least one chapel aligned wither later abbey church;probably originally a cluster of buildings within larger enclosure, including several chapels. Also found: spinning and weaving equipment, bits of gold thread, combs, manicure sets, tuning pegs from an instrument, high quality local and imported pottery, coins, three styli.
Archaeological evidence suggests that the monastery may have been abandoned during the mid-ninth century and that it may have been reoccupied sometime during the first half of the tenth century (See Veiled Women, 29; see also Barking Abbey.

State Of Medieval Structure

The site is primarily in ruins. There curfew tower is still in fairly good condition. For further details see the ">"> [English Heritage] website for St Margaret's,Curfew Tower, Barking, London.

Manuscript Sources

Hodilred Charter
Public Record Office, London:
E 101/458/7: Abbey of Barking Expenses of repairs there, etc.
SC 6 Hen. VIII/928: Barking abbey book of receipts and payments (Office of Pensions)
SC 6 Hen. VIII/929: Barking abbey book of accounts of the cellaress
S552a, one of the Ilford hopsital charters granting land to Barking (see Early Documents).

Secondary Sources

Medieval Religious Houses in England and Wales, 210;
The Monastic Order in England: a history of its development from the times of St. Dunstan to the Fourth Lateran Council, 940-1216, 702;
La Vie de Sainte Vulfhilde par Goscelin de Cantorbéry; Veiled Women, vol. 1, and vol. 2, 27-33;
Barking Abbey;
Patrons and Politics at Twelfth-Century Barking Abbey,
The Cattes Tale: a Chaucer Apocryphon,
The Saxon Pottery from Barking Abbey: Part 2, the Continental Imports;
The Abbey of Barking;
Barking Abbey Rental, Part 2;
Barking Abbey: A Study in its external and internal administration from the Conquest to the Dissolution;
The Benedictine Abbey of Barking : A Sketch of its Architectural History and an Account of recent Excavations on the Site;
A History of Barking Abbey;
Books Connected with the Vere Family and Barking Abbey;
La vie de Ste. Catherine de Soeur Clemence de Barking;
Virgin Lives and Holy Deaths: Two Exemplary Biographies for Anglo-Norman Women (Clemence of Barking's Life of Catherine & Life of Lawrence);
Dugdale's Monasticon Volume 1;
Barking Monastery, in Essex;
The Saxon Pottery from Barking Abbey: Part 1, Local Wares;
One Thing Leads to Another -- the Discovery of Additional Charters of Barking Abbey;
Tollesbury Hall, Tollesbury, a Thirteenth-century Manor House;
Saxon Timber Structures from the Barking Abbey Excavations 1985-1986;
Bede Fortunate in his Translator: the Barking Nuns;
A Nun's Life: Barking Abbey in the Late-Medieval and Early Modern Periods;
Barkingwic? Saxon and Medieval Features Adjacent to Barking Abbey;
The Saintly Female Body and the Landscape of Foundation in Anglo-Saxon Barking;
The Victoria History of the County of Essex2:115-122 available online at "> [Victoria County History]

Miscellaneous Information

While active during the reforms of later Anglo-Saxon England, Barking probably was never reformed. Foot notes that the clearest evidence of this is the interference of Aelfthryth, the queen, at the time of Wulfhilda (Veiled Women, vol. 1, 2, 62, 92).

WRL Project; Terri Barnes