An attack on London-centrism from the perspective of Dagenham

Residents of Dagenham might not know exactly where in England they live. Like all so-called boroughs of London, a typical street sign will sometimes read ”London Borough of…” but the address of the location is not necessarily London, but instead that of a neighbouring shire county, in the case of Dagenham, Essex, with the post code being either RM8, 9 or 10 i.e. the Romford postcode area. The suburb forms part of the outlying London borough of Barking and Dagenham and the contradictory address is related solely to governance past and present.

Like the boroughs of Thurrock and Southend-on-Sea, Dagenham is independent of Essex County Council but whereas the former are unitary authorities well within the Essex boundary, Dagenham is situated in between an area of discontinued Essex County Council governance in South-West Essex and the East London post code area. Dagenham was close enough to be encapsulated by The London Government Act 1963 as has been the case since 1965 when Greater London was born. In a cultural sense, residents are therein more likely to consider Dagenham a unitary suburb rather than necessarily belonging this or that city or county. Nevertheless, unlike Westminster and the Square Mile, Greater London is neither a city nor county but rather a region in England like the neighbouring South East.

That said, Dagenham and other suburbs are generally treated as though their existence revolves around London. In the news, Dagenham is now always referred to as ”in East London” though in the past when the local football team Dagenham and Redbridge are scheduled to play inner-London-based Leyton Orient, fans of both clubs are reluctant to bill the fixture as an East London derby. Even Essex-County-Council-governed Loughton north-east of the Square Mile is considered by the Office of National Statistics to form part of the Greater London area. But in reality, Dagenham is remote insofar as the District Line stations of Becontree, Dagenham Heathway and Dagenham East are excluded from the Central London tube map.

London-centrism discounts Dagenham’s Essex-based history. Hundreds of years before London County Council claimed full-ownership of the Becontree housing estate, Becontree Hundred was one of several Essex county courts which signifies the old south-west of Essex County Council as relevant to the function of Essex as a whole. Going further back, whereas Londinium, what is now known as the City of London, is described as an ancient settlement, Essex was formerly known as the Kingdom of the East Saxons. But as novel as it might be for a native Essex boy/girl to be a descendent of a former sovereign state within England itself, there are still those who wish that they were born within the sound of the Bow Churchyard Bells which, according to travel writer Fynes Moryson in 1617, is how one determines oneself a true East Londoner, namely a cockney. Though in recent years due to an increase in noise pollution, the sound can be heard only at a short distance from the City of London and therefore who is and is not a cockney is subject to change.

Because Londoners make up a staggering 8 million of the total population of the United Kingdom in only 607 square miles, being a Londoner is just as fashionable as being an Essex boy/girl if not more. But having highlighted the interchangeability of borders, one must add that the authentic cockney town of East Ham in the London Borough of Newham, as close in proximity to the Square Mile as it is, was itself once upon a time a county borough within the county of Essex.

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