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Billy Bragg uncovers family history to mark centenary of family moving to Barking and Dagenham

Billy Bragg photo

Singer-songwriter Billy Bragg returned to his roots last week when he visited the archives and local studies centre at Valence House to trace his family history.

The 60-year-old musician and political activist, who was born in Barking, has travelled the world through his music but admits the east London borough still has a place in his heart.

“I’ve always felt very connected with Barking and Dagenham. My family still live here, and my nephew still lives in the house we grew up in,” said the man known affectionately known as the Bard of Barking.

Bragg said the impact of the old Ford plant, which was once the largest in Europe, was clear to see as “everybody’s dad either worked for Fords or worked for one of the ancillary companies”.

However, while Fords proved a popular career for many people it wasn’t something the Glastonbury performer wanted to pursue.

“Part of the reason I ended up doing what I do was because I didn’t fancy building cars and I thought that playing music seemed to be a way of finding a different path,” he said.

Bragg was researching his family history as part of a project he is undertaking to trace his links to Barking and Dagenham; this year marks 100 years since Bragg’s family moved into Park Avenue in Barking from nearby East Ham.

“Everyone should know where they were born,” said Bragg, who had a Bragg Close in Dagenham named after him in 1999.

“Barking has seen incredible changes in the past 100 years, a process that is ongoing, but that churn is contrasted by the continuity of our families, living together these past 100 years.

“I’m sure there will be other people in the borough, especially on the Becontree Estate, who have lived alongside the same families for generations.”

Find out more about your family history for free by visiting the Archives and Local Studies Centre at Valence House.

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