diamond geezer

 Monday, April 23, 2012

Random borough (33): Barking and Dagenham (part 2)

Somewhere historic: Valence House
Much of the history of Barking and (in this case) Dagenham is about survival. So it is with Valence House - the only one of the former five manors of Dagenham to survive the onslaught of the Becontree Estate. Town planners thought these old buildings anachronistic, replacing Parsloes with a park and Frizlands with housing. Valence survived only because the council realised they'd need an existing building amid the construction sites in which to hold meetings, and because they hadn't finished building their new art deco Civic Centre yet [photo]. Parts of the timber-framed building date back to the 1400s, although it's named after Agnes de Valence, the original noble-tenant from 1291. There used to be a moat, some of which remains as a draw to local anglers, and some of which you'd mistake for a 20th century drainage ditch if you didn't know better. A white-painted manor house really isn't what you'd expect to find hidden round the back of a library on the edge of a recreation ground, but Valence House's current heritage role has helped it endure. [photo]

Surprisingly few London boroughs bother to have a museum, let alone a good one. Westminster, Camden and Tower Hamlets have nothing. Harrow and Wandsworth's are disappointingly thin. Croydon and Islington's are too earnestly modern. But Barking and Dagenham's at Valence House, I'm pleased to report, is one of the best. The old building helps, but more importantly the way they've taken what heritage the borough has and presented it well, without resorting to the usual rooms of "local fossils" and "Victorian stuff". The history of the house makes its mark, including a restored parlour and a scale model of how it used to look. There's a proper skeleton, in a Roman sarcophagus dug up during construction along Ripple Road. Currently on long-term temporary loan is the Dagenham Idol, which is a rare Neolithic pinewood sculpture (and not a TV talent show won by local girl Stacey Solomon). One room is filled by two giant whalebones, formerly sited over a tollgate in Chadwell Heath to form an arch.

More up to date are a mock-up of two rooms from the original Becontree Estate [photo], and screenings from the defunct Dagenham Co-operative Film Society, and a cabinet of R Whites fizzy drink memorabilia (they were from Barking, you know). One area's given over to famous people from the borough, of whom there are impressively many, including a recent Archbishop of Canterbury, and Billy Bragg, and Dudley Moore, and many more. The displays were all recently updated, and it shows, with the right mix of text, objects and (not too much) interactivity. The staff are knowledgeable without being intrusive, so do stop and have a chat. And the upstairs toilet contains by far the most wasteful automatic tap I have ever used, which refuses to cut out until you've washed and dried and left and are halfway down the adjacent corridor. Just saying.

Outside is a restored herb garden complete with pergola and rosebeds, behind which the Essex Beekeepers have a four-hive outpost. Further on, at a safe distance, is a slightly odd-looking bronze sculpture of a Ford Capri [photo]. And alongside is the borough's Archives and Local Studies Centre, which opened a couple of years back in a squat modern building. If you have family tree issues in the local area, this is where you come. Or if you just want a nice cup of tea, that too, in a café which appears wildly optimistic for its potential footfall. So look, if you fancy an atypical day out, or if you're local to East London and haven't been, I'll recommend Eastbury Manor House and Valence House with a number 62 bus inbetween. You won't be knocked sideways, but you'll gently enjoy, and I can guarantee you won't have to queue.
by train: Chadwell Heath   by bus: 62

Someone famous: St George
They take St George seriously in Barking and Dagenham. Red crosses flutter from far more houses than average, some giant, and you're more likely to see an England shirt than the claret and blue of West Ham. So it's no surprise that one of the council's annual tax-funded shindigs is a celebration of the great St George himself. The festival, which is heavily plugged on poster sites all around the borough, takes place in the grounds of Valence House. I wasn't quite sure what I'd find, maybe a jousting tournament, maybe an EDL rally, but the reality was less overwhelming than either. For entertainment someone had hired several knights, a band of archers and some falconers - as if to redefine Englishness to mean merely "medieval". I got to enjoy the knights, if enjoy is the right word, as a bunch of middle-aged enthusiasts thwacked swords in a choreographed recreation of the Arthurian legend. They lip-synched the words via a distorted soundtrack, and any attempt at plot was entirely concealed, but the assembled crowd didn't mind. Sir Lancelot doesn't normally pop down to the backwaters of Becontree, so they gawped, and cheered, and recorded the spectacle on their mobiles. [photo]

Many of the children on site were carrying cardboard swords and tinfoil shields, knocked up in a special workshop at the neighbouring library. Whether any of them stopped to renew a book while they were there, I somehow doubt. I was pleased to see a Punch and Judy show holding kids rapt, including several I'd bet who've never once seen the seaside. Shaven-headed dads raised daughters to their shoulders, while mums in trackies kept an eye on the family hound. A few livewire grans led their clans around the site, but there wasn't too much to see. The only high culture hereabouts was the chance to look around the museum, or to buy a raffle ticket off one of the Friends of Valence House. All the usual junkfood vendors had turned up (mini donuts, fish and chips, pick'n-mix), as well as a lady with a tableful of aloe vera products who looked like she wished she hadn't bothered. At 50p for an England flag, and £1.50 for face-painting, this was an entirely recession-proof day out. It'll never compete with the do in Trafalgar Square, indeed it felt as if most of the few hundred on site had come no more than walking distance. Neither would this weak-focused event ever inspire attendees to embrace fervent nationalism, as certain local BNP activists had hoped. But as an insight into the true heart of Barking and Dagenham, this St George's Day event summed things up perfectly. [photo]
by train: Chadwell Heath   by bus: 62

Somewhere random: the number 368 bus
The Harts Lane Estate will never win any prizes for architecture. Several families wait for the bus into Barking town centre, too lazy or too unwilling to walk the half mile into town. The driver takes a convoluted route round the town centre, displaced from the traffic-less main street where only the East London Transit may pass. One unfortunate bloke who just missed the bus outside the station catches up with it puffing and panting three zigzag stops later. Few seats remain. A man with a tattooed wristband and pig-themed baseball cap stands texting in the pushchair space. He moves when displaced by a small seated child, with both parents in suspiciously market-sourced Superdry jackets. A can of Stella rolls down the bus and spills across the floor. The driver fails to notice an old lady pressing the bell at Stamford Road. She dings in vain, holding uncertainly by the door for an unfortunate extra half mile to the next stop where she climbs down, muttering angrily. In Mayesbrook Park, the new SportHouse leisure centre looks like a mosaic of Bendicks wafer mints stuck to an aircraft hangar. The girl with "Gramps" tattooed across the back of her neck taps the screen of her mobile phone with long pink nails. Taylor pauses from testing his sister on the four times table, exhorting all his young friends to turn and watch the surveillance footage "on the television". He'll run back on board later to retrieve the Disney princess umbrella his sister left behind. Two kids sharing a bike wave from the pavement. I'm joined on the back seat by an adventurous toddler, probably two years old, with a Bench-branded woolly hat pulled down over his head. Mum sits in front, engrossed in her phone call, oblivious to her son's crescendoed pleadings. "Look at me!" he repeats, as he crawls up into the far corner of the seat with a grin on his face. "Mum!" doesn't work either, not even on the tenth attempt, until Green Lane arrives and she turns merely to demand his disembarkation. Blossom tumbles behind steamed-up windows. Few stay aboard until Chadwell Heath, where the lights flash, and the lady in a care-home tabard and I take the hint and alight.
by bus: 368   by bus: Barking, Chadwell Heath

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
life viewed from london e3

email    twitter    G+

my flickr photostream

What's on this weekend?
Wed 19th - Sun 23rd October
Bloomsbury Festival
It's free to visit the Foundling Museum this weekend.

twenty blogs
ian visits
blue witch
city metric
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
in the aquarium
round the island
wanstead meteo
london museums
christopher fowler
ruth's coastal walk
london reconnections
dirty modern scoundrel

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
The DG Tour of Britain
Comment Value Hierarchy

read the archive
Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

diamond geezer 2015 index
diamond geezer 2014 index
diamond geezer 2013 index
diamond geezer 2012 index
diamond geezer 2011 index
diamond geezer 2010 index
diamond geezer 2009 index
diamond geezer 2008 index
diamond geezer 2007 index
diamond geezer 2006 index
diamond geezer 2005 index
diamond geezer 2004 index
diamond geezer 2003 index
diamond geezer 2002 index

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards