Unique artwork published to help mark Becontree Estate's 100th anniversary

Dagenham Village

A series of artworks have been released to help mark the 100th anniversary of the Becontree Estate. Shown here is Dagenham Village by Ronald L. Kiddier, 1961. - Credit: Valence House/LBBD

A "unique" record of what Barking and Dagenham used to look like has been shared online to mark the Becontree Estate's centenary year.

Valence House Museum released the artworks in its #BeforeBecontree series to show what the area was like before the building of what was the world's largest, municipal housing estate.

Crown Farm

Crown Farm by B. A. Middleton, 1952. The farm was also known as Pigtail (originally Pightell - meaning a small field) Farm. It was located to the east of Whalebone House, between Chadwell Heath and Romford. - Credit: Valence House/LBBD

Leeanne Westwood, the museum's curator, said: "These artworks form a unique and invaluable record of what Barking and Dagenham once looked like.

"Some of the earliest depictions of local features can be found in these artworks."

Green Lanes farm entrance

Farm Entrance, Green Lanes [sic] by Arthur Edwin Baker, 1920. This painting shows the entrance to the home farm for the Valence estate which was located at Burleighs, now called the White House in Green Lane, Dagenham. - Credit: Valence House/LBBD

Six of the images which proved among the most popular have been shared with the Post.

Leeanne said: "The series has been very popular on Facebook, being shared far and wide. The images have stirred many memories, prompting the sharing of personal stories."

Farmhouse near Becontree Heath

Farmhouse near Becontree Heath by Arthur Edwin Baker, 1909. Even though the estate was named after the ancient Beacontree Heath, its boundaries stopped short of this important area. Development of the heath began some years later. This paintings shows a farm building typical of the many that dotted the heath, capturing the agricultural importance of Dagenham. - Credit: Valence House/LBBD

The paintings and illustrations have proven to be such a hit that the museum in Becontree Avenue has been asked to hold an exhibition, which staff hope to do this year, Covid-19 permitting.

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The series includes a painting entitled Dagenham Village by Ronald L. Kiddier dated 1961.

Parsloes Manor House staircase

The staircase at Parloes Manor House by Alfred Bennett Bamford, c1890. Some of the Fanshawe portraits in the museum's collection can be seen in this painting. - Credit: Valence House/LBBD

From medieval times until the early 20th century, the basic layout of Dagenham Village changed little, according to details held in the borough's archives.

But the building of the Becontree Estate after the First World War transformed the area.

The Fishing Smack

The Fishing Smack by William Holmes Frogley, c1890-1901. Named after a type of boat used by Barking fishermen, The Fishing Smack was situated at Hewetts Wharf, Fisher Street (now Abbey Road). This pub dates back to at least 1855. - Credit: Valence House/LBBD

Following the 1914-18 conflict, a national housing programme called Homes fit for Heroes was planned as a reward for returning veterans and to keep the country stable.

The London County Council (LCC), which was then the largest local authority, was the flagship council for the programme. The Becontree Estate was its largest housing project.

On June 18, 1919, the LCC’s standing committee on the housing of the working classes resolved to build 29,000 homes for 145,000 people within five years.

A total of 3,000 acres were identified at Dagenham, Barking, and Ilford where 24,000 houses were to be built.

Most of the land, which was made up of market gardens with scattered cottages and country lanes, was compulsorily acquired.

Becontree estate from above

A view of the Becontree Estate which turns 100 this year. - Credit: Eastside Community Heritage

By 1921, 4,000 houses were completed in the northern part of the estate, near Chadwell Heath Station.

Early neighbours could pick rhubarb, peas and cabbages from the abandoned market gardens which were yet to be developed.

Building materials were brought by barge along the River Thames where a 500-foot jetty was built.

It was equipped with four steam cranes able to cope with seven barges at a time.

A light railway connected the wharf to the Great Eastern Railway at Chadwell Heath which allowed the movement of bulk materials into the heart of the building site.

The LCC achieved its house building target by 1934. The milestone was marked with the ceremonial opening of Parsloes Park on July 13 the following year.

Another 800 homes were added in 1937 and the LCC built another 600 - the Heath Park extension - after 1945.

Dagenham Borough Council also built 4,000 more, mostly for the children of LCC estate tenants.

The LCC's cottage estate scheme sought to encourage new habits among tenants and shape the behaviour of an emerging nation of suburbanites.

The authority's aim as a landlord was that "Tenants shall be as free as possible to order their lives in their own way, so that they may preserve their originality and that self-reliance shall not be weakened".

But in reality things were quite different with a handbook listing some 20 conditions on how tenants should behave.

These included windows having to be cleaned once a week, parents being responsible for the "orderly conduct" of their children and no unsightly objects or washing to be hung from windows.

The 1933 handbook described Becontree as "the largest municipal housing estate in the world". It is still considered to be the biggest in Europe.

Leeanne said: "2021 is a massive year for Barking and Dagenham and there will be many events taking place in the borough throughout the year to mark the centenary of the Becontree Estate." 

More of the artworks from the collection at Valence House can be found on the Art UK website.

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