Film will celebrate centenary of Dagenham estate
PUBLISHED: 13:04 30 October 2015 | UPDATED: 13:29 30 October 2015
It was when Sylvia Kent began research for her tenth book that she realised the centenary of the Becontree Estate was fast approaching.
To celebrate its changes over the past 100 years she’s collaborated with a filmmaker to make a documentary about the estate.
The Dagenham development is one of the largest public housing estates in the world and was constructed in the interwar period to provide homes for war heroes.
Sylvia’s book, Barking and Dagenham From Old Photographs was published last Christmas and delves into the history of the estate and the lives of some of people who lived there.
The 73-year-old, who now lives in Billericay, also grew up on the housing development until she married in 1966.
“I remember getting lost even though I’d been there all my life,” she said. “We moved there soon after I was born in 1942 but I didn’t realise how quiet it used to be before thousands of people came. In the 1920s it was a quiet little village.”
The writer lived in a three bedroom house on Broad Street with her four sisters, her parents, her grandmother and her aunty.
The house’s previous tenants had been bombed during the Second World War and seven of them died in an Anderson shelter in the back garden. Sylvia said she remembers bits of the shelter still being there while she was growing up.
Speaking about the origins of the estate she explained 27,000 homes were built after laws came in to rehouse people in 1918.
“When soldiers came back from the First World War they were homeless and without limbs,” she added. “[The estate] was also for people living in the east end because that area was so awful back then. People lived in slums like the kind you see in other countries today, so this great big estate started being built.”
She said beforehand the land had been filled with fields of rhubarb, as well as an old village and a church.
After each house was built builders would erect a red flag outside to show it was finished. It took from 1920 to 1935 to complete.
“People hated it at first because it was so quiet, there were no cars or machines there in the beginning, everything was pulled by horses. It’s hard to believe now,” she explained.
And according to Sylvia, all sorts of interesting finds were discovered during the dig. In 1922 a 4,000 year old figure, now known as the “Dagenham Idol” was unearthed. It now lies in the Valence House museum on Beacontree Avenue.
In 1932 a movement of Irish people came to work at the Fords factory on Chequers Lane and building continued in order to provide housing for them. And as the number of houses increased the council was tasked with naming all of the new streets.
“Most of them are named after vicars and in later years they were named after famous people from around the borough and soldiers who had returned from Afghanistan,” Sylvia said.
She explained it is important to make a film to celebrate the estate’s centenary “because it’s history. It’s a story of change.”
John Farrah, the filmmaker who also lives in Billericay, has filmed the first part already which features Sylvia talking about the beginning of the estate.
“You should always have an interest in where you come from,” she added. “And 100 years should absolutely be marked. It will probably be released in time for 2020, which is 100 years after it was built – but we have to start early.”