Tributes to 'much-loved' volunteer with a passion for Dagenham history

Frank Beale

Frank Beale moved with his family at the age of nine-months to the Becontree Estate where he lived until his death at the age of 92. - Credit: Valence House

Tributes have been paid to a “much-loved” and “popular” volunteer, who died aged of 92 from Covid.

Frank Beale moved to Rockwell Road on the Becontree estate from Fulham in 1929 at the age of nine months with his parents and three brothers. 

He went on to spend the rest of his life on the estate and, by the time he died, was Valence House's oldest volunteer - though age proved to be no barrier.

His daughter, Julia Bailey, said: “The family will miss him greatly but are comforted by the wonderful tributes and messages we've received from all around us."

As a child during the Second World War, Frank watched planes take off from RAF Hornchurch. Later in life he and wife Evelyn contributed their childhood memories of the conflict to the borough’s archives. 

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Frank met Evelyn while working in a grocer’s shop in Oxlow Lane. His then-future bride had a job at the neighbouring hardware store. 

The couple, who enjoyed cycling for miles on their tandem, remained on the estate and went on to have two children, Julia and Alan. 

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The keen photographer who loved woodturning, gardening and the countryside was also Scout Master with the 9th Dagenham Scouts. He passed his passion for photography on to his family.

Fascinated by local history, Frank became a regular volunteer at Valence House Museum’s Archives and Local Studies Centre in 2010. 

As part of his role, Frank raised money for Valence Volunteers and visited each week to help with various tasks, including indexing street names, working on bomb damage records and a Book of Remembrance. 

As a retired storekeeper at Ford, he also leant his inside knowledge, helping to sort out the company’s archives at Valence House’s Archive and Local Studies Centre. 

His long-term, knowledge of his neighbourhood meant he would often be called upon to answer queries about the historic estate, which marks its 100th anniversary this year.

And Julia said he was well-known for brewing a great cup of tea for the team too. 

Museum curator, Leeanne Westwood, said: “Frank was a very popular and much-loved member of our volunteer team and we are all devastated by his passing. 

“Frank was a gentle soul, a gentleman and popular with everyone that met him. His death leaves a very big hole in our Valence family.” 

Julia, who works in Valence Library, said: "We were so pleased when Valence House Museum put the word out that they were looking for volunteers, ready for the reopening of the museum and the opening of the new Local Studies Centre in 2009.

"My mum had just passed away and I suggested my dad could go along to their open day to find out more.

"To our surprise, dad went along to meet the staff and never looked back. He spent many pleasant days each week working on projects."

In 2020, at the age of 91, Frank’s writings were gathered together in his book, Dagenham Days: My Memories, Poems and Tales of Mystery. 

Julia said: “Dad was thrilled to see the book published and never failed to be amazed at the interest in it and at suddenly being a published author.” 

Frank was still writing, even before he died. 

Julia said: “As a family we are so keen that, like dad, people write down their memories before it’s too late. Keeping alive the memories of ordinary peoples’ lives and the places we’ve lived in are so important.

“Our family cannot thank the staff and volunteers enough for the opportunity for dad to contribute to our area and for their friendship and companionship over the years.

“The volunteers and staff are a lovely bunch. Dad made so many new friends. It was an enormous lifeline to him from day one.

"We would recommend volunteering at Valence to anyone with an interest in local history."

Frank died peacefully at Queen's Hospital on January 12.

He is survived by daughter Julia, grandchildren Emma, Ben, George and Joe, and great-grandchildren Jack, Kira, Ethan and Daisy. 

A page set up to raise money for Valence House in Frank’s memory has already smashed its £250 target, raising £450 as of January 22. To donate visit JustGiving

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