On Friday 19th March 2021 Valence House hosted an online talk celebrating the centenary of the Becontree Estate that explored the history, culture and legacy of this iconic part of Barking and Dagenham. From our line-up of guest speakers we found out about the exciting programme of events, artworks and projects taking place to mark this 100-year milestone and discovered how residents can get involved.
Thank you to everyone who took part. You can now view the full recording here:
Our speakers have also responded to the questions from residents that we did not get chance to answer live:
Why was the Civic Centre built so far out?
Bill Jennings: When the Becontree Estate was being built, you will recall that it was built from two separate sides. The plan was for the Civic Centre to be built in the centre of the estate in the vicinity of Martins Corner. Due to the speed of the building of the houses, it was realised that inadequate space had been left, and the Civic Centre was then built on the periphery of the estate. It was built at Nanny Goat Common, and it was only a few hundred yards away from the neighbouring borough of Romford. The Civic Centre was completed in 1936 and officially opened in 1937.
Do you think it was a mistake to bulldoze the village and not place a conservation order on it given the age of some of the buildings?
Bill Jennings: I do believe that it was a mistake not to conserve some of the shops at Old Dagenham Village. St. Peter & St. Pauls Church (12th century building), the Vicarage and the Cross Keys Public House (15th century building) remain, but all of the wonderful shops and building were demolished. In hindsight I do believe that it was an opportunity missed by not preserving some of those buildings in Crown Street.
Despite the changes since the right-to-buy, are there any houses on the Becontree estate still in near-original condition? If so, what are the chances of them being listed?
Bill Jennings: When I was Housing Manager of the Becontree Estate I put forward a proposal to keep a vacant property in Rogers Road as a ‘model’ Becontree house. The house had ALL of its original features and would have been brilliant for the public to see. Although many agreed with the principle, it was voted down on financial grounds. Since that time the borough has really embraced culture, and perhaps this idea should be resurrected.
Where was Nanny Goat Common?
Bill Jennings: Nanny Goat Common was the ‘common land’ that existed at what is now known as Beacontree Heath. The land was utilised by horses, goats etc. and there were many cottages. Beacontree Heath School was also there, and in a very small area, three public houses were built (The Merry Fiddlers, The Ship & Anchor and The Three Travellers).
Was Dame Vera Lynn from the Becontree estate?
Bill Jennings: Sadly Dame Vera Lynn did not live on the Becontree Estate. She was born in East Ham, and later in life, her Mum, Annie Welch, lived at 24, Upney Lane, Barking, During the Second World War years, Vera stayed with her Mum at 24, Upney Lane.
Do you know what number Jim Peters lived at in Grafton Road?
Bill Jennings: Jim Peters was born in Hackney, and his family moved to 199, Grafton Road when he was in Junior School. Between 1952 and 1954 Jim was the fastest marathon runner in the world. His last competitive race is the one at The Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, where he collapsed with exhaustion and dehydration 200 yards from the finishing line. He opened an Opticians Practice in Chadwell Heath later in life, and when he retired he moved to Thorpe Bay in Essex. Jim passed away in 1999.
What plans are there to carry these worthwhile projects on beyond 2021 and sustain momentum beyond the centenary?
East End Women’s Museum: The East End Women’s Museum was established to research, record and represent women’s stories from across east London. We will continue to work with local communities in the lead up to the opening of the new Museum in Barking and beyond to promote women’s history and share women’s stories from east London.
It sounds like so many projects are focused on bringing different parts of the Becontree community together, how has Covid affected this? Is it harder to reach people or have you seen some people more keen to engage?
East End Women’s Museum: It has been harder to reach people, especially as some of the groups we want to work with are not meeting at the moment or are meeting online, which has prevented people (especially older people) from participating. We have had to update project timelines to comply with Covid restrictions and to ensure we can reach the people we want to hear from. Please do get in touch with us if you are a woman interested in sharing your experiences of living in Becontree.
Is there an evaluation to assess the degree to which all these programmes have generated new social, cultural and heritage values attributed by the residents to the Becontree Estate?
East End Women’s Museum: As mentioned by one of the panelists, Becontree isn’t always recognised as an area by people who live there today. We will be running archive sessions as part of the project to immerse participants in the history of the area and how a community was built by early residents.