This Used to be Fields Mural

We constantly strive to develop the collections to ensure that they remain relevant and engaging for our current, as well as future visitors. In turn, we were really excited when we were approached by Historypin about getting involved in a community archiving project, entitled This Used to be Fields, that would result in the commissioning of a mural at Valence House.

View of the This Used to be Fields Mural by Chad McCail
This Used to be Fields Mural by Chad McCail (2014)

The mural was commissioned by Create London, with a grant from the Barbican supported by Arts Council England, and some additional funding from Creative Barking and Dagenham. Mural production has waned in recent decades due to a resistance to public art as it has come to be seen as prescriptive, compromising on either artistic integrity or community relevance. The idea behind this mural was that it would return public art to the fore, while creating tangible links between artists and communities.

Chad McCail working on his plans for the Mural
Artist Chad McCail set up a studio at Valence House. Here he is working on his plans for the Mural

The mural was painted by artist, Chad McCail, who was shortlisted by Create London and then chosen to undertake the work by a Community Panel that met here at Valence House in July 2014. The mural shows a street that acts as a timeline and in doing so depicts the history of the Becontree Estate. It was inspired by his time researching material in the archive, and talking to local people, as well as the documents and photographs collected by Historypin.

The mural in progress at Valence House
This Used to be Fields Mural taking shape in the summer of 2014

Moments in the history of the estate included in the mural:

  • The building of the estate after the First World War, and the reaction of the first tenants that moved into the new houses on the Becontree Estate in the 1920s. There is even a man that is so excited to have a inside bathroom that he has jumped in the bath fully clothed!
  • Next there is a visit to the area by Mahatma Gandhi. He is shown being greeted by Muriel Lester, a philanthropist involved with Kingsley Hall.
  • Then there is residents meeting delegation of the Hitler Youth in 1938.
  • The bomb damaged to the area is also shown, as well as children being evacuated during the Second World War.
  • The first Dagenham Town Show is represented, with carnival floats and the Dagenham Girl Pipers. There are also children in fancy dress participating in the parade with collection buckets. A number of them are wearing animal costumes, which you could argue are reminiscent of the half human beasts feature in the sixteenth century wall painting.
  • The Ford factory can be seen in the distance. Henry Ford, who had a reputation as a ruthless employer is shown wearing a donkey mask while men in boiler suits push his car.
  • There are also workers from Ford on strike in the 1970s.
  • The mural goes on to show how the area became more diverse, whilst also suggesting the social tensions that arose during the 1980s and 1900s.
  • The final image is perhaps the most controversial. It shows a man on a white horse being chased away by residents and represents the campaign to defeat the BNP in the 2010 Elections.

Chad has used bright colours. The design is bold and deceptively simple. His style recalls how-to guides and the instructional pamphlets, used by public information campaigns. However rather than telling us what we should or shouldn’t do he makes playful but subversive observations about everyday life, whilst still allowing the viewer the space to interpret our complex world for themselves.

Watch a film about the making of the This Used to be Fields Mural made by Create London. Also find out more about the project here.