Barking and Dagenham, borough of culture?

Via The Dagenham Post and Diamond Geezer’s ‘blog I discover that Barking and Dagenham are competing for the role of London Borough of Culture.

Alas, I missed any mention of this before the launch event, which DG has covered as part of his exploration of the borough’s historic features, else I’d have taken a day off work and gone along.

When I started this website, well over a decade ago, I did intend to write more and explore more of the area in which I live, as with most things this quick fell by the wayside. Writing stuff up is always much less interesting – to me anyway – that actually doing the stuff.

Over the coming holiday season, I will try to get the old photos of Dagenham back up, and where possible try to take a modern image for comparison. It won’t always be possible, despite there being little real building churn for many years, things are starting to happen and some sight-lines I know would have worked, are no longer possible.

Anyway, most of written here in a while. I will make an effort to write more. Content is king, or something.

Valance House Museum

Yesterday I visited Valance House Museum for the fist time since it reopened in June 2010 following an extensive 2 year refurbishment. I’d been a frequent visitor before the closure, especially when I was trying to track down the whereabouts of the whale bones that give Whalebone Lane its name.

The museum is greatly improved since I was last there, the displays are more cohesive and themed, it is no longer a rather disparate collection of rooms. It’s a shame the Fanshawe family portraits are no longer displayed on the main staircase, and the Chemists’ Shop is now just a small collection of bottles and pill packets.

The gains definite out weigh the losses, The Dagenham Idol has returned to its proper home, the fishing history of Barking is explored and the early history of the Dagenham is investigated in separate galleries.

The whale bones now have a permanent home, in a glass case on the ground floor, bringing to an end my sporadic search for them. They look rather worse of wear, and could be pretty easily mistaken for some well worm-eaten wood.

A new annex building houses the gift-shop and cafe (two Teas and a slice of Cake for £2.60 – not bad at all) and the local history archives.

I spent an interesting couple of hours, it was well worth a visit. I’ll be going back soon.

Diamond Geezer visited last year. He enjoyed it too.


Whitechapel Bell Foundry
Something like thirty years ago, I was on a bus with my grandfather passing The Whitechapel Bell Foundry; he told me a little about the place and promised to take me for a visit when I was older. Three years ago, I bought a ticket for a tour the following year, then forgot to go. Yesterday I finally toured the foundry with around 25 others, I was probably the second youngest in the tour party – very few other the others were below retirement age.

The bell foundry is the oldest manufacturing company in the UK, having been formed in 1570 (and with good evidence that it may date back to 1420 from earlier foundry works in the area). The foundry site on Whitechapel Road dates from 1738, originally having been The Artichoke coaching inn, built c1670.

The tour was interesting and through, we learned the bell-metal casting temperature, 1170 degrees C; the composition of the casting molds, a brick core covered in goat-hair, clay, sand and horse manure shaping mixture (photo); the number of harmonics a modern bell is tuned for, 5 – the same note in 3 octaves and a minor 3rd and a 5th.

At the back of the works, in the yard, a new set of bells and mounts (photo) were being prepared for St Dunstan in the west.To make best use of limited space, the hand-bell workshop and the woodworking workshop are built above the foundry floor. These workshops have rather low ceilings and beams – no one taller than 5’8″ works there. In the wood workshop where bell wheels are made, is the foundry “graveyard” commemorating those that have died while working (no details give for those, possibly an interesting story) and in retirement.

I’d love to re-visit when they actually cast a bell, but understandably they prefer not to have members of the public around when sloshing tons of molten metal around.

DG visited in 2008, around the time I booked my first, forgotten, tour.