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A Walk in the Park

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A Walk in the Park

Katie Avagah

A bright and unusually warm Saturday at the end of October we made our way over to the bridge in Beam Parklands for a ‘History Walk’; I had no idea who was leading the walk.  Waiting for us were Rangers Ruth and Dominic, and Mark Watson from Valence House! Anyone who has experienced a talk or walk led by Mark will realise we were in for an afternoon of great interest and entertainment.

Mark took us back in time to the Saxons and the Romans, Daecca’s Ham being the original place name.  When the Hospital grounds were cleared young archaeologists’ from Cambridge came for a ‘dig’, the artefacts found will return to Dagenham when carbon-dated and examined.  Unfortunately nothing of great ‘wow’ facture was discovered, there being no record of any large estate or manor built on this area of Dagenham. They said it did however suggest that a sizeable ‘village’ had been on this site.  We did find some ‘brick’ which the archaeologists told us were ‘Medieval’, and most of us proudly took a small sample home.  Mark explained the River Beam was originally just the beam or boundary around the farmer’s land; many of the established names now in use being derivative of Old English words.  

The Old Dagenham Hospital was built here in Dagenham for the T.B. patients residing in the damp, unsanitary slums of London.  They were sent for convalescent; Dagenham being considered then a most healthy place, where met the winds from North, South, East and West and all degrees between..  They were housed in small huts, open to the elements, where they recuperated from this most feared illness.  Later it became a hospital for the elderly and infirm.  In the 60’s on August Bank Holiday Monday all roads seemed to lead to the hospital as families strolled towards the grounds for their annual fete; very few cars or money around then to take them to holiday delights further afield.  During the 1820’s Elizabeth Fry and her family had a holiday cottage here beside the Dagenham Breach and she spoke fondly of her time spent here.

In the 1920’s the LCC began the renowned Becontree Estate.  My parents came here in 1926 from Stepney Green; one had to be in regular employment, of good character and solvent, to be considered for a tenancy.  One can only imagine how the local people felt about this influx of numerous East-Enders and their offspring, who spoke a completely different language to these Essex country folk; or indeed the dread felt by these young ‘townies’ leaving their families and friends, to be faced with fields and animals for neighbours! As a child, I can remember our relatives coming here for a ‘day in the country’. Mark told us that the Becontree Estate was held as ‘a supreme example of how a Council Estate should be run’, with dignitaries visiting from across the country, and even from abroad, for advice and tours.

My mum told us that outside the shops there were metal rings in the ground to tether your horse.  On Market-Day they would walk into Romford from the Merry Fiddlers, with babies in their prams and little toddlers trotting alongside, to buy the fresh food on the stalls.  This was when they also held the Cattle Market in Romford.  One such day my eldest sister and brother decided to go to market, taking along the other three younger siblings, the baby being in the pram. They were walking homewards when apparently a bull or cow had escaped the pens and was charging down the lane. With quick thinking they shoved the pram into the ditch alongside the road, and all followed in.  The animal continued on its merry way; while baby sister in the pram, has lived with a broken nose all her life as a memento of this escapade!  Later when the family were moved to Downing Road, a favourite past time of my older siblings was to take the pram, plus recent baby, to the top of Heathway shopping parade. Start said pram down the hill, jump on the mudguards and career down the hill, round into Hedgemans Road and hopefully come to a stop.  In later life I remember she often complained about folk riding bikes on the pavement!  

Ford Motor Company, along with many smaller industrial firms, arrived to provide much needed work for the new residents of Dagenham, and so completely changed this small rural village into a sprawling, working class suburb of Greater London.

My write up does small justice to Mark’s History Walk.  It lasted 2 hours but seemed to pass in minutes. Thank you again Mark for a most enjoyable afternoon, and also thank you to Ruth and Dominic for arranging the event. And Ruth, ‘You have to have a dream; and I hope your dreams for Beam Parklands work out’.   This was a few years ago, when plans were just being made for Beam Parklands.  Now we have a sizeable lake which is being used by a variety  of water-fowl.  Paths cross the area; trees we planted are slowly matureing; it has become an enjoyable place to walk.  We have lost, of course, many of our Rangers, which unfortunately is affecting the maintenance of both Beamlands and Eastbrook End Country Park.          
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