Valence House, a relic of the 13th century, stands as the last sentinel of Dagenham’s five ancient manor houses. Earning its Grade II listing in 1954, this house whispers the name of its 14th-century tenants, Agnes de Valence and her brother Aylmer, Earl of Pembroke.
Hailing from the opulent French province of Valence, Agnes was a noblewoman with royal bloodlines, her grandmother being none other than Isabella of Angouleme, the consort of King John of England.
Though the estate changed hands, passing to the Dean and Chapter of Windsor in 1475 and later to the Church Commissioners in 1867, the wealthy tenants who graced its halls never truly owned it. Yet, they shaped its destiny, expanding its grandeur and wealth.
In 1921, the London County Council acquired Valence House, transforming it into the heart of the Becontree estate. It served as council headquarters, and under the stewardship of the Dagenham Urban District Council, it grew further, becoming a hub for offices and the council chamber between 1928 and 1929.
Its role as a town hall lasted until 1937, when it evolved into the library headquarters of the district, its council chamber a showcase of local history.
But Valence House’s history is not merely one of governance and grandeur. During the dark days of the Second World War, it became a fortress of safety, an Air Raid Precautions (ARP) and fire-watching post. Here, staff handed out gas masks and ration books, a beacon of hope in a time of despair.
The Dagenham Women’s Voluntary Service made it their base, providing solace and essentials to those whose lives were shattered by the bombings. Though the house itself suffered a scar in an air raid in April 1941, it stood resilient.
After the war, Valence House blossomed into a museum, its exhibits growing to fill room after room with the rich tapestry of local history. When the Library Service departed in 1974, the doors were flung wide open to the public, inviting all to explore the local history museum for Barking and Dagenham.