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Archaeological dig at Valence House in Barking and Dagenham

Two people standing in front of an archaeological digTags Adults , Business , Children , Council , Residents , Teenagers

Barking and Dagenham Council are pleased to announce that a series of important preliminary archaeological works have been underway. So, the historic moated enclosure in Valence Park can partially reopen in early 2021, will its full reopening in late 2021. Also known as the fishing lake, current work on this important medieval site in Valence Park is part of the first stage of wider ambitious plans for Valence House and Park, for which public consultation will be taking place in early 2021. 

Following the closure of this much-loved water feature, due to health and safety concerns and the serious erosion of the banks, the council has been working on plans for bank restoration works that will enhance and protect this sensitive historic site, as well as wider work to improve access to the museum, archives and moated enclosure. The moat-lake is thought to date from at least the 1200s. 

Due to sensitivity of this unique heritage asset – it is one of the few remaining moats in London to still have water in it, we’ve had to spend time this year to better understand this potentially rich medieval site. Temporary repairs are currently underway with permanent works going on site during the Summer and Autumn of 2021. In the meantime, we are undertaking in-depth research into the history of the site, including its ancient trees, the historic mud ‘silts’ as well as the tenants of this important farmed estate. 

It was exciting to go there and see the fascinating and intricate work that is happening on the site. I look forward to hearing about their findings and the future works due to take place at the site.

Why are we looking for historic ‘silts’ mud? 

Archaeologists from MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) in collaboration with Ground Engineering Ltd. have been on site for several days to undertake archaeological surveys of this important asset, which is part of the Grade II* listed building. This geoarchaeological transect survey and a test pit along the northern arm will help determine the original depth and width of the moat, and perhaps reveal secrets hidden in the historic ‘silts’ or mud, that we hope lines the moat-lake. 

If the archaeologists find historic ‘silts’ and other organic material, they can be used to create a timeline of activity telling us how the shape of the water body changed over time as well as information about what plants were being grown on site and what food was being eaten by the tenants of the house at the time. The silts create distinct layers on top of each other – much like the layers of a cake – each one being unique with its own story to tell. Oxygen does not survive in waterlogged environments therefore organic material like seeds, bones and plant matter can survive for thousands of years. 

One of the greatest finds from a waterlogged site in the borough is currently on display in Valence House Museum. The Dagenham Idol, which is over 4,000 years old and is made of wood, survived against the odds due to being buried in bog just south of the Ripple Road in Dagenham. Valence House will be posting regular updates on the archaeological work and interviews with the archaeologists on their social media pages for the public to see. They are also planning a series of community engagement events in 2021 as part of the Becontree 100 celebrations. So, who knows what will be found at the bottom of the Valence House moat – perhaps another discovery as impressive as the idol? Our fingers are crossed! 

Councillor Saima Ashraf, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Community Leadership and Engagement said: “I had the pleasure of visiting the site with the Valence House team and Marit Leenstra from MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology). It was exciting to go there and see the fascinating and intricate work that is happening on the site. I look forward to hearing about their findings and the future works due to take place at the site.” 

Marit Leenstra, Project Manager at MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) said: “It is wonderful to have the opportunity to investigate the Valence House Medieval moat and put it back into its historical context. The site is a great asset to the community I hope that the work we are doing will allow the public to become even more engaged with this fascinating piece of local history.

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