Gauguin Portraits

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Self Portrait, 1885

This winter (2019) in an exhibition sponsored by Credit Suisse, the National Gallery is providing visitors with the opportunity to view the portraits of Paul Gauguin. Never exhibited together before, the portraits illustrate the artist’s life from his early years in France to his last in French Polynesia. Fifty paintings have been sourced from collections all over the world that demonstrate Gauguin’s experimental use of colour and Synthetist style that, whilst unappreciated during his lifetime, have made him an important figure in art history.

The exhibition begins with a selection of Gauguin’s self-portraits. Described as self-obsessed, Gauguin painted himself many times throughout his career, believing that the world could only be understood from his point of view. He thought art could only exist in relation to memory, dreams, heritage and emotions, therefore, many of his paintings reflect the way he saw the world.

Often, Gauguin used himself as a model for paintings that were not necessarily intended to be self-portraits. By adopting other personas, Gauguin placed himself in histories and mythologies, showing the world how he interpreted the stories.

On more than one occasion, Gauguin painted himself as Christ. He is not the only artist to have done this; Dürer (1471-1528), for instance, had used himself as a model for Christ centuries before. Gauguin’s features are highly recognisable in his paintings of Christ and his facial expressions demonstrate Christ’s anguish and distress. He found a parallel between himself and Christ, feeling that he too was misunderstood.

In Christ in the Garden of Olives, the red-haired Gauguin depicts himself as Christ on the eve of his betrayal. When he painted this, Gauguin was struggling to sell his work and felt isolated and persecuted by the art world. By using himself as the model for this Biblical event, Gauguin communicated his own sense of suffering.

There is less emotion in Self Portrait (Near Golgotha), which was painted in front of Gauguin’s impression of the hill on which Christ was crucified. To the left of Christ – or Gauguin – is the head of a Polynesian idol. To understand this reference, the viewer needs to know a little about Gauguin’s life, particularly his later years.

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Paul Gauguin, 1981

Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin was born in Paris on 7th June 1848 to Clovis Gauguin and Aline Chazal. Both parents were rather radical; his father was a journalist and his mother was the daughter of the political and feminist activist, Flora Tristan (1803-44).

Gauguin’s mother was of Spanish-Peruvian descent and the family decided to move to Peru in 1849 shortly after the Revolution in France. Clovis hoped the move would help his journalistic career, however, he died of a heart attack en route. Aline arrived in Peru a widow with 18-month-old Paul and his 212 year-old sister, Marie. They were welcomed by Aline’s great-uncle whose son-in-law was soon to become the president of Peru. Due to the prestige of his mother’s family, Gauguin grew up attended by nursemaids and servants.

Unfortunately, Gauguin’s family fell from political power during Peruvian civil conflicts in 1854 and returned to France. Gauguin and his sister were left in the care of his paternal grandfather in Orléans while his mother worked as a dressmaker in Paris. Despite this unconventional life, Gauguin received a prestigious Catholic education at Petit Séminaire de La Chapelle-Saint-Mesmin, a boarding school in the north of France. This was followed by a couple of years at the Loriol Institute, a naval school preparatory in Paris, and a final year at the Lycée Jeanne D’Arc in Orléans.

On finishing school, Gauguin enlisted as a pilot’s assistant in the merchant marine and later served in the French Navy for two years. Unbeknownst to him, his mother died on 7th July 1867 whilst he was at sea and he did not learn of the death until his sister found him in India. Although he had enjoyed sailing around the world, Gauguin returned to Paris where family friend Gustave Arosa acted as his legal guardian.

With Arosa’s help, Gauguin got a job as a stockbroker at the Paris Bourse when he was twenty-three years old. Over the next decade, Gauguin became a successful businessman earning 30,000 francs a year. During this time, he met a Danish woman, Mette-Sophie Gad (1850–1920) who he married in 1873. Around the same time, he began painting in his free time and became friends with the French-Danish painter Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) who encouraged Gauguin’s love of art.

Pissarro introduced Gauguin to other artists, including Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) and the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922). He was encouraged to take part in three Impressionist exhibitions, however, the reviews he received were rather dismissive in comparison to the highly regarded opinions today.

Gauguin and Mette had five children: Émile (1874–1955); Aline (1877–97); Clovis (1879–1900); Jean René (1881–1961); and Paul Rollon (1883–1961), who were frequent subjects of Gauguin’s paintings. Initially, the Gauguin family were fairly well off, however, in 1882 the Paris stock market crashed causing Gauguin’s earnings to diminish almost entirely. As a result, he decided to become a full-time painter.

The family moved to Rouen on the River Seine where they could live more cheaply. Gauguin hoped he would be able to earn a living from his paintings, however, the venture proved unsuccessful. As he was unable to provide for them, Mette and the children moved to Copenhagen, presumably to stay with her family. Gauguin and his art collection joined them in 1884, however, the Danish city proved to be as equally difficult to establish himself as an artist. He was soon urged to return to Paris along with his six-year-old son Clovis.

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Still Life with Profile of Laval, 1886

Gauguin found it hard to get back into the Parisian art world and was virtually living in poverty. He took on menial jobs to earn a bit of money but it was not enough to live on and his son Clovis fell ill. This prompted Gauguin’s sister to pay for Clovis to attend boarding school.

Without Clovis to look after, Gauguin was able to focus on his art. Although he did not produce many paintings during this time, he tried to sell artworks he had produced in Rouen and Copenhagen. He exhibited in the final Impressionist exhibition in May 1886, which had a similar outcome to the previous three, however, he did sell one painting to the French painter Félix Bracquemond (1833-1914).

Attracted by the affordable living conditions, Gauguin spent the summer of 1886 in the artist’s colony of Pont-Aven in Brittany. Many art students visited the area, including Charles Laval (1861-94) who became an admirer and follower of Gauguin. In a still-life resembling the work of Cézanne, Gauguin included a side profile of Laval at the edge of the picture looking at the fruit displayed on the table.

The following year, Laval accompanied Gaugain to Panama and Martinique in the Caribbean. Despite suffering from dysentery and marsh fever, he produced a dozen paintings. On his return to France, these were displayed in a gallery where they were admired by Vincent van Gogh (1853-90) and the art dealer Theo van Gogh (1857-91). Theo purchased three of Gauguin’s paintings for 900 francs and arranged for them to be hung in his art gallery.

Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh became close friends and in 1888 Gauguin was invited to spend nine weeks at his Yellow House in Arles. They spent the time painting together, often producing the same scenes. On more than one occasion, they set their easels up side by side to paint portraits, for example, Augustine Roulin (1851-1930), the postman’s wife. Whilst Van Gogh rapidly completely his painting with large brushstrokes, Gauguin took his time using washes of flat, bold colours that almost resemble Japanese woodblock prints. Another portrait they both produced was of Marie Ginous (1848-1911), the owner of the Café de la Gare near Van Gogh’s home. Once again, Van Gogh immediately attacked his canvas with paint, whereas, Gauguin spent at least an hour making a detailed charcoal sketch before moving on to paint.

Whilst in Arles, Gauguin experimented with Van Gogh’s technique of completing a painting in one sitting. This was very different from his usual approach, which involved working over many sessions, however, the result is a pleasing, more energetic, freer portrait. The rapid brushstrokes of Old Man with a Stick emphasise the roughened skin of the sitter, particularly his red-raw hands from years of manual work.

Unfortunately, Gauguin’s close relationship with Van Gogh was not to last. The Dutch painter’s mental health was rapidly deteriorating and Gauguin decided he ought to leave. Distraught, Van Gogh, who worship Gauguin, confronted him with a razor blade, however, Gauguin still left and never saw Van Gogh again. Reportedly, later that evening, Van Gogh cut off his ear and gave it to a woman in a brothel saying, “keep this object carefully, in remembrance of me.”

Through Van Gogh’s brother Theo, Gauguin met the Dutch artist Meijer de Haan (1852-95). Together, Gauguin and De Haan visited Brittany where Gauguin produced many portraits of the artist. The National Gallery displays a couple of drawings Gauguin produced, presumably studies for larger paintings, and a wooden carving.

As well as painting, Gauguin produced sculptures from a variety of materials. In this instance, Gauguin produced a wooden sculpture of De Haan in the style of the religious sculptures they saw in Brittany. Originally decorated with brightly painted ambiguous symbols, De Haan’s face rises out of a block of oak wood. On his head is a winged creature that some believe to be a rooster, which would be a play on the English translation of De Haan’s name.

In 1891, Gauguin saw his family for the last time in Copenhagen. Gauguin and Mette’s marriage had fallen apart when he chose painting over his family and the rift was irreparable. His wife asked him to leave and Gauguin decided to leave European civilisation altogether.

After a successful auction of his paintings, Gauguin used the money to pay for his voyage to the Pacific island of Tahiti where he hoped to find a culture unspoilt by the West. He was fed up with the “artificial and conventional” European culture, however, when he reached Tahiti he was dismayed to discover that the island had been taken over by missionaries and French colonialists. He settled in Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia, but was upset at the lack of the primitive idyll he had visualised.

Missionaries distrusted the traditional Tahitian way of life and forced the women to wear modest clothing based on the styles worn in Europe. Outraged by this, Gauguin soon moved to Papeari in the south of the Island where he hoped to discover a more authentic lifestyle. Examples of the clothing the Tahitian women were forced to wear can be seen in many of Gauguin’s paintings produced on the Island. In Melancholic, a young Tahitian woman wears a bright pink missionary dress, however, her melancholic demeanour implies she is less than happy about the gradual disappearance of her culture in the wake of colonial contact.

While in Papeari, Gauguin was involved in many sexual relations with young Tahitian girls. He supposedly married two of them, although the term “marry” is rather loose, after all, he still had a European wife. His first Tahitian “wife” Tehamana (1878-1918) was only 13 or 14 years old when they met and, although it was customary for women to marry young, Gauguin may have exploited his privilege as a Westerner to claim her.
Tehamana features in many of Gauguin’s portraits, for example, Woman with a Mango, which was later purchased by Edgar Degas (1834-1917) in 1895. In the majority of these paintings, Tehamana is an anonymous model, however, on one occasion, Gauguin names her in the title. The Ancestors of Tehamana shows Tehamana in a typical missionary dress, however, she is surrounded by spiritual references from her past, or at least Gauguin’s interpretation of traditional Tahitian beliefs. Symbols include glyphs similar to those found on ancient tablets, a female figure and spirits of the dead.

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Arii matamoe (The Royal End), 1892

In an attempt to console himself from his disappointment at the lack of authentic culture, Gauguin often added fictional elements to his paintings. Gauguin wanted to paint local customs but found they were remarkably similar to those back home. After witnessing the funeral of Pōmare V (1839-91), a Tahitian king, Gauguin painted an imagined version of events, which included the disembodied head of the deceased being displayed and mourned over.

Gauguin sent many of his Tahitian paintings to France where his patron, George-Daniel de Monfreid (1856-1929) arranged for them to be displayed in a couple of exhibitions. Unfortunately, not many sold and Gauguin was getting dangerously low on funds. He was also suffering from a suspected heart problem, which in hindsight may have been early signs of cardiovascular syphilis, so Gauguin decided to return to France, leaving his “wife” and newborn child behind.

Gauguin arrived in Marseille on 30th August 1893. Although he was back in France, his work was still focused on Tahitian life. He began writing an account of his time on the island in a book called Noa Noa, however, critics claim it to be highly fictionalised and, on occasion, plagiarised.

Tahiti’s influence can be seen in Gauguin’s self-portrait from 1893. Although he wears typical Breton clothing, a sculpture of a Polynesian goddess can be seen in the background. Interestingly, Gauguin did not produce any pictures of himself while in Tahiti, yet immediately returned to the topic on his return to France.

After a moderately successful exhibition in November 1894, he moved to 6 rue Vercingétorix in the Montparnasse district of Paris where he hosted regular gatherings with artists, musicians and writers. He was known for his exotic dress sense which exuded the atmosphere of the South Seas. Unfortunately, sales of his paintings were either slow or non-existent, so he decided to try his luck in Brittany.

While in Brittany, Gauguin demonstrated the typical scenes he saw in colonised Tahiti. Armed with a bright yellow missionary dress he had brought with him, Gauguin commissioned a young Breton woman to pose as a model. Standing on the wayside praying, Gauguin’s representation of the woman combines traditional Breton lifestyle with missionary characteristics.

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Still Life with Apples, a Pear, and a Ceramic Portrait Jug, 1889

In 1895, after raising a tiny amount of money, Gauguin returned to Tahiti. For a time, he achieved a steady stream of sales and lived a comfortable life with other artists near Papeete. He took on another “wife” called Pau’ura, however, their daughter passed away shortly after birth. By this time he was also suffering from ill health and spent a short time in hospital during the summer of 1896.

The following year, Gauguin was able to send some of his artwork to France where they were exhibited in Paris as well as Brussels in Belgium. During this time, his book Noa Noa was being published in instalments. Yet, this brief period of positivity was not to last. In April 1897, Gauguin received the terrible news that his daughter Aline had died from pneumonia at the age of nineteen. Devastated, the news led him to attempt suicide.

Once again suffering financially, Gauguin was compelled to take a desk job at the Office of Public Works in Papeete. Meanwhile, the art dealer Ambroise Vollard (1886-1939) attempted to sell Gauguin’s paintings in France.

Gauguin began to play a role in Tahitian politics and contributed to the colonial government journal Les Guêpes (The Wasps). This encouraged him to establish his own monthly satirical journal Le Sourire: Journal sérieux (The Smile: A Serious Newspaper), later retitled Journal méchant (A Wicked Newspaper). In 1900, he also became the editor of Les Guêpes from which he received a salary.

Life on Tahiti was becoming increasingly westernised and Gauguin was frequently in hospital. Regardless of his health, Gauguin was determined to find somewhere more “authentic” and in September 1901 moved to the Marquesan island of Hiva Oa in Polynesia. There was no doctor on the island and Gauguin had to rely on the Protestant pastor Paul Vernier, who had a little medical training.

Gauguin and Vernier became friends, however, many of the missionaries on the island were not impressed with his studio called the “House of Pleasure” in which he conducted relationships with local women as well as painting. Gauguin was particularly averse to the bishop Monseigneur Joseph Martin whose likeness he carved from miro wood. Titled Père Paillard (Father Lecher), Gauguin included devil horns to show how he really felt about the bishop.

When he was well enough, Gauguin painted portraits of the locals in their native costume or lack of, such as in Barbarian Tales. Another caricature of the bishop can be seen behind the two semi-naked ladies in the foreground.

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Self Portrait, 1903

By 1903, Gauguin’s health was rapidly deteriorating. He painted his final self-portrait, which was much simpler and less exotic than his usual style, and gave it as a gift to the Vietnamese exile Nguyen Van Cam (Ky Dong) who, along with Vernier, helped to look after him in his ill-health.

On 8th May 1903, Gauguin was weak and in great pain. He sent for Pastor Vernier, complaining that he kept experiencing fainting fits. Vernier ensured he was stable, however, later that day he was found dead by a neighbour. An empty bottle of laudanum on the bedside suggested he may have been the victim of an overdose, however, the general consensus is that he had suffered a heart attack.

Like his old friend Van Gogh, Gauguin did not receive any accolades until after his death. Today, people flock to exhibitions to see his work and his paintings belong to collections all over the world. Whilst the National Gallery’s exhibition only focuses on portraits, it manages to tell the story of Gauguin’s life from birth through to his final days. A 15-minute video provides specific details and an analysis of his work.

Paul Gauguin would be amazed to see the number of people purchasing tickets to see his work. He would never have thought that his work would sell for $210 million, as one piece did in 2014. He was also the inspiration for W. Somerset Maugham’s (1875-1965) novel The Moon and Sixpence.

The Credit Suisse Exhibition Gauguin Portraits can be seen at the National Gallery in London until 26th January 2020. Tickets are priced at £22-24, although various concessions apply.

Valence House – A Place of Discovery

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Listed as one of the top 50 best free things to do in London, Valence House is the only surviving Manor House in Dagenham, East London. In medieval times, Dagenham, Barking and Ilford were part of the Manor of Barking owned by Barking Abbey. Valence House was one of the smaller manors on the land, rented out to generate income for the Abbey. Now a museum, Valence House provides details about the history of the manor house and surrounding lands. The curators have also travelled back much further to the first settlers, explaining how the area developed into the place it is today.

The earliest reference to Valence House is in approximately 1269, however, the first-named inhabitant moved to the property in 1291. This was Agnes de Valence (born 1250), the youngest daughter of William de Valence and Joan de Munchensi (1230-1307). The family had a strong influence on the politics of the 13th century, particularly William de Valance who was the half-brother to Henry III of England and uncle to Edward I. Initially Agnes was married off to an Irish man, however, he died soon afterwards and she returned to England. Agnes was then married off to the Scottish magnate Hugh de Balliol, however, once again, it was not to last. After a third short arranged marriage, Agnes de Valence moved to the manor house, which to this day retains her name.

Nothing is known about Agnes’ life at Valence House or those directly following her, however, by 1435, Barking Abbey had sold the manor of Valence to St Anthony’s Hospital in London (now in the London Borough of Sutton). Four decades later, Edward IV (1442-83), the first Yorkist King, granted the hospital and Valence House to the Dean and Chapter of Windsor. Meanwhile, the house continued to be let out.

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The lease of the house found its way into the hands of the Fanshawe family, whose portraits fill one of the rooms of the museum. Unfortunately, Henry Fanshawe died while his daughter Susanna (1567-1610) was still a baby, leaving the lease of the house to her, which she would gain upon marriage. In 1583, Susanna married Timothy Lucy of Charlecote Park, Warwickshire and moved into Valence House until they sold the lease in 1596 to Sir Nicholas Coote, during which time they had eight children.

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During redevelopments of the museum in 2008, a sixteenth-century wall painting behind a false wall was discovered. It has been dated to the time that Susanna Lucy may have lived at the manor and is believed to be one of many panels that would have once decorated an entire room. The painting depicts a grotesque satyr-like creature with red hair carrying a basket of fruit on its head. The chains around the legs suggest the satyr is a prisoner or slave.

Whilst the dating of the painting suggests it may have been commissioned by Timothy Lucy, dating a centuries-old painting is a difficult task and some experts suggest that it may have been produced the following century. One of the reasons for this suggestion is the subject matter. Traditionally, satyrs represent lust and boar-like creatures, which also feature in the artwork, represent rudeness and wildness. This is a strange topic for a family man to commission, therefore, it may have been the purchase of a future tenant: Thomas Bonham.

Thomas Bonham (d.1676), a London merchant rented the house from 1635. If his tombstone inside Dagenham Parish Church is anything to go by, Bonham led an aberrant life and was involved in many scandals. On one occasion, both he and his wife ended up spending time in Colchester jail.

Stay wayfarer! Lest you be ignorant who is buried here, it is worth your while to know that it is Thomas Bonham Esquire, Lord of Valentia in Essex. He is ever to be praised and can never, alas, be sufficiently lamented. This marble cannot contain his other virtues, nor indeed scarcely would the quarry itself from which it is hewn.
– Inscription on Thomas Bonham’s tomb

Each new tenant of Valence House modernised the building and landscape. When the estate was leased to Henry Merttins (d.1725), a merchant tailor, in 1719, he remodelled the property to make it more appropriate for his genteel family. The Merttins used Valence House as their main family home, adding fashionably large windows and touches of grandeur. Henry Merttins was a fairly wealthy man – his brother was the Lord Mayor of London, Sir George Merttins (1664-1727) – and when he died in 1725, passed the lease of the house to his son John Henry Merttins (d.1776) who remodelled the east wing of the house and built a new staircase.

In 1776, Henry Merttins Bird (d.1818) became the next tenant of the house. Henry was in full support of the development of the United States of America and liaised with George Washington (1732-1799) after the American War of Independence.

“I presume to offer the services of the house of Henry Merttins Bird, Benjamin Savage & Robert Bird, known under the firm of Bird, Savage, & Bird, American merchants of London, in which I am a partner.”
Henry Merttins Bird in a letter to George Washington

Henry campaigned for trade with the USA to be restored, however, in the early 1800s, his banking company collapsed and he was forced to sell the lease on Valence House.

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Mr and Mrs May of Valence House (c. 1910)

The following tenants included Mrs Greenhill and her eight children, who moved to Australia in 1861 where they also lived in a house called Valence.

In 1879, Thomas May, his wife Helen, six children and mother-in-law Eliza Luxmoore moved into Valence House. A further five children were born whilst living in the manor house, bringing their total up to eleven. Thomas was a farmer and became famous for introducing tomato growing to Dagenham. He also bred shire horses and founded the Essex Foal Show Society. In the walled garden, the May family grew grapes, apricots and peaches in greenhouses. The children loved to play in the gardens, often conducting funerals for and burying their dolls.

When Thomas May died in 1913, the same year as his mother-in-law, the lease was inherited by his eldest son Robert. Unfortunately, the family were forced to move when the London County Council purchased the property in 1921. They moved to Gidea Park where they named their new house Valence. A model of the estate as it looked in 1921 is located in the first room of the museum.

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The London County Council purchased Valence House as well as the manor houses of Parsloes, Porters and Jenkins to use the land for its new Becontree Estate housing scheme. All the manor houses were scheduled for demolition, however, Valence House was saved in 1926 when it was purchased by the Dagenham Urban District Council for use as an office. The building was extended to create a council chamber on the first floor of the house. The council remained at the house until 1937 when it became the headquarters of the Borough’s Library Service.

During the Second World War, Valence House became a post for the Air Raid Precautions (ARP). They provided locals with gas masks and ration books, and clothing to those who found themselves homeless. After the war, the Library Service continued to use the premises until 1974 when Valence House opened as a museum of the history of Barking and Dagenham.

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The oldest exhibit in the museum is a wooden figure known as the Dagenham Idol. It was discovered in 1922 in Dagenham’s marshes and is thought to be the earliest known carving of a human form to be found in Europe. Made from Scots Pine, dendrochronology has revealed that it belongs to the Late Neolithic period, circa 2250 BC, making it a thousand years older than Stonehenge.

Although the Idol proves people lived in the area 4000 years ago, no one knows its true purpose. It was discovered next to a skeleton of a deer, suggesting it had been deliberately buried, perhaps as part of a religious ceremony. It is generally believed the figurine may have been a fertility symbol but for arable farmland rather than people.

The first settlers during the Neolithic age were most likely farmers. The marshes would have been sources of both water and food and the nearby woodlands provided abundant timber for fires and buildings. Little evidence remains from these pre-historic times, however, many changes to the land occurred during the Roman, Saxon and Medieval eras.

The Romans were responsible for the Londinium (London) to Camulodunum (Colchester) road that lies north of Valence House. They established towns in the area, such as Durolitum (Romford) and Uphall Camp (Barking). Roads were gradually built to connect towns and settlements, allowing people to be able to travel more freely.

During the Saxon era, more towns began to appear, including Dagenham and Wanstead, which were followed by many more in the early Medieval period. Barking Abbey was founded in 666 AD by a priest named Erkenwald for his sister Ethelburga. Despite suffering from Viking raids, the Abbey became the owner of the surrounding land, which extended as far as the Parish of All Hallows Barking by the Tower of London.

The abbess of Barking Abbey was given the title of Lord of the Manor, allowing her to control the lives of the inhabitants in Barking and Dagenham. She was in charge of all the farms and manor houses whose earnings went towards the upkeep of the abbey. In 1536, however, King Henry VIII (1491-1547) began the Dissolution of the Monasteries, closing down and seizing religious properties. Barking Abbey survived longer than most because the abbess, Dorothy Barley, was a close friend of the King’s representative. Nonetheless, the abbey was eventually surrendered in 1539.

The Tudor Monarchs gradually sold or gifted the lands once belonging to religious buildings to people within the royal court. Towns developed and spread to accommodate an increasing population. Farmland was replaced with houses, shops, schools and so forth until little evidence remained of the former abbey.

The museum leaps forward in time to the 19th and 20th centuries as visitors progress from the ground floor to the first floor. On the wall of the staircase, illustrations of people demonstrate the changes in fashion over time until, at the very top, it ends with an image of Sir Bobby Moore (1941-93). Moore is one of the famous locals celebrated in the museum. He grew up in Barking and began his football career as captain of Barking Primary School’s football team. In 1958, he joined West Ham and, by the end of his career, he had made 90 appearances as England Captain.

There are a few other sporting legends that have come from Barking or Dagenham. Sir Alf Ramsey (1920-99), for instance, attended Becontree Heath School, and midfielder Terry Venables (b.1943) was born in Valence Avenue, Dagenham. John Terry (b.1980), the assistant manager of Aston Villa F.C. is also a local celebrity.

Other famous faces include comedian Dudley Moore (1935-2002), who attended Dagenham County High School, Eurovision winner Sandi Shaw (Sandra Goodrich, b.1947), Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey (b.1935) and Quaker Minister Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845).

The Valence House Museum provides a concise history of the past century, which includes Suffragette activity and a visit from Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) in 1931. Fairs, festivals and pageants were a strong part of Dagenham’s past and attracted thousands of people. In 1931, the Barking Pageant and Industrial Exhibition attracted 200,000 people. Twenty years later, the Dagenham Pageant attracted a similar amount and Valence House was used for some of the festivities.

As previously stated, Valence House was almost demolished to make way for the new Becontree Estate. Although it was saved from such a fate, the Estate plans went ahead and in 1934, 27,000 new houses provided homes for over 100,000 people. Each house contained inside toilets, fitted bathrooms, gas and electricity. In order to maintain the upkeep of the new estate, tenants were issued rule handbooks and the London County Council employed inspectors to check on the standard of housekeeping. Regulations included cleaning windows once a week, scrubbing front and back doorsteps, and keeping gardens neat and tidy. Families who failed to meet these standards risked being evicted from their homes.

In the early 20th century, Dagenham became an industrial area; the complete opposite to the rural farmland it once was. By 1929, Dagenham Dock, which was only twelve miles from London, was a thriving industrial estate. In 1931, the Ford Motor Company opened its factory on the Docks, eventually extending to cover an area of more than 600 acres. By the 1950s, Ford Dagenham was the largest car production plant in Europe and one in three cars on British roads has been made in Dagenham. Soon, the names Ford and Dagenham were synonymous.

Barking was granted a Charter of Incorporation in 1931, which promoted the area to an Essex Borough complete with its own mayor. Dagenham followed suit in 1938. By 1965, London had expanded so much that it claimed both Barking and Dagenham, joining them together as the London Borough of Barking. Naturally, Dagenham residents were upset about the name and eventually persuaded the council to retitle the borough as the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham in 1980.


There is so much to take in at Valence House and there is an endless amount of information about the history of Dagenham. Photographs, videos, voice recordings and objects help to tell the story of the borough as well as the bygone days of the manor house. A tiny cinema provides visitors with the chance to sit down and learn a little about particular aspects of the past. The current film comprises five animations about Barking’s industrial heritage and its pungent past. Titled The Barking Stink: A Scented History, the 25-minute film made in collaboration with Thames Festival Trust focuses on Barking’s fishing past, the developing factories and the problem with sewers.

Next to Valence House is the award-winning Herb Garden. Having achieved the Green Flag and London Bloom Awards, the historic garden features a green pergola, box hedging, rose beds and herbs. One section has been transformed into a World War Two ‘Dig for Victory’ Garden, complete with a replica Anderson Shelter.

Valence House also keeps bees and their honey is available for purchase in the gift shop. The Oasis Cafe provides hot and cold lunches, cakes and a variety of drinks, plus the opportunity to rest before or/and after visiting the museum.

Valence Park, which includes the remains of a moat, was once part of the Valence House grounds. As well as a fishing lake, children’s playground and open lawns, the park is full of trees, including the Holm Oak, which has been judged to be one of the greatest trees in London. Other trees include the tulip tree, a ginkgo biloba, an English Oak and an ancient coppiced hazel.
Free to visit, Valence House is a fantastic place for people of all ages. There are activities to keep children interested, fascinating information about the area, and a walk down memory lane for older people. The house and cafe are open Tuesdays to Saturdays from 10 am to 4 pm and free parking is available in Valence Park.

The World’s Smallest Police District

True. Our museum isn’t big. But then, it does tell the story behind the smallest police district in the world.

Hidden next to the Guildhall Library in the City of London is a tiny museum with a big story to tell. The City of London Police has been helping to keep the City safe since it was established in 1839. Whilst they only police the “Square Mile” from Farringdon to the Tower of London, they are a very important presence in the City. Without them, London would be a more dangerous place.

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Before 1839, the City of London did not have an official police force, however, it was still policed in many ways. The museum begins with a brief history of the previous centuries. Ever since the City was established, watchmen have defended the City of London from attack. The watchman’s job changed in the 13th century to include reinforcing order within the City walls. Male citizens took it in turns to serve as a watcher for one year. Although deputies were appointed, no formal training was provided.

In 1550, the City was divided into 26 wards, each of which was manned by a single watchman per night. Not only were they not trained, but they also received no pay and if any trouble did occur, it was usually too much for a single man to handle. In 1663, an Act was passed stating that a thousand men should be on duty every night. Although these men were paid, it was a mere pittance and many of the men were old and frail. Nicknamed “Charleys” after Charles II (1630-85), each man was equipped with a lantern, a wooden stick and a pair of handcuffs.

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Marshalman’s Sword

By 1737, another Act had been passed, allowing additional men to be appointed each night when necessary. Two Marshalls and six Marshalmen were employed to oversee these men, attend courts and ensure watchmen were on duty. Each Marshalman carried a sword and enforced peace within the City. They also patrolled streets to ensure no beggars were sleeping rough or pestering London citizens for money.

Watchmen carried rattles to alert other watchers of criminal activity and indicate that they needed assistance. Later, watchmen were equipped with truncheons; an old example made by the Worshipful Company of Bakers is on display in the museum.

As of 1784, the City of London was protected by the City Day Police, which included paid constables. When the Metropolitan Police was formed in 1829 to cover the entirety of London, the City refused to be a part of it. The City within the Square Mile feared they would lose their independence and powers, therefore, ten years later in 1839, they established their own force. To this day, the Met and the City of London Police remain two separate forces.

The rules and regulations of the City of London Police were set out in an Act of Parliament. The Court of Common Council was formed to make decisions about how the City was run and a Police Committee was established. They also created the role of Commissioner.

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Daniel Whittle Harvey – Illustrated London News. March 7, 1863

In 1839, Daniel Whittle Harvey (1786-1863) became the first Commissioner of the City of London Police. Before this appointment, he had been a radical politician and founder of The Sunday Times newspaper. On one occasion, Harvey was imprisoned when his newspaper libelled the King, George IV (1762-1830), however, this did not damage his career. Initially, Harvey was appointed Registrar of the Metropolitan Public Carriages (now known as Taxicabs) at the beginning of 1839 before taking up his post as Commissioner. Harvey was known for his difficult and outspoken character and frequently argued with his superiors; nonetheless, he retained his post until his death in 1863.

The City of London Police were also responsible for setting up the London Ambulance service. Before 1907, there was no ambulance service in London and the only means of getting someone to hospital was by horse-drawn carriage or by foot – either walking or carried. The City of London Corporation purchased two electric ambulances to be manned by City Police officers. These were replaced by petrol vehicles in 1927 and, eventually, the NHS took over the ambulance service in 1949.

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Catherine Eddowes’ grave marker at the City of London Cemetery

Although the City of London Police only covers a small area, they have had their fair share of major incidents. One of the first significant events occurred in the early hours of 30th September 1888 when a Police Constable discovered the body of a woman in Mitre Square.

PC Edward Watkins had been a member of the City of London Police for 17 years when he set out on his routine walk through the streets of the City. He passed through Mitre Square at 1:30 am, and seeing nothing unusual, continued on his way. Retracing his steps at 1:44 am, however, Watkins came across the mutilated body of a woman. Alerting other policemen nearby, Watkins was soon joined by the acting Commissioner Sir Henry Smith and City Police Surgeon Dr Frederick Gordon Brown who concluded they were looking at the fourth victim of “Jack the Ripper”. Whilst this was the fourth victim, it was the first to take place within the City.

The victim was identified as Catherine Eddowes (1842-88), known to her friends as Kate. She was originally from Wolverhampton where she worked as a tinplate stamper. She married an ex-soldier, Thomas Conway and moved to London where they lived with their two sons and daughter. Unfortunately, Kate became an alcoholic and left her family in 1880, moving in with a new partner John Kelly the following year. It is believed she may have taken on casual sex work to pay the rent.

On the evening of 29th September 1888, the young PC Louis Robinson found a drunken Catherine Eddowes lying in the road on Aldgate High Street. Robinson arrested her and brought her to the station to sober up. She gave her name and address as “Mary Ann Kelly of 6 Fashion Street” and was held in police custody for a few hours. By 1 am, the police had no choice but to let her go; she had not committed a crime and they needed the space. With a flippant “Goodnight, old cock,” Catherine left the station in the direction of Aldgate.

Catherine Eddowes’ body was identified by John Kelly who recognised her description in a newspaper. Three witnesses claim to have seen her alive at 1:35 am talking to a man at the entrance to a passage leading to Mitre Square. In less than ten minutes she was dead. The murderer was never caught.

 

“City policemen murdered by alien burglars … who are these fiends in human shape?”
– The Daily Graphic, 1910

The next significant event in the history of the City of London Police is known as the Houndsditch Murders. On the evening of 16th December 1910, strange noises were heard coming from a house in Houndsditch. The police were called and arrived to discover a Latvian gang attempting to rob a jeweller’s shop. Armed with whistles and truncheons, the police entered the house and were promptly shot at by the gang. On that night, three policemen were killed and a further two injured.

Sergeant Robert Bentley had joined the City Police in 1898 and was only 36 years old when he was shot twice by one of the gang leaders. Although he was rushed to St Bartholomew’s Hospital, he died the following day – the day before the birth of his second child.

Sergeant Charles Tucker was due to retire after 26 years in the City of London Police. Sadly, he shared the fate of Sergeant Bentley and died from two gunshot wounds. The third victim, PC Walter Charles Choat, died from multiple wounds after he caught and held onto the gang leader, George Gardstein. Choat was only 34 years old.

George Gardstein was later discovered at a house in Stepney. He had been injured during the gunfire and the police had been tipped off by his doctor. By the time the police arrived at the house, however, Gardstein had died from his injuries. They were none the wiser as to the whereabouts of the other gang members and the Commissioner Captain Sir William Nott-Bower (1849-1939) issued a reward for any information.

 

Gradually the police began to locate all the gang members and on 2nd January 1911, they tracked down the final two to a house in Sidney Street. Knowing they were soon to be caught, the gang members refused to surrender and an armed siege followed. As the Home Secretary, Winston Churchill (1874-65) brought in the Scots Guards to assist the police, however, this encouraged the gang members to begin firing guns at the police on the street below. As a result, the house caught fire and both gang members died.

Despite the murders of three policemen, the remaining members of the gang were released from prison after their trial concluded there was not enough evidence to convict them. This led to debates about immigration but, most importantly, caused the police to think about the suitability of their weapons.

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War brought a series of challenges to the City of London Police. During the First World War (1914-18), bombing was a constant threat. It caused devastation in the City and many people were injured or killed. Unfortunately, many officers had joined up with the armed forces, leaving very few behind to cope with policing the Square Mile. Luckily, the Commissioner had the foresight to set up a First Police Reserve made up of retired policemen, plus a Second Police Reserve of younger, healthy men. These Reserve Forces went on to become the City of London’s Special Constabulary, providing extra assistance where it was needed.

Each member of the Reserve Forces was identified by Gold Bullion hat badges. They all contained the City Police logo and the motto Domine Dirige Nos (Lord Guide Us), however, the colour differed depending on the wearer’s rank. Red was used to identify a Constable, blue for a Sergeant and white for an Inspector.

Unfortunately, the year after the First World War was just as challenging. Policemen throughout the country were going on strike over salaries. Many of these policemen were then dismissed by their Commissioners. Although a committee was eventually established to address the situation and support pay increases, policemen were not allowed to form a union.

 

A policeman’s job could often be dangerous, however, they still had time for fun and games. The City Police were encouraged to take part in sport and they soon formed a successful Tug of War team. The team was so good that they entered the Olympic games, winning their first gold medal for Great Britain in 1908. Members of the City Police also won medals for heavyweight boxing (gold) and heavyweight wrestling (bronze).

Tug of War was only an Olympic event for six games, however, the police managed to win medals in two more games: silver in 1912 (Stockholm) and gold in 1920 (Antwerp). Although the event no longer features at the Games, the City of London Police continue to have a representative, for example, Pc Kate Mackenzie who represented Britain in the Rowing Ladies 8’s in 2000.

 

The Second World War had similar effects on the City Police as the First: officers were limited and the War Reserve Forces were once again heavily relied upon. During 1940, there were 57 consecutive nights of air raids. Over 300 people died and thousands were injured, leaving the Reserve Forces with more work than they could handle.

Approximately one-third of the City was destroyed in the Blitz and many police officers who had joined the army never came home. To cope with these challenges, the City of London Police embraced rapidly developing technologies to improve the way they worked.

Before the wars, the police relied on word of mouth and the postal system to pass messages between their teams. Eventually, they embraced the telegraph system and by the early 1900s had set up their telephone line. It was not until the 1950s that technology really began to improve methods of communication. The City Police began using walkie talkies to talk to colleagues, which sped up the process of reporting crimes and important matters. These machines, however, were not easy to use and were difficult to carry around but, in the 1960s, the police upgraded to the more efficient pocket phone and radio.

Another change brought on by the Second World War was the introduction of women to the City Police. In 1949, one woman sergeant and six female police constables were recruited to the City Police to help with staff shortages. Some of these women had been involved with the Women’s Auxiliary Police Corps during the war and were no strangers to carrying out vital work and driving police vehicles. Nonetheless, women were expected to deal with cases involving only women and children. It was not until the 1970s that women police officers were involved in all areas of policing.

“If you commit a crime in the city, expect to be caught.”

In the past five decades, policing techniques have developed so much that they are unrecognisable from the original force set up in 1839. London is now a leading financial centre and world-class tourist destination, coping with 10 million inhabitants and visitors every day. The City of London Police have their work cut out with high profile events as well as keeping the peace in the City. With the rise of digital technology, the police are also tackling economic crimes, cybercrime and fraud on a daily basis. Terrorism is also an ever-present threat.

The City of London Police Museum provides examples of fraudulant banknotes, examples of riots and terrorist attacks, including a can of Keen’s Genuine Imperial Mustard that the Suffragettes once turned into a homemade bomb.

Whilst the amount of cybercrime has increased over the past decade, the police have been able to use technology to their advantage. CCTV helps keep track of the goings-on in the City and can be vital evidence in investigations. The museum provides visitors with the opportunity to identify suspects by asking them to find each person in a series of grainy shots. This reveals how difficult it is for the human eye to identify someone who they have only seen for a matter of seconds. Fortunately, facial recognition technologies are proving extremely helpful in this task.

 

The museum ends with a line up of police uniforms from the early 1800s until the late 1900s. Uniform has always been an important aspect because it ensures they are recognisable and also offers them some form of protection. The earlier uniforms were based on the fashion styles of the time and were not as practical as the bulletproof vests police officers wear today.

The original City of London Police uniform was blue to differentiate them with the red of the army. It contained a stiff, high neck to prevent criminals from garrotting police officers, which was a common form of attack at the time. Different police ranks had slightly different uniforms, however, they all wore a top hat, which could also serve as a step when necessary.

The top hat was the most impractical aspect of the uniform and was replaced in 1865 with a helmet. Based on the look of ancient Greek helmets, the new helmets protected the neck, eyes and ears as well as the head. Police also stopped wearing tailcoats, which helped to differentiate them from other men who wore similar coats.

When women became part of the police force they needed a uniform tailored to their own bodies. The second version of the women’s uniform is the more famous, designed by Sir Normal Hartnell (1901-79) in 1969. Hartnell is most famous for designing the wedding dress of Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II). The women’s uniform included a white blouse with blue polka dots and a black handbag.

As time goes on, uniforms will continue to evolve to be appropriate to the contemporary world. Today, police tend to wear a less formal uniform during the day and only wear their smart coats and shirts to important events and ceremonial occasions.

“I, … … … … of City of London Police do solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that I will well and truly serve the Queen in the office of Constable, with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, upholding fundamental human rights and according equal respect to all people; and that I will to the best of my power cause the peace to be kept and preserved and prevent all offences against people and property; and that while I continue to hold the said office I will to the best of my skill and knowledge discharge all the duties thereof faithfully according to law.”
– The Constable’s Oath

The City of London Police Museum is an excellent source of information about the history of the police force that has looked after the “Square Mile” for almost two centuries. Although they only cover a tiny area, their presence is needed in the heart of the capital of London to keep citizens safe. When walking through London, there is a high chance of coming across a police officer on duty. They may not appear to be doing anything significant at the time but we remain grateful that they are there, protecting the heart of London.

The City of London Police Museum is free to enter and can be found next to the Guildhall Library.