This Used to be Fields

A new collaborative project that aims to explore the history of the Becontree Estate through the creation of a communal archive and a new work of public art by artist Chad McCail

This Used to be Fields explores the history of the Becontree Estate in Dagenham, east London, through a new archive created by residents and a mural by artist Chad McCail.

The Becontree Estate was built in the 1920’s and 1930’s to re-house people during the slum clearances in east London and to house soldiers returning from the First World War. It is one of the most striking examples of the scale of social change occurring in London at that time and was the largest housing estate in the world at the time of construction.

A programme of events was led by Historypin and supported by the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Archives to enable local people and organisations to contribute photographs and stories for an online archive about Becontree.

This collaborative process of discovery, sharing and documentation culminated in a new permanent public work of art on the Becontree Estate by Lanarkshire-based artist Chad McCail. McCail was selected by local residents from a shortlist of three artists.

McCail’s first ever mural presents a multi-layered history of the Becontree Estate from it’s inception in 1921 to the current day informed by his many conversations with local people. The internal structure of the work is a winding Becontree street. In the foreground he represents the changing minutiae of day to day life for example the first inhabitants with the clear signs of the ravages of poverty and WW1, the arrival of Ford Motors followed by it’s rapid departure, the impact of Right to Buy in the 1980’s on the facades of houses and other significant cultural and political events such as Gandhi’s visit to Kingsley Hall. Also included in the mural are the personal stories of early and current residents of the estate and depictions of local people McCail has met throughout his time in the borough.

Local filmmaker Jaha Browne was commissioned to capture the making of the Becontree Estate mural, visiting McCail and his band of volunteers throughout the research and painting phase of the project and collecting footage at the mural’s launch celebration. Watch the full film below:

The mural is now on permanent public display at Valence House Museum, Archives and Local Studies Centre. Admission is free and opening hours are Monday to Saturday 10am to 4pm (except public holidays).

Visit the Historypin website to explore the archive and find out how to share and contribute your memories of the area.

This Used to be Fields has been commissioned by the Barbican with funding from the Arts Council of England and additional support from Creative Barking and Dagenham.

Chad McCail (born 1961 in Manchester) studied English at the University of Kent and obtained a BA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths, University of London in 1989. His solo exhibitions include: Systemic, Northern Gallery of Contemporary Art, Sunderland (2010); We are not dead, Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow (2006); Food, Shelter, Clothing, Fuel, Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore (2004); and Life is driven by the desire for pleasure, The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh (2003). His group exhibitions include Eye on Europe: Prints, Books and Multiples, 1960 to Now, MoMA, New York (2006); British Art Show 5, UK touring exhibition (2000); and Becks Futures, ICA, London (2000). He lives and works in Thankerton, South Lanarkshire.