Whale Resurfaces In Dagenham

By Rob Last edited 218 months ago
Whale Resurfaces In Dagenham

Yes, it's almost a month to the day after the famous Thames whale incident and we're still dealing with whale stories.

Thankfully this one is actually pretty interesting and in no way involves ebay shysters. In fact it concerns a whale that became stranded in the Thames back in the 17th century and the resting place of that unfortunate creature's bones.

So, if you're sitting comfortably, we'll begin...

If Daniel Defoe is to be believed it was during a particularly nasty storm in 1658, on the night before Oliver Cromwell died, that a whale was washed up in the Thames.

A couple of the whale's bones, each between 10-12 feet high (which we assume looked a bit like the ones pictured), were later erected on top of a toll booth in Chadwell where they remained for hundreds of years, serving as a local landmark (apparently the parish registers for the area are "full of things like 'tramp found dead at the whale bones'" and, as the area was known for its prostitutes the phrase 'going up the whalebones' came into parlance).

But in 1870 the bones went missing, and it was only after the most recent whale activity that a local paper decided to try and uncover what happened to them.

After some correspondence from its readers the paper found that the bones had been moved to a nearby house on Whalebone Lane where they were erected on each side of a pair of wrought-iron gates (well it beats a garden gnome).

During the war however the house was hit by an aerial mine ("damn great thing came down on a parachute and demolished the whole house" says the old fellow who used to live there). While the house was destroyed the bones survived and were saved from the bonfire by the man in charge of clearing the bomb site.

He, in turn, contacted Valence House Museum who (and this is our favourite bit of the whole story) had to go out in a van under cover of darkness, ("due to the petrol rationing and they were using a van for illicit purposes"), and retreive the whale bones.

The bones were stored in the museum's cellar until the 1950s when they were dusted off and erected either side of the museum's front door. But twelve years ago it was decided to put them back in storage as the elements were taking their toll and so they were moved back to the cellar, which is where they lie to this day.

From a tumultuous night preceding Cromwell's death, to a cellar in Dagenham via prostitution and illicit van drivers. What a great story.

The good news is that the museum is applying for a Lottery grant so they can restore the bones to permanent display. So with a bit of luck the bones should resurface pretty soon.

Last Updated 21 February 2006