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In 1635 the Valence estate belonged to the Dean and Chapter of Windsor. In this year Ann Henshawe sold the lease to her brother Thomas Bonham. He had only lived at Valence for a year when he was charged with threatening a neighbour named Richard Hammond with a pistol.
Bonham was so mean that he refused to pay the burial fee for one of his children. He also defaulted on his daughter Ann's £1,500 marriage settlement, and as a result he (and his wife!) were imprisoned for a week in Colchester Gaol.
Dagenham vicars were in perpetual dispute with Bonham for his non-attendance at church and refusal to pay tithes. His wife was told to skim the milk before making the tithe cheeses.
Bonham believed that he had the right to hunt, and had even made holes in the fencing deliberately to allow royal deer entry and exit to his farmland. He also converted 120 acres of good arable land into a rabbit warren.
During the Civil War the Valence estate was confiscated by Parliament. Thomas Bonham then purchased it for £16,000, but after the Restoration was forced to rent it once more and suffered a huge financial loss. This may partly explain his quarrelsome character.
Bonham died in May 1676, in his 73rd year, and was buried at Dagenham parish church. It is clear from his epitaph (written by himself in Latin) that modesty was not his prime virtue:
'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 was an agreeable poet and yet sublime, a shining ray of genius, an ornament of polite literature and a happy model of elegance. 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'.
In 1879 Thomas May, a Devon farmer and market gardener, moved into Valence House with his wife Helen. The couple already had six children, and a further five were to be born at Valence. Living with them was Helen's mother, Eliza Luxmore, widow of a Royal Navy captain.
Thomas (pictured right) is chiefly remembered for introducing commercial tomato growing to Dagenham. He was also a breeder of shire horses, and formed the Essex Foal Show Society.
Thomas died at Valence in May 1913 aged 71, and was not to know that his prized stud horses would be removed for cavalry duty on the Western Front during World War One.
Helen May continued to live at Valence House with her unmarried daughters, while her son Robert administered the business from the Valence Estate farmhouse (Burleighs, in Green Lane, now the White House).
After the war Valence House and its estate was compulsorily purchased by the London County Council, and the May family left after more than 40 years.
Josephine Westren, grand-daughter of Thomas and Helen May, wrote her memories of visiting Valence House in Edwardian times. She recalled her two unmarried aunts: Edith, who became a nursing sister at Barts, and Cordelia, 11 years younger.
There was also Julia the cook, presiding over the below stairs duties and preparing regular meals for 15 people.
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