The bones displayed in this room are believed to be from the lower jaw of a Common Greenland Whale. Until the 1870s, they formed an arch next to an octagonal toll-house at the junction of Whalebone Lane and Chadwell Heath High Road (The Tollgate pub now marks the approximate site). After the demolition of the toll-house, the bones were moved to nearby Whalebone House. Some images show the bones flanking the front gate, while others portray them at the side gate.
In April 1941 Whalebone House was destroyed during an air raid. The whalebones were then taken to Valence House, where they flanked the entrance door for many years before being moved to the basement in the 1990s. They are now on view once more, in a custom-built display case.
It is known that a single whalebone was set up beside Chadwell Heath High Road as early as the 1640s. The origin of the Valence House bones themselves remains a mystery. According to one source they are from a whale washed up in the Thames near Dagenham in 1790; another says they date back to a similar incident on the night of Oliver Cromwell’s death in 1658.
London had a thriving whaling industry for centuries, raw materials from whales being used for many everyday items such as lamp oil and corsets as well as the whale meat itself. Our display includes a spoon and hair curlers, both made from whalebone.