The historic Valence House museum is undergoing a long-overdue £800,000 restoration, including its old medieval moat, to save Dagenham’s heritage for future generations.

The cash-strapped Barking and Dagenham Council has managed to get money from the UK “shared prosperity” fund and the Arts Council, with match-funding from its own town hall coffers.

Conservation work is being carried out in the moat to restore natural habitats and biodiversity, along with desperately-needed roof repairs to ensure proper care of the medieval fabric of the Grade II-listed building.

“Heritage gems like Valence House and Eastbury Manor in Barking are much loved by the community,” the local authority’s deputy leader Saima Ashraf said. “This is despite financial pressures facing local councils up and down the country — but it’s important that we get funding for these heritage sites and to make sure arts and culture meets the needs of the public.”

There has been a manor house on the Valence House site since the 15th century in what is now Becontree Avenue.

Its rectangular moat acted as part status symbol and part corral, keeping animals in and serving as a fish pond. It was widened and evergreens planted to ensure privacy, while the rest of the grounds were still a working farm with yards, stables, pigeon house and vegetable gardens.

The manor house gradually evolved into a residential house surrounded by gardens.

The Merttins family remodelled it in the 18th century to create “genteel living”. Then the May family bought the place in the 1870s, transferring the farm work to Burleighs Farm in Green Lane.

The house had been plastered and scored to make it look like stone to disguise its medieval construction. The gardens included flower beds, a walkway of hazel trees and a walled garden with greenhouses and stovehouses for growing grapes, apricots and peaches.

The museum and archives is free to the public with its collection of 30,000 artefacts, open on most days days a week along with Barking’s Eastbury Manor House in Eastbury Square.

Vallance House opening hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturdays 10am-4pm, the Tulip Tree tearoom Tuesday, Wednesday Thursday and Saturdays 10am-4.30pm.