VALENTINES Park, Ilford, is set to benefit from a multi-million pound restoration. Valentines Mansion and Park date back to the seventeenth century and successive owners have enhanced the house and grounds. The park, the most attractive and historic open space in the London Borough of Redbridge, has been public parkland since the end of the nineteenth century and reflects changing fashions in gardening style over the last 250 years.
Now an ambitious new programme of restoration is underway. If current plans are carried out in full, around £4million will be spent, with 75% coming from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and the balance funded by Redbridge. The restoration was awarded an HLF stage one pass and has just completed one year of HLF funded development work. The project has now been submitted for a stage two pass with a decision due in late March of this year. English Heritage has been appointed by the HLF to monitor the project.
The main focus of the restoration will be around what English Heritage calls the 'heritage core' - the mansion and the Long Pond or Water. Works include repairs to the grottoes, long water walls, walled garden and dovecote. The wall either side of the grotto-alcove seat, facing the long water, is to be rebuilt to return it to its context and the seat will be opened again. Other works include renovating the bandstand avenue, and a new café.
Around the house planned works include removing non-historic trees such as the wall of leylandii, resurfacing paths and replacing the toilet block with a new one in the walled garden near the new café. Valentine's Mansion itself is the subject of separate restoration plans.
A particular problem is water pollution. Redbridge have spent considerable time chasing the Environment Agency and Thames Water to resolve misconnections. Petrol interceptors have been tested and are working. The proposed scheme will divert part of the incoming water supply around the lower pools, taking the most concentrated polluted water around the park.
Valentines Mansion was built in the late seventeenth century by James Chadwick, son-in-law of John Tillotson, the Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1724 it was purchased by Robert Surman, Deputy Cashier to his uncle at the infamous South Sea Company. Between 1724 and 1754 Surman enlarged and improved the house and gardens. Many features typical of the early eighteenth century were added at this time including the Long Pond, a planned wilderness and a ha-ha. Surman was probably also responsible for the grottoes, then a highly fashionable garden feature.
In 1754 it was purchased by Charles Raymond (1713-88), a wealthy naval officer who continued to expand and improve the house and grounds. The date 1769, with the Raymond family crest, can be seen on the rainwater heads above the mansion's drainpipes. In 1758 Raymond planted a Black Homburg vine and the 'Valentines Vine' soon became famous for its vigorous growth. A cutting sent to Hampton Court Palace was the start of the celebrated vine there. The Valentines Vine eventually died of old age but its site is today marked by a commemorative tablet.
Donald Cameron was the next owner of the estate, now over 400 acres. On his death in 1797 it was split up and 174 acres were sold with the house to Robert Wilkes. In 1808 it was bought by Charles Welstead at the time of the Napoleonic Wars. Tree planting was being actively encouraged to ensure a continuing supply of timber for ships and many of the trees around the lakes and along the streams date from this time. Welstead was a fellow of the Horticultural Society and may have been responsible for modifying the ornamental lake into a naturalistic feature and building the Bower Walk, the remains of which were cleared in the late 1970s. He also substantially repaired and altered the house including converting the orangery into a dairy wing and installing the porte cochère (colonnaded entrance).
Charles Holcombe, a prosperous industrialist, purchased the estate in 1838. Holcombe's heir was his niece Sarah Oakes, who in 1850 married Clement lngleby, a lawyer from Edgbaston. In 1870 Sarah inherited Valentines at the same time as William Earley, a well-known horticulturist and rose enthusiast, was made head gardener. The Rosery and the American Gardens date from the late nineteenth century.
By the end of the nineteenth century, Ilford had expanded from a quiet Essex village to become a large east London suburb. Clement and Sarah Ingleby were respected local citizens and philanthropists. In 1899 Mrs Ingleby sold land south of the mansion to the then Ilford Urban District Council for use as a public park.
Central Park (or Cranbrook Park as it was also known) opened in 1899 on land which had previously been arable farm land, meadow and brickfields. It was designed around today's boating lake. A boathouse, clock-tower, bandstand and refreshment pavilion were all part of the original design.
On her death, Valentines was inherited by Sarah's second son, Holcombe Ingleby. In 1907 he gave the older gardens near the mansion to the people of Ilford in memory of, his parents. lt was at this time that the park was renamed Valentines Park.
In 1912 a specially formed group, the Valentines Park Extension Council, campaigned to save as much as possible of the estate from development. Holcombe Ingleby sold the land for £10,630 and the house and its outbuildings for a mere £1,000 to Ilford Council and retired to his estates in Norfolk. The mansion and its immediate grounds were absorbed into the park and the Old English Garden planted in the former walled garden. The final addition to the Park came in the1920 s when the golf course, lido and model yacht pond were laid out on what had been Middlefield Farm.
The Second World War saw large areas of allotments in both Melbourne and Pageant fields. After the war these were reinstated into the landscape of the Park. The Park was maintained by municipal staff until the loss of the permanent gardening force in the 1980s.
The Park is registered as a Grade II landscape on the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest.
Valentines Mansion is a Grade II listed house dating back to the seventeenth century. After purchase by Ilford Council in 1912, it was used to house Belgian refugees during WW1 (1914-18).
In the post-war years, it became municipal offices and its historic importance was neglected by both Ilford and Redbridge Councils. In 1989 local societies presented a petition of 8,100 signatures to the Council for the mansion be used as a museum. However the cost of restoration was considered prohibitive.
In1999, following fierce local opposition to Redbridge's proposal to grant a 50-year lease to Whitbreads for a "Brewers' Fayre" the council sought the views of a "Citizens' Jury". This recommended a mixture of residential and community use and a restaurant. A Steering Group was set up in 2000, the same year as the Friends, to produce a business plan, which could also form the basis for a bid for heritage lottery funds.
On submission, the HLF asked for the initial plan to be redrafted: it did not wish to commit public funds to development for commercial use and also wanted greater commitment from the Council. Redbridge have now allocated £800,000 over a three year period for restoration work and a new bid to the HLF is currently being submitted.
This article was written by Hazelle Jackson with contributions from Drew Benellick (English Heritage) and Simon Ablett (Richard Griffiths Architects). Sources also include The Parks and Woodlands of London by Andrew Crowe (Fourth Estate 1987) and the websites of Valentines Park Conservationists, and The Friends of Valentines Mansion.
Valentines Park Conservationists, 45 Cranley Drive Ilford IG2 6AJ. Tel. 020 8554 4314 http://www.2-sixteen.org.uk/VPC/
Friends of Valentines Mansion, RE Small, 7 Chichester Gardens, Ilford IG1 3N8 tel. 020 8554 4063 http://www.2-sixteen.org.uk/vm/explore.htm
The Grade II* listed Mansion in Valentines Park will be open for tours during London Open House weekend on Sept. 18th-19th 2004.