Back to its Best!

SIMON ABLETT describes the restoration of Valentines Park, Ilford

In April 2009 Valentines Park was officially reopened by HRH The Duke of Gloucester. The restoration of the Park has been jointly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the London Borough of Redbridge.

Valentines Park: the sham bridge and rockwork grotto at the head of the Long Water, after restoration
The sham bridge and rockwork grotto at the head of the Long Water, after restoration

The Park was acquired in stages by Ilford Urban District Council, with the south-east developed as a public park and opened in 1899, the final part being the acquisition of the Mansion and surrounds in 1912. To the north-east of the Mansion is a Rococo garden, probably built by Robert Surman, who was deputy cashier to the South Sea Company. Subsequent occupants of the estate have left their mark, including the eighteenth century octagonal dovecote, the realignment of the Ha-Ha, the creation of an Edwardian rose garden and, in the early part of the twentieth century, the demolition of the estate outbuildings.

In recent decades the walls of the former kitchen and parterre gardens were truncated and a wide vehicular drive inserted, an ugly fence was installed around the Long Water and an inappropriate public toilet block was built opposite the Mansion and in front of the dovecote. The kitchen garden was used as a maintenance yard and the site of the Valentines vine, from which a cutting had been taken to Hampton Court all those centuries ago, was long forgotten as the self-sown sycamores took over.

Land Use Consultants (LUC) were the lead consultant for the restoration scheme; Richard Griffiths Architects were architects for the historic structures comprising the alcove seat, two rockwork grottoes, the brick lining of the Long Water, the dovecote and the Ha-Ha. The site works commenced in January 2007 and the project was practically complete in autumn 2008.

Delightful Alcove Seat

Valentines Park: stages in the restoration of the alcove seat Stages in the restoration of the alcove seat

The delightful alcove seat with its pinnacles and curved seat had a severe lean caused by a sizeable fig tree and posed a conservation challenge if we were to retain historic fabric in situ and avoid rebuilding. Bit by bit, the fig was removed and the structure was consolidated by reconnecting it to the restored garden walls at each side and with stainless steel ties to a new pier on the rear elevation. To the front elevation the rusticated flintwork was consolidated, missing flints pieced in and the lime render restored.

To the existing garden walls, areas of rebuilding, brick replacement and areas of re-pointing were specified. In restoring the missing lengths of wall, the opportunity was taken to form arched openings; these, along with the existing openings, were provided with sturdy oak gates.

The works to the Long Water included draining and de-silting, which enabled the banks to be rebuilt with clay and a brick lining. The large rockwork grotto was consolidated and the missing shells restored, including large conch shells. This work was undertaken by Tess Morley with Nimbus Conservation with advice from Diana Reynell. The flow of water to the restored curved cascade was achieved by pumping water from the fish pond, which, with the barley bales in Long Water, improves water flow and quality.

Dovecote Footings Made Good

The very perilous structural state of the dovecote was due to a lack of footings on the kitchen garden side; so a delicate process of extensive temporary propping was undertaken to support the upper level, whilst the bulging wall was entirely replaced on sound foundations, all undertaken by Nimbus. The front elevation was revealed following the demolition of the toilet block and clearance of overgrown shrubs. The base of the structure now provides a toilet and mess room for the future community involvement in the kitchen garden, which has raised planters for vegetables and new fruit bushes, trees and a black grape vine.

Under LUC's direction, the landscape was restored, including the Wilderness Garden with the Bishop's Walk lined with yew trees, new planting in the rose and parterre gardens and around the Mansion, new seats and signage and the extensive repair of pathways and perimeter fences. Although the park restoration is complete, the final project is the opening of a small café, scheduled for mid-summer, in the converted cottage, with outdoor seating in a sheltered corner of the kitchen garden.

Simon L. Ablett, Richard Griffiths Architects, June 2009