Local History Month: Valentines Mansion staff and volunteers on the manor’s appeal
- Credit: Archant
In our final week of Local History Month coverage, Valentines Mansion volunteers Georgina Green and Stuart Rosen, and branding and marketing manager Hardip Sohal, share some tales of the manor’s past
The present house was built around 1696-7, for Elizabeth, widow of John Tillotson, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
She was a lady of quality rather than of wealth and her house was renovated and enlarged in 1769 by Sir Charles Raymond to make the building we know today.
Its main use has simply been that of a country home within easy reach of London and occupied by individuals and families of high status. But over the past 100 years or so it has been a haven for fleeing Belgian refugees, a hospital for returning injured soldiers during the First World War, then council offices till the early years of this century.
Some of the most significant periods lie firmly within the Georgian period (1714-1830). This was a time of exploration and discovery, when the ships of the East India Company were returning to England laden with tea, fragrant spices, colourful silks and fabrics and even strange exotic birds and plants. On the proceeds of such trade the house and the surrounding gardens were redesigned, altered, expanded and improved, resulting in the beautiful Georgian house we can admire today.
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Many people over the past 300 years have lived in, owned or rented Valentines Mansion and all of them have a story to tell.
There’s Robert Surman, a banker who acted as deputy cashier to the South Sea Company; Sir Charles Raymond, who had been a captain with the East India Company, who above all others is responsible for the appearance of the house you see today; and Dr Clement Ingleby, who was a respected Shakespearian scholar and writer. His wife Sarah was a very charitable Victorian lady, a wonderful example for local children to learn about.
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The mansion is a rare example of the Georgian “weekend homes” used by City businessmen who also had a private house in the City, and is listed Grade II*. When taken together with the beautiful gardens (also listed) they form an example of history unparalleled in the borough.
When the mansion was vacated in 1993, there was nothing remaining from the time of private ownership except 19 paintings which were taken to the LBR Museum store. Several were restored and are now hanging again in the building.
The Friends of Valentines Mansion and the council have purchased items of furniture to give life to several rooms, illustrating different periods in history (Georgian, Regency, Victorian). A plate which was made in China as part of a large service for Sir Charles Raymond is on display in the mansion, on loan from a private owner.
The mansion is proud to host many events and activities throughout the year. From regular talks and tours, to children’s activities throughout the school holidays, as well as creative workshops for adults and open studio events.
We have a number of exciting projects on the go at the moment. During August, we’ll have an Indian Summer at Valentines to celebrate the UK-India Year of Culture marking 70 years of India’s independence, and in September our gallery will host a new exhibition, In Search of Gold, featuring local artist Eliyah Qureshi. Work is also under way for our popular Christmas Craft Fair and Artists Open Studios, which will take place during the first weekend of December.
The mansion is a wonderful place to visit. With many period furnished rooms, including the Victorian kitchen, Georgian bedchamber and Regency parlour, visitors can really “step back in time” and see what it would have been like to live at Valentines.
For children, the visits are always so much fun, with dressing up along the way, games and books and much more.
Many people have strong emotional ties to the building, gardens and park, having grown up around here, with treasured memories of times spent in the area. It’s important to keep those memories alive, and allow people to pass those on to their children.
Our aim is to keep bringing new and exciting events to the mansion and gardens, to help attract new audiences and share what a fantastic place this is.
Find out more about the mansion’s history through one of the costumed guided tours: valentinesmansion.com/whatson.php.