The Bishops Walk at Valentines

by Georgina Green

                                 The Bishops Walk on 24 March 2003 and  6 June 2010


If you walk in the garden around the far side of the long canal you will notice an avenue of Norway Maples which includes two old yew trees. The maples were planted in 1971[1] to replace an old avenue of yews, possibly dating back to the time that Valentines was rebuilt for Elizabeth Tillotson. They are known as the Bishops Walk – but why?

One explanation is that Elizabeth’s husband, John Tillotson, Archbishop of Canterbury, planted the trees.[2] It is said the walk was his favourite promenade, though it seems unlikely that if he did plant them, the yews would have grown very large in his lifetime. However, it seems that Elizabeth did not acquire the Valentines property until 1696, two years after her husband had died at Lambeth Palace. Two sources, written in the 18th century, say that her son-in-law John Chadwick rebuilt the house for her. This was probably in 1696 or 1697.

Another explanation involves Bishop Thomas Ken.[3] He spent much of his earlier life at Winchester (where his coat of arms can be seen in one of the stained glass windows in the Great Hall) but in 1684 he was appointed Bishop of Bath and Wells at the personal request of King Charles, just before he died. He was a pious man who lived simply and did much to help the poor. He won the respect of King James but did not agree with his plans to re-introduce some of the Roman Catholic traditions back into the Church of England. In 1688, with six other bishops, he opposed the king and was tried, and acquitted, of having written or published a seditious libel. Later he stood against the declaration of William and Mary as rulers of the country and refused to take the oath as a matter of his personal conscience. In April 1691 he was deprived of his see and left Wells in comparative poverty. He spent much of his time in Wiltshire and Somerset, but his biography does mention he came to preach at the burial of a friend, Dr.John

Kettlewell, in Barking in 1695. However, this refers to the church of All Hallows, built on land owned by Barking Abbey near the Tower of London. Bishop Ken, referred to as one of the “seven nonjurors”, refused when Queen Anne offered to restore him to his see. However his more extreme colleagues were offended by his attempts at bringing some peace to the conflict within the church. He died in 1711, “in the communion of the Church of England, as it stands distinguished from all papal and puritan innovations, and as it adheres to the doctrine of the cross”.

Bishop Ken is said to have been a friend of the Finch family and to have stayed at Valentines after the trial of the Seven Bishops in 1688.[4] It is said that he used the yew walk for his meditations. If that is true, it was a long time after the trial as the Finches did not live at Valentines until 1702. However some credibility is given to the story by the fact that a later generation of the Finch family had a medal which was struck to commemorate the acquittal of the Seven Bishops. This was handed down through the family until recent times,[5] though its whereabouts today are not known.

Meanwhile, regardless of the truth behind the name, why not take a stroll around the far side of the canal and you may notice that at one end, the maple trees are on a raised earthwork. Whoever planted the original yew[6] walk, it certainly was a very long time ago.

Article written 16 August 2004 © Georgina Green


The Mosaic was created by Gary Drostle as part of the restoration in 2008.


[1]    Stephen Smith – talk to Ilford Historical Society 21/03/02 “Yew walk on raised earthworks “Bishops Walk”  early 18 Century, possibly replaced earlier trees, yews taken out in 1971, but two still remain.  Norway maples replaced yews. There was a small knoll at each end with rustic seat”

[2]   Tasker p.84

[3]   Dictionary of National Biography

[4]   Essex Review Vol.56, p.222, 1947, Essex Review Vol.57 p.36, 1948

[5]   letter from John Hart, May 2004

[6]   Yews measure 82” and 88”. Yew at Matching planted 1728 measures 133”, Wanstead Park c.1735 = 124”