In the year 2000 Valentines Mansion – a handsome late 17th century house – faced an uncertain future. It had been used as Council offices for many years, but since 1993 had been standing empty, neglected and falling into decay. Nobody knew what to do with it, but when a plan was revealed to lease it to a brewery company to turn it into a pub, local residents protested and the plan was dropped. The community wanted to see the Mansion restored and open to the public.
The Friends of Valentines Mansion was formed in 2000 with two principal objectives: to raise awareness of the Mansion and its potential to the local community, and to raise funds for restoration projects. It was clear that to get the support of the building’s owner, the London Borough of Redbridge, and obtain a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, it was vital to demonstrate that the community backed the plan.
The Friends set about the task by holding events in the Mansion, which would both raise money and allow members of the public access to the house, which was normally closed.
2001 saw the first of many popular May Fairs. The Friends also held events such as wine-tastings, quiz nights, talks and a variety of entertainments. Local historian Georgina Green undertook extensive research into the families who had lived at Valentines between 1696 and 1906; she and members of the Friends gave – and continue to give – talks to various organisations, both locally and further afield.
The restoration work in the mansion and park and the community campaigns to support these projects were accompanied by much new research into the history of Valentines and the people who lived and worked there.
In 2004 the Friends undertook their first major project – the renovation of the Victorian kitchen range. This was followed by conservation of several Ingleby family portraits, and restoration of the coloured glass in the balcony doors in the drawing room.
Eventually a Heritage Lottery Grant was obtained, match-funded by Redbridge Council, and work began in July 2007.
During the restoration process members of the Friends’ committee were privileged to be able to go on regular hard-hat tours of the works, seeing the Mansion taken apart and put together again.
Work was completed at the end of 2008, and the Mansion re-opened in its restored glory on Valentines Day 2009. Hundreds queued in bitterly cold weather for a first view of the Mansion.
Many people had worked with energy, enthusiasm and passion to reach that point – the Friends’ committee, in particular Peter Wright, Cherry Hooker, Georgina Green, Richard Small, Madeline Seviour, Ray Butt, Shirley Chinaloy, Barbara Norcaro, Ann Ross and Pat Chisholm, supported by some 400 members of the Friends; The Valentines Mansion Trust (Chairman John Manuel); and last but certainly not least, Redbridge Council Officer Nigel Burch, the Project Manager.
The Friends continue to support the Mansion in various ways, holding fund-raising events, giving talks, and helping in the house as Volunteers. Some of the money raised has been spent on acquiring beautiful items for the Mansion – the Victorian dining table in the Holcombe Room, and the table, chairs and mirror in the Regency Parlour. Our current project is to furnish the Raymond Room as it might have been in the time when Sir Charles Raymond owned Valentines, in the second half of the 18th century.