Sarah Ingleby

Mrs Sarah Ingleby, nee Oakes, lived at Valentines Mansion for about 58 years and died there on 3 January 1906. A hundred years ago the local papers gave great prominence to her obituary and it is clear she was regarded as a very kind and generous lady. When the mansion is restored it is intended that education will be one of the main uses and Mrs Ingleby is an ideal subject for teaching our youngsters about the Victorians.

Sarah, daughter of Robert and Sarah Oakes, was born on 22 December 1823 at Milton, near Gravesend. However her mother died when she was very small, so Sarah was brought up by her uncle, Charles Thomas Holcombe, and his wife Margaret, the sister of Sarah's mother.

Sarah spent her early years with the Holcombes at Mill Green House at Fryerning near Ingatestone. However, in 1838 Charles Holcombe bought Valentines, so when they moved in Sarah was about 14 years old. The property was described in the sale documentation as "a capital family mansion and estate called Valentines, with ornamental park, pleasure grounds, gardens, conservatory, pinery, hot-houses, green-houses, and double coach-house and stables, farm and other out-buildings, with sundry inclosures of arable and pasture land7quot; in all about 175 acres.

We don't know when or how Sarah met her future husband, Clement Ingleby. He was the only son of a much-respected solicitor in Birmingham. Clement had a very logical mind and Sarah was deeply religious, but somehow she managed to persuade him that her Christian beliefs were sound and they married on 3rd October 1850 at the Parish Church of Great Ilford (St.Mary's in the High Road). The head and shoulders portrait of Sarah, with her hair in ringlets, dates from this time.

They settled down together at 35 Carpenter Road, Edgbaston where Sarah gave birth to four children: Arthur in 1852, Holcombe in 1854, Herbert in 1856 and Clementina Rose at the end of 1857. Clement was taken into partnership as a solicitor in the family firm of Ingleby, Wragge and Ingleby of Birmingham. However he did not enjoy the legal profession and in his spare time he studied metaphysiscs, mathematics and English literature. Apparently for a time he held the Chair of Logic at the Birmingham and Midland Institute but an interest in Shakespeare was taking over as his main preoccupation. In 1859 he became a Doctor of Literature at Cambridge University.

After ten years in Edgbaston several events precipitated a move back to Valentines for Sarah and her family. In August 1859 Clement's father died. He no longer needed to respect his father's wish that he worked in the family firm, and he wanted to spend more time visiting the library at the British Museum to study the documents which would help him in his research. In April 1860 Sarah's aunt Margaret died, leaving Charles Holcombe alone at the age of 68.

So the family moved to Valentines where the children grew up in what was later described as the "stately mansion with a noble lawn, and park, a grand avenue of yew-trees, and famous gardens". Sarah seems to have run the house and estate while Clement pursued his vocation as a gentleman of letters, spending much time in his library where he wrote many scholarly books. The family was brought up in a very upright and Christian way with daily morning prayers, and attendance at church two or three times on a Sunday. Their eldest son, Rev. Arthur Ingleby (1852-1929) is remembered locally as the Chaplain of the Hospital Chapel at Ilford, now being lovely restored as the oldest building in Redbridge and a place of worship for 850 years

However, life at Valentines was not all solemnity. Both Sarah and Clement had good singing voices and it is likely there was much music in the house. Clement also wrote poetry, some of it in a light-hearted vein to amuse the children.

But then tragedy struck. In August 1886 Clement suffered a serious rheumatic attack and he died on 26 September. Poor Sarah took it very badly, but the whole household rallied round and gave her the support she needed. Once she had come to terms with her loss, Mrs Ingleby took strength from her Christian beliefs and continued to do what she could for others.

She served as President of the Ilford Philanthropic Society for a number of years. Unlike many grand ladies taking on such a position, she was not just a figurehead. Her address at the Annual General Meeting was, apparently, always pleasantly anticipated as she always spoke from her heart, with some eloquence. She took a great interest in the welfare of her less fortunate neighbours and seems to have had an intuitive understanding of their problems.

Mrs Ingleby allowed the grounds at Valentines to be used for a great many functions. These ranged from gentile tea parties to large scale fetes. Mrs Ingleby's hospitality was extended to everyone regardless of politics (she was a Conservative) or religious inclinations (She was a faithful member of the Church of England). The gardens were a particular source of pride to Mrs.Ingleby and she regularly opened them to the Horticultural Society. But as the sprawl of London extended towards Valentines in the 1890s, she decided to sell about 48 acres of the estate to the then the Urban District Council for the creation of Central Park (since enlarged and now known as Valentines Park), which opened in 1899.

Mrs Ingleby was warm-hearted and sympathetic, and she was constantly thinking about how she could help the poor. Many of the workers on the Valentines estate, and in her own household, lived in the enclave around The Beehive. Mrs Ingleby built a school there and contributed to its maintenance. Shortly before her death Mrs Ingleby was instrumental in providing a nurse for the Beehive District. The lady was actually living at Valentines with Mrs.Ingleby when she was taken ill with influenza, so for once she was the beneficiary of her own generosity. Sadly she developed bronchial pneumonia, and died just after her 82 birthday.

The Ilford Guardian of 6 January 1906 said "Words utterly fail to express the keen regret that was felt in Ilford on Wednesday, when news was received of the death of Mrs Ingleby of Valentines. That lady had so consistently and wholeheartedly lent her wonderful energies to philanthropic work that every resident, rich and poor, had a feeling of something more than respect for her, whilst in the immediate neighbourhood of Valentines - particularly in the Beehive District - she was loved by all".