History and development

The owners and occupiers of the present mansion at Valentines form a continuous succession dating from the late 17th century. Each change of ownership has brought about changes to the building and its landscape, and these have often reflected the ideas and ideals of their age. The manipulated landform, water bodies, trees and buildings now existing the Park provide fascinating evidence of the history of this estate which is a rare survival of its kind on the eastern borders of London.
The 18th Century
The 18th century remains at Valentines are numerous and significant. The core of the garden was probably laid out by Robert Surman (former Deputy Cashier of the South Sea Company) when he moved here from Wanstead in 1724. The Canal, Bishops Walk and planned Wilderness, and the ha-ha are all garden features that were fashionable in the early 18th century. In addition, the grottoes may also be of Surman's making, there being a grotto existing on land which formerly made up Surman's Wanstead garden.
The cedar may also date from the early 18th century.
During the ownership of Charles Raymond the 'Valentines Vine' was planted. This vine provided a cutting which was to become the famous vine at Hampton Court.
A building which is almost certainly of this time is the Dovecote or Granary. Its ogee gothic arches were fashionable in the mid-to-late 18th century. The Portland stone gate piers at Emerson Road first appear in an engraving of the house in 1771, and the sundial now in the Old English Garden is a piece of similar type.
When Cameron bought the estate in 1778 he joined it to that of Ilford Lodge and the white chestnuts which dominated the shelter belt (perimeter) planting could have acted as a link between the two estates.
The 19th Century
Charles Welstead bought Valentines in 1808 at the height of the Napoleonic Wars. This is a significant time in garden history as it was an era of great tree planting. Tree clumps on the Pageant Field/The Glade appear on maps shortly after this period and many of the trees found today around each of the lakes and along the streams date from this time. Welstead was a fellow of the Horticultural Society and may have altered the Ornamental Water into a naturalistic feature and built the Bower Walk - the remains of which were cleared in the late 1970s.
Welsted also made significant the house, building the 'porte cochere' and the conservatory.
Little is known of the garden work of his successor, Charles Holcombe, though maps made during his period of ownership show a number of formal flower beds around the Mansion.
Much more is known of the gardens development during the ownership of his niece, Sarah Ingleby. Coinciding with her inheriting Valentines is the appointment of William Earley, a well known horticulturist and rose enthusiast, as head gardener. The Rosery next to the Old English Garden and the bedding scheme on the east lawn of the Mansion are two of the features dating from this period.
During Sarah Ingleby's life Ilford grew from a quiet Essex village to a large east London suburb. The rapidity of its growth gave rise to the need for a public park. Mrs Ingleby sold land south of the Mansion to the then Ilford Urban District Council. This was to become Ilford's new Central Park, opened in 1899.
The 20th Century
Today's Park was acquired in sections from the Inglebys and others over a period of 25 years or so from the turn of the century.
The first section, Central Park (or Cranbrook Park as it was sometimes known) was opened in 1899 on land that had previously been arable farm land, meadow and brickfields. It was designed around a large lake (the Boating Lake of today). The Boathouse, clocktower, bandstand and refreshment pavilion were all part of the original design.
In 1907 the older gardens near the Mansion were given to the people of Ilford by Holcombe Ingleby in memory of his parents. The Park was also renamed Valentines Park at this time. In 1912 the Mansion and its immediate grounds were absorbed into the Park and the Old English Garden developed from a former productive garden. The purchase of the house and its grounds was the result of a campaign by the Valentines Park Extension Council, who were determined to preserve as much as possible of the estate from development.
The final addition to the Park came in the 1920s when the golf course, swimming pool and model yacht pond were laid out on what had been Middlefield Farm.
The Second World War saw large areas of allotments concentrated in both Melbourne and Pageant fields. After the war they were reinstated into the landscape of the Park which continued in classic 'Parks Department' management until the loss of the permanent gardening staff in the 1980s.
The Park is currently registered as a Grade II landscape on the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest.