A Victorian childhood

In the 1860s Valentines Mansion was owned by Mr.Charles Holcombe who owned some factories in Greenwich, on the site of The Dome. His wife had died in 1860 and in 1864 he celebrated his seventieth birthday. He had no children but had looked after his niece since she was a tiny baby and now she was grown up and had a family of her own they all came to live at Valentines with her uncle. So the household consisted of Mr.Holcombe, his niece Mrs Sarah Ingleby and her husband Dr Clement Ingleby and their four children. In 1864 the children were: Arthur aged 12, Holcombe (named after his great-uncle) aged 10, Herbert (probably called Bertie) aged 8 and their sister Clementina aged 7.

To look after the family there were a lot of servants and many of them actually lived in the house. The most important servants were the butler, Alexander Findley and his wife, Martha, who was the housekeeper and probably the cook. They would have been in charge of running the household and all the other servants would have looked to them to be told what to do. The servants would not have spoken to Dr. or Mrs.Ingleby unless they were spoken to first. The other servants were nearly all ladies - there was a lady's maid to look after Mrs.Ingleby's clothes and her private business, a nurse for the children, two housemaids who would have made the beds, done the cleaning and served their food, and a kitchen maid to do the cooking chores. There was also a young man called William Southgate who was the footman and would have done some heavy jobs, run errands and done whatever the butler told him to do.

From Valentines the family could see a few other large houses but mostly the view was of fields all around them. They would have kept quite a lot of horses to pull their carriages, to work on their farmland and for them to ride. Other people lived in cottages near Valentines to look after the horses and carriages and to work on their land.

In the 1860s they did not have any electricity so the house was probably lit by gaslight. The washing would have been done once a week, probably on a Monday, by a lady who came specially to do it in a large cauldron. It took several days to get everything dry and ironed.

They did not have a television or radio but the children spent a lot of time reading. Their father liked music and they would often have sung together. The children played in the garden with balls and hoops and maybe a swing and a see-saw. In this picture the children have a "swinging pole" which they climbed up to swing around on a rope. They might also have had stilts or roller skates. When they were young the children would not have gone to school but had lessons in their own schoolroom at home. Later the boys would have gone to a boarding school. The local children who did not have so much money would have gone to a local school provided by the church.

Going to church every Sunday would have been a regular event, at the local church of St.Mary's in the High Road at Ilford. They might well have walked there from Valentines as people thought nothing of walking quite long distances. The children might have been driven in a pony and trap while there would have been a proper carriage for their parents to use. If they needed to travel a long distance then there were trains from Ilford station and the family could have arranged to have a special carriage for their own use.

Mrs.Ingleby was very concerned to help local people and she built a school for the children who lived in Beehive Lane. Many of the people who lived there worked for her family on the Valentines estate and she took a keen interest in their well being. The Ingleby children would have been taught to take an interest too, often going with their mother when she visited their poorer neighbours. They might have given a party for everyone at Christmas, and they sometimes allowed their gardens to be used for public events.

These pictures were drawn by Ellen Buxton, a girl of fourteen who lived in a big house at Leytonstone. She had ten brothers and sisters and as one of the eldest, she helped look after the youngest children. Most girls were taught to draw and Ellen enjoyed sketching both at home and when they went visiting family and friends. The children often spent Sunday afternoon walking in the forest or had a picnic in the meadows. Sometimes they would be taken to see a particular place in London, and every summer they stayed at a big house near the seaside.