Mrs Tillotson and the building of Valentines

Documentary evidence proves that a building called Valentines existed in the Medieval period, but the house we know today was constructed after Mrs Elizabeth Tillotson acquired the estate in 1696. She was the daughter of Peter French and his wife Robina, who was the sister of Oliver Cromwell. She had married John Tillotson at St.Lawrence Jewry on 23 February 1664. The church was destroyed in the Great Fire and rebuilt magnificently by Sir Christopher Wren (see below). It was in the new church that she buried her husband, now the Archbishop of Canterbury, when he died on 22 November 1694 at Lambeth Palace.

Much that has been written about Mrs Tillotson and Valentines comes from two books: The Life of the Most Rev Dr J Tillotson by Thomas Birch (1753), and Memoirs of the Protectorate-house of Cromwell by Mark Noble (1784). From these sources we learn that the couple had four children, a son who died “when just at the age of manhood” and three daughters: one had also died unmarried before 1694, another became the wife of Mr.Fowler, son of the Bishop of Gloucester, and another had married James Chadwick Esq. and had three children before she died in 1687.

When King William asked John Tillotson to become the Archbishop of Canterbury he had resisted because “his private fortune was small and he should leave a poor widow of Canterbury”. The King agreed to give his wife a pension should she outlive him, but in the event this was delayed. Mrs Tillotson was forced to sell the copyright of her husband’s manuscript sermons for which she received 2,500 guineas (£2,625). On 2 May 1695 the King granted her an annuity of £400 during her life.

Mrs Tillotson purchased the Valentines estate in 1696 and it is generally agreed that the house was built for her by her son-in-law James Chadwick. He was a Commissioner of Customs and seems to have been respected. The house was not a grand affair, but was a well built residence, suitable for a lady in her social position.

However it appears James Chadwick did not play fair with his mother-in-law as the following letter appears in the book by Thomas Birch.
                                                                                               Deanry   Sept 25, 1697
Dear Hobbs,
….  Mrs.Tillotson is reduced herself to these narrow circumstances by the unexpected death of Mr.Chadwick, and that less expected condition he has left his family in, that she is utterly disabled…
…. She acquainted me with her condition; that Mr.Chadwick had spent all his estate, but what was settled upon his wife in marriage, which comes to her eldest son: That the younger son and daughter had not one farthing to maintain them, but depended wholly upon her: That he had put a thousand pounds of her money into the Bank in his own name, and had given her no declaration of trust, though she had often desired it of him, which, by this means, is lost to her, and must pay his debts. That his estate is in the forest,* where she has built her house, and which, I think, is copyhold, was purchased for his life at 300l. which must now be paid again. That upon his great importunity she built that house at great expense, which is now much too big for her. I was extremely concerned to hear this sad account…
           Your most affectionate friend and servant
                                     William Sherlock
* Valentines near Wanstead in Essex (i.e. in the legal Forest, not the physical forest)

Poor Mrs Tillotson, not only was she left with financial problems, but she was responsible for the administration of her son-in-law’s will. At least the letter above seems to have had some effect as the King granted her an additional annuity of £200, also for life, on 18 August 1698. However Mrs Tillotson died four years later. Her will gives some details of her possessions and most of her estate went to the two younger grandchildren. One interesting comment for us today is her bequest of a picture “in the unfurnished room where the carved work is over the chimney”. The comment by Daniel Lysons writing much later, in 1796, that the house contained “some fine carving by Gibbons” suggests that Grinling Gibbons may have carved the ornate decoration which could be traced as a shadow on the panelling over the fireplace in the Surman Bedroom. This is reflected in the pattern of birds, on the wallpaper which now covers it.

 

The Church of St.Lawrence Jewry-next-Guildhall

The church where Archbishop Tillotson is buried is, as its name suggests, close by the Guildhall in Gresham Street. This site was on the edge of the Jewish trading area when the first church was built 1136. As mentioned above the building was destroyed in the Great Fire of London and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in 1677. However it was destroyed again on 29th December 1940 when the fire bomb air-raids on the City left nothing but part of the walls and the tower standing. The present church dates from 1954-7 but the severe brick walls hide a light and spacious interior. The design by Cecil Brown skilfully recreates the essence of the Wren building and the beautiful gold ornamentation makes it quite stunning. This is the church of the City Corporation. The Lord Mayor’s pew is right at the front with special seating designated for alderman and guild representatives. The church is open for recitals on a Monday and Tuesday lunch-time and at other times too.

 

Archbishop John Tillotson (1630-1694)

John Tillotson was born at Sowerby near Halifax in Yorkshire “of honest and religious parents, tho’ of a low and obscure condition”. His puritan upbringing was of enormous importance as he went to Cambridge during the Civil War and the religious turbulence was raging at the time when he was forming his own doctrinal views.

In 1656-7 he became chaplain to Edmund Prideaux, Oliver Cromwell's attorney-general, and tutor to his son. In 1660/1 he was ordained and started on his path in the church. There is not enough space to summarise his career here, but a few facts might be of interest.

Tillotson regularly preached on a Tuesday at St Lawrence, where he was later buried. (See picture of his memorial below, and on the left wall in picture above) before it was destroyed by the Great Fire in 1666, and his sermons attracted considerable crowds. The vicar of St Lawrence from 1662 to 1668 was John Wilkins, and on 23 February 1664 Wilkins officiated in St Lawrence at the marriage between Tillotson and Wilkins’s stepdaughter Elizabeth French (who built Valentines Mansion after her husband died). Wilkins was the second husband of Robina French, widow of Peter French and sister of Oliver Cromwell. His wife was therefore a niece of Cromwell.

Tillotson became a Doctor of Divinity in 1666 and the following year was appointed one of the chaplains  to Charles II. This lead to a post at Canterbury where he was dean from 1672 until 1689. The fact that his own non-conformist sympathies and connections with Cromwell were not hidden, and that he spoke against ‘popery’ even when he preached before the king showed him to be a man of integrity. He lost favour at court and bought a house at Edmonton where he retired during the difficult period when James II was on the throne. With the arrival of William and Mary he was again appointed a royal chaplain and became dean of St. Paul’s.

Although he had no wish even to become a bishop, Tillotson was nominated as Archbishop of Canterbury and consecrated in the post on 31 May 1691. He made a number of improvements at Lambeth Palace before moving in with his wife in the November. His time there was just three years as he died on 30 November 1694 after suffering a stroke a few days earlier. The king told Tillotson’s son-in-law James Chadwick, "He was the best man, that I ever knew, and the best Friend, that I ever had".