Wilks and Welstead

When Donald Cameron died in 1797 the Valentines estate was split up and the main portion, including Valentine House, was sold to Robert Wilks. In the past the surname has been listed as Wilkes, which caused some confusion, but there is nothing in the documentation at the Essex Record Office to give any further clues to the man’s identity.

It is likely that Robert Wilks lived at Wanstead, died on 20 March 1818 in his 65th year and was buried at Bunhill Fields in the City of London. “His loss was deeply felt by his family, and a numerous circle of friends.” He had no surviving children and his will mentions his brother Matthias Wilks of Easton Neston Park, Northants, and his good friends the wealthy Cazenove brothers of Walthamstow.

Robert Wilks had become the purchaser of “All that Capital Messuage or Mansion House called or known by the name of Valentines.... with various fields totalling 168a. 3r. 9p” by Auction at Garraways Coffee House for the sum of £9,500.

He also purchased a further 80 acres which had been part of Wyfields but was added to the Valentines holding by Sir Charles Raymond.

At this time there was an economic crisis due the Napoleonic War and it seems likely that Wilks purchased the property as an investment, and that it was left unoccupied. If so, Wilks had made a shrewd investment as he sold the property in 1808 for £13,100.

The new owner was Charles Welstead of Leyton Stone Esq. In 1798 he had married Sophia Porter at Wormley in Hertfordshire and she seems to have contributed to the purchase. The couple made many changes to the house, moving the front entrance from the south side to the north and building the porte cochère. They converted the orangery (or conservatory) into the dairy wing and built the kitchen to link it to the main house. Charles Welstead also made substantial changes to the gardens and he probably created the lake which is now used for boating.

The estate as recorded in the ownership of Charles Welstead in the Barking Tithe Award of 1847 covered approx.170 acres.

Apart from the formal gardens, the fields nearest to the house were used as meadows, while further south, on either side of the lake, they were arable.

When he married in 1798 Welstead was described as “deputy collector of the customs in the coastal business inwards and outwards”. His memorial says he was “19 years in the service of his Majesty’s Customs in the Port of London” but little more has been discovered about him, so far. He seems to have been a charitable man, involved with the Marine Society which was founded in 1765 by Jonas Hanway to supply young recruits (from the workhouse) and equip them for service in the British Navy.  

Soon after he came to Ilford Charles Welstead built the “Forest Side school” in Horns Road, Barkingside, but this was closed after his death. He was also nominated for the honour of being Sheriff for the County of Essex shortly before he died in 1832. He was buried with others of his family in the churchyard at St.John’s, Little Leighs, a very quiet spot down a pretty winding lane, off the A131 Chelmsford to Braintree Road. When he died there was a legal wrangle over his will and although his widow survived until 1847, Valentines was sold in 1838 to Charles Holcombe.