The Finches of Valentines

When considering historical research the best place to start is the Victoria County History (VCH) which is a work of scholarship covering several volumes. However even the VCH gives little space to the Finch family in its account of Valentines, saying "On the death of Elizabeth Tillotson in 1702, her executors granted Valentines to George Finch... William Finch, who was admitted to the tenement [as copyholder] in 1714, under the will of his father George, surrendered it in 1724 to Robert Surman." (VCH Vol.5 p.211) It has therefore come as quite a surprise to find considerable interest in the Finch family from Friends of Valentines Mansion, at least three of whom can trace their ancestry back to Valentines.

The Finch family were prominent in the City of London and there is a memorial in St.Helen's church at Bishopsgate to William Finch, Esq with a lengthy Latin inscription. From this we can discover that he was of noble birth,* a good man, just to his neighbours and indulgent to his wife and children, who died in 1672. He was "abounding in alms", as well as in wealth, which he "honestly accumulated on earth as a prudent merchant." His wife Esther was also a devout Christian, a good mother and obedient wife who died in 1673.

Their son George was born in about 1662 and obviously grew up in a home where money was plentiful but generosity to those less fortunate was part of the way of life. In 1690 he married Constance, the daughter of Nathaniel Hornby, a goldsmith and banker and Citizen of London. Constance was only 15 at the time, at least ten years his junior. George owned a house referred to as No.29 in Great St. Helen's, so probably their first years together were spent there. A tax assessment of 1695 shows that George was clearly a man of means, living in the City with his young family and that a bachelor brother, Samuel, was also living with them at that time.

George acquired Valentines in 1702, no doubt as a country residence for his young family. They had five sons and one daughter: James and Henry died young but the others must have grown up there. We have no information about their time at Valentines and do not know how much of the house we see today was familiar to them. The building has been altered at least four times since 1696 but I imagine the principal rooms are much the same. The house looked across the park to the main road (now called Cranbrook Road) linking Barking and Ilford with the main road north at Woodford Bridge. They would have been easily accessible to City friends and probably had a good many visitors. The closest estate, Cranbrook, was the subject of litigation over ownership at the time the Finches were at Valentines. The wealthy Child family would have been very influential neighbours at Wanstead, where they were living in the gabled Tudor house which was one of the largest in Essex at that time, with very elaborate gardens.

When George died in 1710 he was buried at St.Helen's church but the previous year he had purchased property containing 1,546 acres at Rainham. His wife Constance was buried at Rainham parish church when she died in 1728.

Their eldest son, William, was registered as the owner of Valentines in 1714 but there is no record of who lived there in the next ten years. His sister Anne died in 1713 and a memorial was erected to her memory in Bath Abbey. The youngest brother, Thomas, studied at Merton College, Oxford, but died in 1718 and was buried at St.Helen's.

William sold Valentines in 1724 and the Rainham properties in 1729 - the present Rainham Hall was built for the new owner and is now owned by the National Trust. The documentation from 1729 describes William as "late of Valentines in the County of Essex and now of Cannells in the County of Stafford, Esquire" and his brother George as "of Hornchurch in the County of Essex, Esquire." William died in Bath in 1735 and was buried at Bath Abbey. He had married Dorothy Tyndale in 1721 but it seems there were no surviving children. George had married twice and it is from him that Friends Brenda Lawrance and Michael Davies can trace their ancestry. I am very grateful to them for much family information included in this article, and to their cousin John Hart for the miniature of George Finch. Thanks also to Tony Thomas of St.Helen's, Bishopsgate.

*There is good reason to think that William Finch was the great-grandson of Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Thomas Heneage of Copped Hall, wife of Sir Moyle Finch, who was created Countess of Winchelsea in 1628, - but as yet no proof.