Thursday 8 October 2009


People who venture north of the river may be aware of Valentine's House, north of Ilford. The house has recently been renovated with a lottery grant and was the subject of a talk at Walthamstow Local History Society on Thursday evening.

Why should Greenwich historians be interested in a house in Ilford? Well, Valentines House was the home of a Greenwich industrialist, Charles Holcome.

In 1841 Morden College granted a lease on a large site on the Peninsula - 'Further Pitts' - to Charles Holcombe. He acted as a developer, leasing part of the site to a network of other companies.

Holcombe was obviously at least middle aged by the time he invested in the Greenwich sites – it is likely that he had previously been the tenant of Hatcham Manor Farm at New Cross and had operated a chemical works there. By the time he came to Greenwich he had already taken occupation of Valentines Park and his family were local benefactors in the Ilford area. A road alongside Valentine's House is named after him 'Holcombe Road'. Strangely, the adjacent road is 'Bethell Avenue' - and this is unlikely to be a coincidence – does this reflect a connection with Bethell, the most famous of the coal tar distillers of his generation? .

The Greenwich site is shown on the 1843 Greenwich Tithe map as that of Charles Holcombe ‘ house, premises, tar factory, sheds and yard’. When he took over Great and Little Pits Morden College made it quite clear that he must spend at least £300 per acre on improvements.

Initially he applied to the Commissioner of Woods and Forests for an embankment to his wharf and Morden College comments that the permission was ‘accompanied by restrictions of a very unusual and prejudicial character’. What ever that means!

In Greenwich directories his Greenwich works is listed as a 'brass foundry, tar and Asfelt works'. He is also described as a 'refiner of coal tar, spirit, pitch and varnish'.

A footpath is shown from Blackwall Lane to the river – this was soon to be diverted and changed to become Morden Wharf Lane, or Sea Witch Lane, which for many years has been a private road through the glucose refinery. Holcombe then built Morden Wharf - the area which today juts out into the river downstream of the silos. It is not known why he named it this - perhaps he had a special relationship with Morden College, or wanted to curry favour with them. Morden Wharf Road led to a pub – the Sea Witch – also built by Holcombe. He obtained permission to build houses from Morden College who also provided designs and specifications – and riverside cottages by the pub and terraces of houses sprang up on the borders of the area he was leasing. The houses were, inevitably, designed by George Smith the Morden College surveyor.

He later asked Morden College for permission to lay asphalt on the river path. He also asked permission to build a draw dock and complained when permission had been given to someone else to deposit rubbish on the riverside. These activities gradually added to the local amenities and made the area more attractive to other incoming industrialists.

After his death Holcombe's leases on the sites at Morden Wharf and the sub-tenants who occupied them continued in the ownership of his widow and descendents. They were members of the Ingleby family - and it is them are best remembered at Valentine's House.

A web site for the Friends of Valentine's House can be found at where there is also a great deal of information about the house and its owners over the centuries. It is a place well worth a visit - a beautiful house in a sensational park.

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