architecture, country house, Essex, eyecatcher, Folly, Mausoleum, Tower

Cranbrook Castle, or Raymond’s Folly, Ilford, Essex

Card posted in 1910. Courtesy of a private collection.

In 1765 Charles Raymond built a tower on his estate at Valentines in Ilford, Essex. Money was not an issue, for Raymond had grown wealthy in business, and in particular shipping, having started his career in the employ of the East India Company. The prominently-placed sham fortification was an eye-catcher that announced his status to all who passed by. It was intended as his family mausoleum, but things didn’t quite go to plan.

Valentine’s as illustrated in A New and Complete History of Essex…by a Gentleman, vol.4, 1771.

Raymond (c.1713-1788) bought the Valentines (sometimes Valentine’s) estate in 1754. He renovated the house, and filled it with treasures from his travels and curiosities brought home on his ships. His garden was home to a menagerie with exotic birds, and in 1771 one Captain Rogers returned to England from China with a sampan to sail on the estate’s lakes.

This portrait of Sir Charles appears on various websites without anyone identifying the source, so please get in touch if you know where it can be found.

Sir Charles Raymond (he was created a baronet in 1774) died in 1788. His plans for a grand mausoleum had been abandoned when the Bishop of London apparently refused to consecrate the tower. In his will Sir Charles stipulated a more conventional funeral plan: he wished to be ‘buried in as private a manner as may be’. He was laid to rest at St Margaret of Antioch in Barking, where he is commemorated by a monument in the church.

Daniel Lysons noted the tower in his Environs of London, published in 1796. He described it as being built in 1765 as a burial place, but noted that ‘it was never put to that use’. The little further information we have comes from the Ilford historian George Tasker. He wrote about Cranbrook Castle, as it became known (the Cran Brook runs nearby and gives it name to the area), in the local newspaper, and in 1901 published Ilford Past & Present. Tasker was privy to information from a descendant of Raymond, described as an ‘impeachable authority’, who stated that the intended mausoleum had cost £420 to build, and that the disagreement with the Bishop had led to the plans being dropped. Tasker had explored the tower, and wrote that outlines of the fourteen semi-circular niches for coffins could still be traced on the walls of the vault, which was built within the mound on which the tower stands.

The Castle as featured in Wide World Magazine, March 1912.

Throughout the 19th century Cranbrook Castle had been rented out as a dwelling house: tenants in the second-half of the century included the local milkman, his wife and four daughters. Tasker described how the ground floor chapel had been divided into two rooms, and the room above had been converted into four apartments. Another writer thought it made an odd home, as the spiral staircase from the chapel to the roof took up much of the space. The tower, which was ‘conspicuous several miles round’, remained a popular local landmark, and featured on countless picture postcards.

A slightly battered postcard sent in 1902, but a delight to feature as it illustrates not just the folly, but also the fashion for sending and collecting postcards. Courtesy of a private collection.

During the First World War Cranbrook Castle was taken over by the Admiralty and became ‘the most important observation station’ near London, giving ‘very valuable information during air raids’. After the war the tower deteriorated and became a target for vandals bent on ‘wanton destruction’. By this time the land around the tower was in demand for housing, and new homes on the 45 acre Cranbook Castle Estate were advertised from the start of the 1920s.

Alongside the housing the Port of London Authority was building a new recreation ground, and locals became aware that their tower was under threat. There were proposals to turn it into a museum, or to incorporate it into the new pavilion needed for the sports ground, but ‘the authorities ordered its removal for causes not determined’. The strongly-built tower did its best to resist, with 12 strong men with ropes being needed to pull down the turrets in 1923. But soon not a trace remained, and the site was developed.

Undated postcard showing the folly beginning to crumble. Courtesy of a private collection.

The Valentines estate was bought by the local authority in 1912: the mansion became council offices and the grounds became a public park. With help from the Heritage Lottery Fund and an active Friends group the house and parkland were restored in 2007-08. The house is now open regularly, with furnished period rooms on view, and also operates as a wedding venue. The gardens can be visited daily. Read more

For the work of the Friends see

The castle is remembered in Ilford in the names and logos of Cranbrook Castle Lawn Tennis Club and Cranbrook Castle Montessori Nursery.

Thank you for reading. There is a comments box at the foot of the page – please do get in touch if you have any thoughts or further information.

The Needle’s Eye, Wentworth Woodhouse. Subscribe and discover many other fascinating follies.


Subscribing to The Folly Flaneuse ensures you will never miss a post. All you need to do is provide me with your contact information and you will automatically receive an email each Saturday when I post new content on Your email address will never be sold or shared

 You can remove yourself anytime by contacting me.

* indicates required

5 thoughts on “Cranbrook Castle, or Raymond’s Folly, Ilford, Essex”

  1. Nicholas William Kingsley says:

    The tower is of particular interest to me as one of a group of triangular (and mostly Gothick) towers built in the C18 as follies and viewpoints that also includes Fort Belvedere alias Shrubs Hill Tower (Surrey), Broadway Tower (Worcs/Glos), Haldon Belvedere and Powderham Castle Tower (Devon), Sevendroog Tower (Kent), King Alfred’s Tower at Stourhead (Wilts) and Horton Tower (Dorset), the Keeper’s House at Acton Burnell (Shropshire) and Hiorne’s Tower at Arundel (Sussex). Does anyone know of others?

    1. Editor says:

      Good morning Nick. I hope others can help, but meanwhile the Blaise Castle tower comes to mind – it is very similar to Haughmond Castle in Shropshire, which I have featured in these pages. Racton Tower in Sussex and the Bardsea Monument in Cumbria, also featured here, are both triangular. I’m sure you will have Roger White’s 1985 article from Country Life on the subject?

      1. Editor says:

        Hello again Nick. As Alan has reminded me there were articles in Follies magazine. The magazines have been digitised (all credit to Alan for making this amazing resource available online) and can be seen on the Folly Fellowship website

  2. Alan Terrill says:

    Don’t forget the series of articles on triangular towers by Hilary
    Peters that appeared in Follies magazine between issues 79 and 84 . Back Issues are still available!

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Alan. I had forgotten, so thanks for the reminder!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.