The last time Rainham Village was in the county of Essex was 1934. That was the year it became part of Hornchurch urban District Council, and then in 1965 it became a part of Greater London.
However, there is a National Trust property in the village in the form of Rainham Hall, and it’s certainly an easy “day out” for most people in Essex, especially from nearby towns and villages such as Southend, Canvey island and Basildon, and so we made an exception and “went over the border” to visit.
Rainham Hall has been owned by the National Trust since 1949, but until very recently it was tenanted. However, in the autumn of 2015 it opened to the public after a £2.5 million renovation and restoration project. It makes a great addition to the National Trust offer in South Essex and East London and is well worth a visit.
The Hall isn’t the largest property that the Trust owns but it’s a lovely example of an 18th century Georgian town house, built by a prosperous man as a home for his family.
The hall was built by a gentleman called Captain John Harle who had made his money in the city and shipping. At the time the Hall was built Rainham Village was well beyond the City of London boundaries, and so the Captain and his family would have been moving out to the countryside. They were in fact making a move that many Londoners have made since – moving from the sprawl of London out East to Essex where there is fresh air and space.
Very little is known about the Captain, and in their representation of the history of the Hall the National Trust have used this lack of information as their stating point.
The layout of the house appears to have changed little since it was first built, with a beautiful entrance hall, reception rooms and a lovely staircase leading up to the bedrooms on the first and second floors. All the rooms are decorated in dark colours, and in some parts earlier decorations haven’t been thoroughly restored, and there are layers of paint showing, for example on the woodwork on the stairs. This makes the house rather mysterious, and in places it feels as if layers of history are being pealed back. Even though there is little furniture in the house, there is a feeling of looking back across the centuries, the darkness of the rooms helping you to imagine what the house was like to live in when it was first built.
One of the main exhibitions in the Hall is Everything Harle Left Behind, which allows us a glimps into the life of the Captain, with interactive maps and board games – it’s very child friendly, as is the whole of the house. However, the interpretation of the house’s history doesn’t just focus on the period when the Captain was living there. Many families lived in the house over the years, and a detail that I particularly liked was that one tenant in the 1980’s painted a room in very dark blue and then rag-rolled the paint (for those of you who were DIYer’s in the 1980’s you’ll know exactly what this was – at least they didn’t stencil everything).
There are still large gardens to explore – one of the very friendly and knowledgable volunteers directed us to the original dog kennels – they are very grand. There’s also the usual – but very nice National Trust tearoom – this time housed in the old stables. We didn’t have a drink – we’d been fo a drink in the Tesco Express just around the corner which is where we also parked before our visit.
So, whether you like to “collect” National Trust properties and tick them off in the old-fashioned members handbook, you live locally, or are just interested in the history of the wider Essex area, this is a great house to visit. Over the years there will be changing exhibitions and events taking place, and so it will become a focal point for the local community and visitors to the area.
Our photo’s are quite dark, but I think they capture the atmosphere of the house, looking reaching back into the past on a cold day at the end of February.