I am so thrilled to welcome Sally James, Creative Programme Manager at Rainham Hall, to the salon to tell us more about this remarkable property!
Rainham Hall, London
In October 2015, the National Trust opened Rainham Hall, a Grade II* listed 18th century Queen Anne-style house located in the outer London Borough of Havering. It is considered to be one of the country’s finest surviving examples of an early Georgian merchant’s house. The Hall has been owned by the Trust since 1949, but as a tenanted property it offered limited accessibility to visitors, with typically one open afternoon a week. It has undergone a major £2.5million, two-year programme of conservation and redevelopment, with £1.5 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The National Trust has pioneered an innovative new programme developed in collaboration with award-winning architecture practice Studio Weave. The interpretation scheme is based on changing ‘programmes’ which will last for around 18-24 months and illuminate a different inhabitant or era in the Hall’s history. Nearly 50 different people/families have resided at the Hall, including diverse characters such as coal traders, a scientist-vicar and a Vogue photographer. 'Everything Harle Left Behind' is the current exhibition at Rainham Hall, deconstructing the life of the first resident, Captain John Harle (1688-1742). Harle designed and built the Hall in 1729 after buying land that extended to Rainham Creek where he created a Wharf for his shipping and trading business. His days would have been spent striking deals in London’s Royal Exchange and the coffee houses. Today an atmospheric narrative of Harle’s story that unfolds across three floors at Rainham Hall. Sound installations, objects, art and video projection are on display.
Rainham Hall does not have an indigenous collection. As part of the project, we viewed this lack of an ‘original’ collection as an opportunity rather than a negative; allowing us to develop an approach based on creating items for display and loaning items from other organisations, such as the National Maritime Museum for the first exhibition. Over 60% of the 23 of the exhibits on display have been created or co-curated by volunteers and local community partners. For example, a hand sewn replica of a Georgian dress has been created by students on a tailoring course in Havering and represents the type of best day dress Harle’s wife would have worn.
But Harle’s story alone does not define Rainham Hall: rather than passing between generations of one family, a multitude of residents have called the Hall home, leaving a decorative imprint redolent of their time and taste, yet ultimately respectful of the inherent qualities of the building. The co-existence of historical layers and alterations combined with the modest scale of its rooms at Rainham Hall makes visitors feel “I could live here”. We therefore encourage visitors to explore and there is no set visitor route. People are free to open doors and intriguing cupboards. We’ll be launching our new programme in summer 2017 which will focus on when the Hall was a day nursery from 1943-1954.
Led by Julian Harrap Architects, a key achievement of the capital works project has been to remove the Stableblock at Rainham Hall from the Historic England at Risk register; transforming the building into a café, with an activity space and a new adjacent toilet block. Our project has opened up previously closed historic buildings and a nearly 3 acre garden, providing a great new cultural asset to visitors and the local community.
Café and Gardens open Wed-Sun, 10am-5pm from 6 Jan-31 Dec 2016.
Hall open Weds-Sun, 10am-5pm from 17 Feb-31 Oct then Fri-Sun, 10am-5pm from 1 Nov-23 Dec.
Pre-booked school and group visits take place on Tuesdays.
Site closed on Mondays and 24, 25 and 26 Dec 2016.
Tickets £5 adults, £2.50 children, under 5s and National Trust members go free.
rainham-hall. Telephone: 01708 525579.
Written content of this post copyright © Sally James, 2016.