Rainham Hall in Essex, one of the finest examples of an early 18th-century merchant’s home in the country, recently opened to public for the first time following a £2.5 million conservation project.
The trust has owned the hall more than 70 years but, with no money for renovations, it was rented out to a series of tenants.
After decades of being let and with no original fixtures and fitting to help, when it came to overhauling the property as visitor attraction the National Trust was forced to take a radical new approach. And the result has made Rainham Hall a unique offering among the trust’s raft of historic properties.
The trust decided the hall’s restoration would highlight rather than remove the intervention of its many tenants to create a living history of the building right up to the present day – there’s even a room that’s still sporting its 1980s bright blue rag-rolling. It clear that Rainham has been home to a richly diverse cast of characters; and the house draws inspiration from their lives to tell some great stories, starting with Captain John Harle, who built the hall.
Rather than cream teas and static exhibits, the rooms feature soundscapes recorded in the building and exhibits that illustrate day-to-day down the generations via scraps of paper and other items found in the hall’s nooks and crannies. With engaging installations and a year-round programme of exhibitions and events, there is something for all ages.
Rainham is just a 25-minute train journey east from central London and, nestled in the heart of Rainham village surrounded by a contrasting landscape of big skies, wild marshland and thriving industry, it is a fascinating and unique insight into the evolving history of Britain’s homes.
For more information on Rainham Hall and the National Trust, nationaltrust.org.uk/rainham-hall