“…it is one of the finest and best preserved examples in England of a medium sized early Georgian merchant’s house” – 2011 Heritage Scoping Study
On a chilly day last December, in that pale daylight which never really wakes to full glory, I set off for my local village ‘fayre’. It had been a few years since I had last ventured there, and behind the milling folk and teams of morris dancers, I could see it had evolved into something greater in size, in ambition, and in attraction, if a little Disneyesque. I admit I was immediately drawn to the mulled cider, but beyond the seasonal food stall and the small choir rendering with aplomb a rather fine version of ‘Rockin’ around the Christmas tree’, stood an even greater pull: Rainham Hall.
During the fair, this National Trust Queen Anne style property was open to all-comers, and I grabbed the opportunity to venture through its grand portico with smiling glee. No doubt I wore a wondrous expression like some child accidentally finding a wardrobe portal, but it made talking to the NT stalwart volunteer easier: I was cheerily enthusiastic. And I was dying to ask questions, so many flooded my head, ‘Is this plaster original?’ was perhaps the first, and I could hardly wait to splutter it out even though to my inexpert eye, the bulging wall suggested it was.
How the wall had been damaged was anyone’s guess and the answer to the question of safety was addressed by my newly acquired NT friend. Safe it was and yes the plaster was original, so too part of the staircase and the mouldings around the portico; in the parlour an original Queen Anne dresser had stood, but had been removed prior to the onset of conservation work; the arches in the basement were not original and were later added to carry the weight of the marble floor above, the conservators had started work on the blue room, ‘hidden behind this door’ – a curiosity like the forbidden room in a Victorian gothic novel – and would proceed through most of the house before attempting the stable block, the soon to be NT Visitor Centre and cafe. Oh I was in ecstasy.
And so we started to talk about Captain Harle, the merchant and prosperous builder of Rainham Hall – though not entirely well heeled because he could only afford to build a house twenty years behind the fashion – and the acquisition of Rainham Wharf in 1718. The South Shields sea captain began his business at Rainham importing commodities and conducting affairs from his small office opposite the hall – now a cabbies office – until his business flourished and he was flush with the required amount to build his dream home and move in with his wife from Stepney. The hall was passed down the generations and was still in private ownership until 1949 when the NT took over; the Trust was recently awarded a grant for renovation with full plans to open up this gem for the enjoyment of all Londoners and visitors.
After the work has been completed, go and take in its full glory; it left a distinct impression on me, it was a lavish meal to my dessert of mulled cider.
Photos, 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9 – C.A. Jackson
Photos, 2, 8 – James Brennan, National Trust
Photo, 4 – attribution unknown