The front of Rainham Hall, an elegant Georgian house, built in 1729, Havering, London 	© National Trust Images/ Colin Clarke
The front of Rainham Hall, an elegant Georgian house, built in 1729, Havering, London © National Trust Images/ Colin Clarke
Slide your hands through the port holes and handle real coins and tokens to play this board game!
Slide your hands through the port holes and handle real coins and tokens to play this board game!

Rainham Hall, London

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Following a £2.5 million renovation, Rainham Hall in London has recently reopened to visitors. Kids in Museums volunteer Jane Allnutt went to take a look.

Picture a National Trust house – but Rainham Hall wasn’t designed by a great architect but instead was chosen from a catalogue of house designs. This town house, built for a master mariner John Harle and his wife in 1729, has been owned by the National Trust for over 60 years. Amongst its past owners is an eccentric vicar with a passion for cycling. It was a nursery in WW2 and then rented to a Vogue photographer and socialite in the 1960s.

The house is fairly bare, but each room has a different interpretation. There are maps, recorded music (nursery rhymes and sea shanties) and objects in display cases. There are also interactive displays such as a game to play and old-fashioned handwriting to practise over a light box. In one of the first rooms you enter there is an atmospheric and immersive film installation. This film of the sea and sky is projected onto the four walls so you are in the midst of heavy rain on a windswept, stormy sea, which eventually calms to reveal land on the distant horizon.

Hats off to the National Trust for there is a breath of fresh air in how the rooms and objects are displayed. It’s creative, humorous and really gets families talking together. There are sights, smells, sounds and lots to think about, for example one display encourages visitors to think about things we can never know about the past – did Captain Harle have an ‘innie’ or an ‘outie’ belly button?

With a few inexpensive extras they could make the house even more family friendly. Especially where there is a lot of information in one room, dressing up clothes or a puzzle in the corner could let the adults spend longer looking at the maps (did you know there was a place called Ghost Land, North East of Australia?) However there are lots of steps so all the displays are accessible for small visitors, and watch out for a surprise in the bathroom…

My favourite display is in a tall, corner cupboard containing small objects which had been found under the floorboards. Labels give a snippet of information which encourages you to think about how the object could have been lost. For example, an embroidered handkerchief could have been stolen by a pickpocket, or given as a love token to John’s wife. An 18th century coffee house has been created in the kitchen where you can read aloud the news from a broadsheet of Harle’s time, and ‘guess the smells’ in the various pots containing spices.

The local community have been involved with the restoration, from school children working with an artist to volunteers planting the garden and helping with displays. Over the coming years the exhibitions within in the house will focus on some of the many characters who have lived in the Hall, which will also encourage visitors to return. I definitely want to find out more about the eccentric, cycling vicar!

Rainham Hall is open Wednesday-Sunday 10am-5pm. Adults £5, children 5-16 years, £2.50. National Trust members and children under five go free. For more information: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/rainham-hall/

2 Responses

  1. Geography Police Says:

    Rainham Hall is in London, not Essex.
    In the London Borough of Havering in east London.
    Since 1965.

  2. Kim Says:

    You’re right! Thank you. I have edited accordingly.

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