The History of the Gardens
Since Rainham Hall was built, the Gardens have been altered many times, and until a few years ago, had been very neglected. Thanks to staff and volunteers the Gardens are going through a transformation.
When Rainham Hall was built in 1729 by sea merchant Captain John Harle, the surrounding estate would have been much larger, compromising nearly eleven acres of land, compared to the nearly three acres remaining today. No records have survived about the gardens in this period, though some features have stood the test of time; stone urns still present today date from the early eighteenth century. The Hall has since been home to nearly 50 different sets of inhabitants with many leaving a decorative imprint redolent of their time and taste, yet ultimately respectful of the inherent qualities of the building and gardens.
The 1st edition of the Ordnance Survey of 1867 records some detail of the walled garden at Rainham Hall, which was divided into four distinct parts: formal garden; upper orchard; lower pond garden; and lower orchard.
" In the rear there is a Pleasant and Shady Pleasure Garden; a Large and Productive Old Kitchen Garden, with a profusion of Wall, Standard and other Fruit Trees; a Small Grass Paddock with Pond."
In 1917, Rainham Hall was purchased by art historian and property developer Colonel Herbert Hall Mulliner. He never resided at the Hall, but oversaw a programme of restoration works. Mulliner clarified the structural lines of the garden and relocated two of the decorative urns to the front of the house. Few details of planting are recorded, but the long straight paths of the formal flower garden and terrace are clearly visible in photographs from a 'Country Life' article published in 1920. Following Mulliner's death in 1924, the Hall was put up for sale and the auction catalogue described the gardens:
'The charming old world gardens are practically surrounded by a fine old red brick wall, and comprise, Lawn large enough for tennis, large sunk Kitchen Garden with herbaceous border, Flower Garden and numerous fruit trees, extending in all to about 2¼ acres. There are several beautiful old carved stone Vases and other ornaments in the grounds, and a fine wrought iron gate leading from the yard to the garden hung on a pair of old red brick piers.'
The National Trust acquired the Hall in lieu of death duties in 1949 and arranged a series of tenants to live in and care for the building. However, it had been requisitioned as a day nursery for local children during the Second World War and it was used for this purpose from 1943 until 1954. The Ministry of Health approved an Essex County Council request that a portion of the gardens should be used by the nursery. Photographs from the era depict children playing in the gardens.
During the later tenancy era the gardens became increasingly neglected and overgrown. In 2011, the gardens were opened to the general public following a project funded by London Borough of Havering and Veolia North Thames Trust. The major conservation and interpretation project at Rainham Hall was completed in 2015, finally allowing full public access to the Hall, Gardens and new facilities such as the Stables Cafe. In autumn 2015, the National Trust appointed the first full-time Community Gardener to look after the Gardens and to engage local people with our transformation projects.
Today the Gardens comprise of formal borders at the rear of the Hall, a lower lawn, meandering borders, an orchard, an outdoor seating area, and a nature playground.