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Our work at Rainham Hall

Staff member leading a group tour at Rainham Hall, London
Staff member leading a group tour at Rainham Hall | © National Trust Images/Rob Stothard

In 2012 the National Trust embarked on a major conservation and interpretation project to transform Rainham Hall and open it to the public for the first time. Discover more about the project, the work that has taken place since opening in 2015 and the ongoing conservation work which takes place every year to preserve Rainham for future generations.

Opening Rainham Hall

Rainham Hall has been owned by the National Trust since 1949, but it was a tenanted property open only one afternoon a week from 1954 until 2011. When the last tenants moved out, a project formed to rescue the dilapidated stable block, to add new visitor facilities such as toilets, to tame the outdoor wilderness into a community garden and to research and interpret the hall for future generations to enjoy.

‘Rainham at the Centre of the World’ was the project title used for the major capital works programme to transform the hall, garden and stable block, situated in the heart of Rainham village in Havering, east London.

Fundraising support

The National Lottery Heritage Fund supported the project with a grant of £1.5 million, and with additional funding secured from Biffa Award and Veolia North Thames Trust, the project began. Engaging local people and establishing a new staff and volunteer team was central to the project. We opened fully for the first time on 7 October 2015, thanks to the hard work of contractors, team members and with support from all our stakeholders.

Visitors on a group tour at Rainham Hall, London
Visitors on a group tour at Rainham Hall | © National Trust Images/Rob Stothard

If walls could talk

Rather than a straightforward Georgian restoration project, the project team developed a unique conservation approach to reflect layers of history.

They were challenged with developing a conservation approach for Rainham Hall that would be reflective of the changes in decoration rather than ‘freezing’ the building’s history at one point in time. They considered historical layers and questioned whether social or architectural significance should be the more notable influence. As a result, a variety of paint schemes dating from the 1720s, 1920s, 1960s, 2000s, and many more eras in between, were conserved and restored based on how individual spaces were altered over the years.

Specialist investigations

Structurally, the layout of the hall building was subject to only a few alterations, such as the installation of a dumbwaiter and the expansion of the attic in the early twentieth century. One aspect that has constantly evolved, however, is the interior decoration and the building has ‘inherited’ a series of contrasting paint schemes reflective of the inhabitants at the time. In 2012, a specialist was appointed to complete a detailed paint analysis of the building and the final report illuminated the changes in decoration over the years.

The changing interiors of Rainham Hall


Early decoration schemes

When the hall was built for Captain John Harle in 1729 the interior decoration comprised five colours on the wall panelling: a blueish grey, stone, blue, cool grey, and dark olive green. Many of the doors and much of the skirting was a reddish brown. During the first redecoration at the hall there was a complete change. The panelling in many of the rooms was painted with a light grey oil paint with the skirting and doors painted black.

Changing exhibitions

Rainham Hall has been home to a richly diverse cast of characters. Lacking any collection items and historical records, the ambition was to focus individually on some of the 50 residents and uses of the hall over its near 300-year history, with a working title of ‘Who’s living at Rainham Hall’. The largely empty space inside the hall would be used to deliver immersive experiences using sound, film, objects and installations discovered room by room. Importantly, local people would be heavily involved in the creation of the exhibitions, bringing Rainham Hall back into the centre of the community.

The exhibitions so far

The opening exhibition in 2015 was called 'Everything John Harle Left Behind', which illuminated the life of the sea merchant, for whom the house was built in 1729. The second exhibition called 'Remembering the Day Nursery' ran from 2017–2018 and was based on memories of day nursery attendees during the 1940s and 1950s. The current exhibition 'The Denney Edition' explores the life and times of 1960s tenant, the Vogue photographer, Anthony Denney.

The changing interpretation approach introduces the stories of many more inhabitants and continues until the 300th anniversary of the building of Rainham Hall in 2029.

Interpreting the past

The first exhibition, about enterprising merchant and ship’s captain John Harle was a collaboration between award-winning architecture practice Studio Weave and the residents of Rainham Village, local groups, and creative practitioners from across the London borough of Havering.

An atmospheric narrative unfolded over three floors of the building, including a film installation exploring the perils of life at sea. Visitors could hear sea shanties and the sounds of faraway coastlines and play a game with real eighteenth-century coins.

Staff member and visitor at Rainham Hall, London
Staff member and visitor at Rainham Hall | © National Trust Images/Rob Stothard

The second major exhibition told the story of the era when the building was requisitioned and operated as a day nursery for local children between 1943–1954.

The exhibition was based on the memories of seven former nursery attendees: Roger, Linda, Joe, John, Janice, Diane and Pat. Visitors were able to discover tales of childhood and daily life at the nursery, from playtime, to snacks and afternoon naps. For the first time, Rainham Hall was a public, communal building and the grand front door opened each morning to the youngest members of the community. In the daytime it was filled with the chatter and clatter of little children and their carers but closed and silent at night.

Visitors were able to immerse themselves in the era through a variety of exhibits and displays, including audio visual installations, objects on display, artworks by local makers, historic photographs, and oral history excerpts.

Did you attend the day nursery at Rainham Hall?

Perhaps you remember attending as a child, have photos from your nursery days at hall or even kept a memento from the nursery such as your favourite toy? Maybe you know someone who attended or worked at the day nursery?

The team at Rainham Hall have spoken to just a handful of former nursery children so far, but the intake was as large as 45 children at one time and hope many more will come forward. Former nursery attendees and employees are invited to re-visit the hall after nearly 50 years, to help bring to life a lively era in the building’s history.

The oral history team are always interested to hear from those with memories of the hall. Please get in touch at

Conservation cleaning

In January each year important conservation work is carried out, to ensure the hall is preserved for future generations. Original floorboards are cleaned and waxed to ensure they are in the best shape for the year ahead.

First the floors are vacuumed, mopped and left to dry. Once dry, the first coat of wax is worked into each board by hand, and this is left overnight. The next day, once dry, the floor is buffed and then a second layer of wax applied onto the boards and left to dry. The waxed boards are given a final buff the following day. Waxing the floors protects them from footfall and any accidental spills.

The beginning of the year is also the time when the hall is given a deeper clean. The hard-to-reach places are dusted, and Christmas decorations removed. Caring for the hall is an ongoing job. Each week surfaces are dusted, floors vacuumed, and the staircase banister dusted.

Visitors on a guided tour outside Rainham Hall, London

Discover more at Rainham Hall

Find out when Rainham Hall is open, how to get here, the things to see and do and more.

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