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The history of Rainham Hall

Exterior view of Rainham Hall, London
Exterior view of Rainham Hall | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

Rainham Hall is a rare survivor and a remarkably fine example of Queen Anne style architecture, built in 1729. It was designed as a home, for a merchant, to be lived in and used. Nearly 50 different families and inhabitants have resided at Rainham Hall since then, including solicitors, artists, children in a day nursery, a cycling vicar and architectural historians. Since opening in 2015 we are researching their stories one by one and sharing these through a series of exhibitions and installations displayed in the hall.

History of the garden

When Rainham Hall was built, the surrounding estate would have been much larger, compromising nearly 11 acres of land, compared to the less than three acres remaining today.

No records have survived about the garden in this period, though some features have stood the test of time such as the stone urns still present today dating from the early 18th century.

Clues from the past

In 1867 the 1st edition of the Ordnance Survey records some details of the walled garden, which was divided into four distinct parts - formal garden, upper orchard, lower pond garden and lower orchard.

In 1917, Rainham Hall was purchased by art historian and property developer Colonel Herbert Hall Mulliner. He never lived 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.

Visitors welcomed

The garden became increasingly neglected and overgrown over the following decades. In 2011, the garden was 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, allowing full public access to the hall and garden.

Today, the community garden welcomes local Rainham residents, visitors and is looked after by a host of National Trust volunteers. The garden comprises formal borders at the rear of the hall, a lower lawn, meandering borders, an orchard, a small woodland, outdoor seating areas and a nature playground.

A timeline of the residents of Rainham Hall


The first owners

Rainham Hall was built in 1729 for sea merchant, Captain John Harle (1688-1742). John Harle was from a northern coal and shipping family who, after many years on the seas trading with various countries, settled in London. In 1719, John Harle married Mary Tibbington, a widow. Sometime in 1739, Mary died childless. John remarried quite soon afterwards, to Sarah Gregory, a widow who lived in Rainham. In 1740 Sarah gave birth to their only child, also named John. 

We don’t know who designed and built Rainham Hall, nor how much it cost. Only a lead rainwater hopper tells us it was built in 1729.  

The passing of John Harle 

Although John stated he was ‘of sound health’ when writing his will in February 1742, he died just 10 months later. He is buried in nearby Rainham Church. 

Left with a small son to care for, Sarah advertised Rainham Hall and wharf to let in 1743. It seems she may have rented out the wharf but continued to live in the hall. Her goddaughter, Sarah Green, and widowed sister, Jane Vincent, joined her there. 

Tragedy struck again in 1749 when Sarah Harle died, leaving the orphaned nine-year-old John junior in her sister Jane’s care. Jane died in 1751 and it seems likely that John then went to live with his uncle, Joshua Harle, a London grocer. Shortly after Jane’s death, the contents of Rainham Hall were auctioned (the hall itself was rented out). All the things that John Harle senior had collected during his life were dispersed. The house he built, and fragments of written evidence, are now the only window we have on his world. 

Discovering John Harle’s will 

Some time ago, when at a car boot sale, a Rainham resident made an extraordinary connection with a dealer who sourced an original copy of John Harle’s will. She generously donated it to Rainham Hall in 2014. It has been conserved and exhibited as part of displays to the public. An electronic copy of the will is available via the National Archives website. 

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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Things to see and do at Rainham Hall 

Discover plenty to see and do at Rainham Hall including 300-year-old interiors, changing exhibitions with historical interpretation and a community garden full of seasonal interest.

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Our work at Rainham Hall 

Discover how we started with a blank canvas and interpreted the patchwork history of Rainham Hall, and how we continue to care for this important building.

Staff member and visitor at Rainham Hall, London

Exhibitions at Rainham Hall 

Find out about the current exhibitions at Rainham.

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Enjoy a Spring walk around Rainham Hall Community Garden 

Wander around the community garden this spring or discover walking routes to Rainham Hall, taking in nature reserves, river walks and varied urban green spaces. Routes are part of the London Loop and connected to public transport.

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Family visits to Rainham Hall this Spring 

Family nature activities and games to do together at a beautiful hidden gem in east London, Rainham Hall and Community Garden.

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Learn about people from the past, discover remarkable works of art and brush up on your knowledge of architecture and gardens.