Things to see and do at Rainham Hall this Christmas
- 27 November 2023
Rainham Hall is an elegant Georgian House in the east London borough of Havering, on the border of Essex. Every two years, the interior is re-imagined with a new exhibition celebrating a different character or story from its diverse history. We are bringing their stories to life, one by one, through a changing programme including exhibitions, activities, and events.
Rainham Hall this Christmas
Decorated with shimmering candlelight, red and gold bows and lots of greenery, Rainham Hall will be dressed in Victorian style this Christmas season. There are events for adults and children with Arts and Craft Christmas Fair, a Rainham Reindeer Trail for families and a reading of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol.
Inside the house
When you enter the house you will see many layers of history, with paint schemes dating from the 1720s to 2000s. A series of different people have left behind decorative imprints on the building reflective of their time and taste, yet ultimately respectful of the architecture. However, there are no personal items or furniture and no boxes of archive documents in the attic.
Unlike many historic houses, Rainham Hall, does not have a large collection of items. However, much of the original 18th-century fabric of the building is retained, including floorboards in the hall, stables and coach house.
The paintwork tells a story
As Rainham Hall does not have an indigenous collection, and there is no known surviving inventory for the property prior to the 1960s, the paint layers on the walls, doors and ceilings are a significant part of the building’s history.
Today, you will encounter a series of different paint colours and decoration schemes relating to different eras and inhabitants. Even with a trained eye, it can be hard to separate the Georgian schemes from later ones, as later occupiers redecorated according to their own taste and interpretation of the 18th-century building.
The highly decorative trompe l’oeil paintings on the staircase walls were painted in the late 1700s, featuring floral flourishes and a Vitruvian scroll pattern. Conversely, paint schemes, including the gilding and marbled paintwork in the entrance hall, dark red in the bedrooms, rich blues and ‘maple’ graining on the second floor are additions from the 1960s when tenant Anthony Denney redecorated according to his own interpretation of 18th-century style.
The tenants make their mark
Later tenants of the National Trust redecorated the hall in a variety of colours and styles. Many neutral tones were used with the exception of a room known since the 1960s as the Blue Room. Located at the back of the house on the first floor, this room has been decorated blue since Denney’s time, but a new vivid paint scheme was introduced later. Portrait artist, David Atack, and his family moved in during the late 1990s. It is thought that they introduced the bright blue rag-rolling paint scheme in this room as part of their own ‘interpretation and restoration’ project at the hall.
The Blue Room scheme stands out and, although it will not be to the taste of every visitor, it certainly provokes thought about different conservation approaches.
Former inhabitants, with a wide variety of backgrounds, had their own individual reasons for living here. Changing the interpretation every two years enables us to illuminate their lives and tell a variety of compelling stories about the building’s history and will continue until the 300th anniversary in 2029.
Exhibitions and interpretation
Rainham Hall is a rare survivor and a remarkably fine example of Queen Anne style architecture. It was designed as a home, to be lived in and used. Since it was built in 1729, nearly 50 different families and inhabitants have resided at the hall, including merchants, artists, vicars and architectural historians.
The hall now hosts exhibitions showcasing the varying lives of former residents. Due to the many changes in ownership, Rainham Hall does not have a collection of furniture or objects relating to any era in its history. The interpretive exhibitions essentially fill the gaps where a collection would have typically been, as seen in many other historic houses.
The exhibitions provide an opportunity to tell the different stories of previous occupants over the centuries. The rooms are used to host creatively imagined installations, evoking the past and focusing on one moment in time.
Layers of History at Rainham Hall.
The exhibition reveals and explores aspects of previous tenants of the Hall.
Focusing on four distinct time periods in the Hall’s 300-year history you will find interactive displays, historical information, film and audio stories as well as historical objects from the times.
Victorian Vicar & Curious Curate: Brady at Rainham Hall follows Brady and his wife Emma as he first came to Rainham Hall in 1874 following his appointment as vicar to the ‘out-of-the-way parish’ of Wennington, a small village near Rainham. Brady was a cycling enthusiast interested in science, education and geology.
‘The Denney Edition: celebrating an icon of 20th-century style’, is an innovative exhibition celebrating the life and career of Vogue photographer, designer, and former Rainham Hall resident, Anthony Denney, who lived here between 1964 and 1969.
Everything John Harle Left Behind explores the story of the sea captain who built the Hall in 1729. The exhibition explores the times he would have lived in and the objects and places he might have come across and has an original copy of his will.
Remembering the Day Nursery charts the time between 1942-1954 when the Hall was used as a Day Nursery for children when local mothers were conscripted to work in factories or in the land as their contribution to the war effort. The exhibition includes the stories and memories of six local residents who attended the nursery
The nearly three-acre community garden at Rainham Hall provides an oasis of urban green space for visitors to explore and enjoy, for free, all year round. For a donation you can take home produce grown in the vegetable plots and orchard, or pots of plants from the garden.
The garden splits into four distinct spaces: the hall borders, the orchard and kitchen garden, the meandering borders, and the woodland, including a small nature playground and outdoor classroom. Look out for the 150-year-old mulberry tree in the woodland area of the garden.
Wildlife in the garden
The garden at Rainham is a haven for a variety of urban wildlife, including butterflies, birds and amazing insects. Surrounded by industry and transport links, the garden provides a green breathing space and an ideal habitat.
Look out for the large logs along the woodland path providing a great home for bugs and the Rainham Hall insect mansion in the middle of the wildflower meadow. Two stag beetles have been spotted in the garden which is a great sign for this endangered species.
Conservation and community
Since opening to the public in 2015 following a major £2.5 million conservation and interpretation project, Rainham Hall and its garden have become a focal point of the vibrant local community. Community participation is central to the exhibitions, ensuring all exhibits are created in partnership with local makers and groups.
To recognise the vital role that the community plays in creating Rainham Hall's exhibitions, residents in the RM13 postcode area can visit for free. No booking is necessary, please just bring along some proof of address, such as a recent utility bill.
Find out about the current exhibitions at Rainham.
Piece together the history of Rainham Hall. From a shipping merchant to a Vogue photographer, discover some of the people who lived, worked and played here over nearly 400 years.
Wander around the community garden this winter 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.
Family nature activities and games to do together at a beautiful hidden gem in east London, Rainham Hall and Community Garden.
Historic buildings are a treasure trove of stories, art and collections. Learn more about what makes these places so special and plan your visit.