diamond geezer

 Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Random borough (30): Havering (part 3)

You'll find Rainham at the southern tip of Havering, surrounded by low-lying marshes near the Thames. It's an old town, more large-village-sized, with a history of agriculture and river-trade. It boasts a war memorial, a rice factory and the station the furthest from any other in London. Let's explore...

Somewhere historic: Rainham Hall
The National Trust own a dozen properties in London, of which this is probably their least visited. It's in Rainham, for heaven's sake, and who ever goes there? It has a ridiculously brief write-up in the annual NT guide, where the highlight is "Note: no toilet". Plus it's only open for three hours a week for seven months a year. Thankfully that includes Saturday afternoons in July, so I nipped off the bus, walked through the churchyard and popped in. I wasn't alone. One of the local schools had organised "a project" on Rainham Hall, so an entire class had instructions to drag their parents round before the end of term and take notes. It certainly kept the volunteers busy, even if the weekend's audience was rather younger than they were used to.

We learned that Rainham Hall was built in 1729 by Captain John Harle, owner of the village wharf. It's a striking Georgian building, fully symmetrical from the front but not quite from the rear [photo]. Three red brick storeys in the Dutch Domestic style, still segregated from the main street by railings of ornate ironwork. Step inside beneath the carved porch, yes that's wood that is, and wait for your eyes to accustom. The interior is a peculiar mix of genuinely old and naffly restored, because the building passed through many hands (and community organisations) before being enTrusted to the nation. The painted walls in the entrance hall, they're fake, while the rare Delft tiles in the firebreasts, they're very real. Every now and then a hidden door opens up to reveal a cupboard, a mini-bathroom or some stairs. They're oak stairs throughout, topped off with a mahogany balustrade which would have been cutting edge and rare in the early 18th century. Don't expect a surfeit of period furniture, and only the four-poster bed is something John Harle would have owned, but you do get a fascinating insight into well-to-do living conditions at the time. Sorry, can't go up to the second floor, or the third, there's a tenant up there. Sorry, can't go down to the Victorian kitchen in the basement, or into the coach house, health and safety. But look, what did you expect for £2.80, Hampton Court?

After touring inside there's Captain John's garden to explore, mostly lawn but with a real oddity round the corner. That's a huge Victorian dog kennel, that is, once home to three dalmatians which the householders would have paraded around the streets of Rainham as a status symbol. The council are doing up the public gardens nextdoor, to contain shrubberies, an orchard and a knot maze when they finally reopen in September. And then there's the story of Captain John's untimely death, and the untimely death of his son's four guardians, and the untimely death of the son following a suspiciously timed marriage... but I'll let the excellent volunteers tell you that one. I'd hate to publish so much here that kids doing that school project can do all of their Rainham Hall research on the internet. But there is a toilet, you can have that fact for nothing.
by train: Rainham   by bus: 103, 165, 287, 372


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