Every month CabbieBlog hopes to show you a little gem of a building that you might have passed without noticing, in the past they have ranged from a modernist car park; a penguin pool; to a Hanoverian gatehouse. Rainham Hall can hardly be described as ‘little’, but hidden it certainly has been, situated on the edge of Rainham Marshes. Owned by the National Trust since 1949 and rented out to a succession of families it has been open to the public since October.
Not a mansion with a landscaped estate it more resembles the London townhouse of a successful merchant. Built for retirement in 1729 by Captain John Harle, a master mariner, ship owner and merchant, with his brother their fleet of merchant ships carried timber, iron, fish, wheat, dried fruits, wine and even caviar between England, the Baltic and the Mediterranean.
At that time Rainham Creek, now silted up, linked the village of Rainham with the River Thames and Harle’s barges sailed from London to a wharf on the creek adjacent to his new home.
After two years of conservation work the house will feature a changing exhibition of the lives of its previous residents. Captain John Harle will be the first to be portrayed with his life within the 18th century world in which he lived. Once the centre of London’s maritime dealing, where merchants would read daily news-sheets and close deals, the Lloyds Coffee House has been re-created. This over time morphed into Lloyd’s of London now situated in Leadenhall Street.
With a 2-acre garden, one of the largest in London, Rainham Hall was built in the Dutch Domestic Style of architecture, characterised by red brick and decorated stonework. You approach via a pair of Grade II* wrought iron gates which are claimed to be among the finest in London from that period probably having been produced by the famed blacksmith Jean Tijou who produced the gates for Hampton Court Palace. They contain a romantic reference to Captain John Harle and his wife with their intertwining initials.
Inside the house, although none of the original furniture survives many of the property’s features remain, including trompe-l’œil frescos on the walls and Delft tiles in the fireplaces.
An interesting feature is the recreation of a London coffee house where Lloyd’s of London insurance originated. On occasion the staff hope to offer visitors a sample of 18th century coffee.
Rainham Hall opened to the public on 7th October is open Wednesday to Sunday 10.00-17.00. The garden, second-hand bookshop and stable block are is open every day.