I rarely leave Zone 2, and with the exception of boarding a plane at Southend or Stanstead airport, I’ve never visited Essex! That changed this weekend with a trip to Rainham Hall and Gardens – a property within the National Trust portfolio which re-opened earlier this month following a two year £2.5 million conservation project. The Queen Anne-style house dates back to the early 18th century and fittingly its first exhibition tells the story of Captain John Harle, a shipping merchant from Durham who built the Hall and was its’ first inhabitant. Refreshingly, period furnishings and the traditional “frozen in time” approach to interpretation is nowhere to be seen… instead the Hall incorporates a six minute projection of Harle’s life at sea (so effective it left other visitors feeling sea-sick!), a soundscape of the Durham coastline playing in the background, uses the Georgian bath to vividly tell the tale of Harle’s ‘Lost Ship’ captured by the Spanish in the Caribbean in 1737, includes objects on loan from The National Maritime Museum, and displays Harle’s original will discovered by a local postmistress at a boot-sale and donated back to the Hall. Additional attractions include William Hogarth engravings, a room showcasing personal items found under floor-boards and behind skirting boards comprising coins, hair pins, buttons, playing cards, a shrivelled balloon and even 1940/50’s Disney tin toy plates, as well as textile installations by a collective of artists known as ‘The Material Girls’ hidden within the buildings’ cupboards. A miniature version of the Hall takes centre stage as you enter the property, and over time this will be filled with miniature versions of each exhibition. This is a house with many different layers, and I’m excited to see how it develops and which historical period and which fascinating prior tenant is chosen to focus on next.
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