Rainham Hall

Rainham, East London

Date of construction: 1729

Original builder: John Harle

Client: The National Trust

Rainham Hall is a rare surviving early 18th century Merchants house sited on the north bank of the Thames, some 13 miles east from the centre of London. Julian Harrap Architects was appointed by The National Trust to restore the five-storey Hall into a visitor attraction, café and education centre.

The architecture of the Hall is in the Queen Anne style and compares more closely to a London town house than a country manor. Ancillary buildings were also built including; the two-storey stable block and integral brew house, coach house as well as a now lost outbuilding to the north. The grade II* listed buildings had been largely unaltered since the three acre estate was inherited by the National Trust in 1949.

The restoration of the stable block to provide essential facilities, included a visitor café and community room, required sensitively designed interventions and additions. Amongst these were a new bespoke lift and staircase in the brew house to provide access to the hayloft. The ambition was for these modern insertions to reinforce the understanding of the buildings’ original use. The form and appearance of the new lift and cantilevered spiral staircase are redolent of the beer barrels, copper vats and gantries common to 18th and 19th century brewing houses.

Access is provided from the ground floor of the brew house to a new extension housing a lavatory. This single-storey lean-to, built over the footprint of a former 1940’s privy, employs the Essex vernacular tradition, but in a markedly contemporary language. Clad externally in oak weatherboarding, with timber also expressed internally, a warm and tactile finish has been created. A slender, clerestory window runs around the perimeter at eaves height drawing in daylight and giving a modern twist to the vernacular tradition.

Photographer: Dennis Gilbert / Sue Salton