Sunday 11 October 2015

Rainham Hall

I think it was just after my 10th scone expedition that I idly came across a page on the National Trust website that said "the Trust now looks after 566 properties". 

I immediately had to go and lie down. 566 PROPERTIES. How in the name of cream of tartar was I going to visit another 556 places and eat 556+ scones? 

I calmed myself when I realised that around 50% of National Trust places are scone-free zones. I personally think that everything in life can be improved with a scone, but it's probably unwise to start installing ovens and extractor fans at an unspoiled natural beauty spot that you are supposed to be preserving.  

Anyway, I totted it all up and came to the conclusion that I had around 220 National Trust tearooms to visit. A tough target, I thought, but achievable with a bit of commitment and an obliging Scone Sidekick. 

Unfortunately for me, the National Trust doesn't stand still. Every once in a while I will see an NT person on Twitter saying "woo, check out the mugs for our new tearoom!!" and I know that my list has just been extended, AGAIN, and I will NEVER, EVER be finished with this National Trust Scone Odyssey. 

Rainham Hall is a case in point. It reopened this week after a £2m restoration project, which included the creation of a new coffee shop. I doubt that the whole £2m went on the coffee shop, but I decided to go along anyway.

Rainham Hall

Here's a bit of history:
  • Rainham Hall was built in 1729 by a man called John Harle
  • The Harles hailed from South Shields, where they shipped coal to London
  • He moved to London sometime after 1704 and got married in 1719
  • The Harles expanded and were soon shipping goods all over the place
  • John died in 1742, leaving the house to his second wife, Sarah, and then their son
  • The house was then passed to a series of other owners before the National Trust took it on in 1949
  • The Trust leased it to a series of tenants until 2010 
  • In 2013, a major restoration project began to turn the place into a "hive of commercial and community activity"
The highlight for me today was the story of John Harle's will. A few weeks ago, I shared my surprise with you when I discovered that the NT had used eBay to find genuine cannonballs from the Battle of Quebec for Quebec House.

So you can imagine my shock today when I found out that John Harle's will was basically discovered AT A CAR BOOT SALE. There's a brilliant video of a woman explaining how she loves rootling through old documents at car boot sales, and she happened to visit one up in Newark in 2012 on her way home to Essex after a holiday. There was a man selling a few bits from Rainham in Kent, so she asked if he had anything relating to Rainham in Essex. He said he did, at home, and after a follow-up phone call she got her hands on the original will of John Harle, which she donated to the Trust. 

The Rainham scones
On to the scones: it seemed a little bit unfair to visit an NT property only five days after it opened, but I did it anyway. The scone didn't look or taste home-made but it was fine, and the new tea-room is lovely.

Rainham Hall scone

Rainham Hall: 4 out of 5
Scone: 3 out of 5
Use of car boot sales for finding lost artefacts: 5 out of 5

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