Heritage: Ten things you should know about Rainham

Rainham Hall was built around 1729. Picture: Ken Mears

Rainham Hall was built around 1729. Picture: Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

Prof Ged Martin

Some Rainham people complain that they live in the borough’s Cinderella district. But visiting Havering’s Deep South isn’t like a mission to Mars. Honestly, Rainham even has shops and car parks! There are frequent buses from Hornchurch and Romford.

Here are ten things everybody should know about Rainham.

One. A Grade II listed building, Rainham Hall, is Havering’s only National Trust property. Built around 1729, it has the trademark flat facade of an elegant Georgian house.

Exhibitions explain its history, and bring to life characters like Captain John Harle, the entrepreneur who developed the village as a Thameside port.

There was a £2.5million restoration project in 2015. With gardens and a cafe, it’s a great place for a family visit. Check the website for details.

Two. Although linked to London by the Thames, Rainham remained isolated from the city by land until 1810, when New Road was built through Dagenham and South Hornchurch to provide a fast route to Tilbury Fort.

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Three. One of Havering’s oldest organisations, the Rainham Horticultural Society, approaches its centenary in 2020-21.

An earlier body, the Rainham Literary Society, began in 1879. Its reading room grew into Rainham Library – today, one of the biggest branches in the Havering network.

Four. Rainham is the last stretch of the London Loop, the walking track around the capital.

The Thameside landscape is grim but interesting. Look out for abandoned concrete barges, built for the D-Day landings, and for the metal statue of a diver standing in the river.

Some enthusiasts prefer the walk in winter, when the landfill project is less aromatic.

Five. Rainham Marshes are a major bird sanctuary.

The RSPB has an information centre and glitzy cafe, but – be warned: it’s at the Purfleet end of the marshes, a four-mile trek from Rainham village.

Six. In Victorian times, London-to-Margate pleasure steamers called at Rainham and deposited trippers for a day’s fun on the muddy riverside beach.

Havering’s Riviera went out of fashion when industry spread along the Thames.

Seven. The history of Rainham Village primary school can be traced back to 1779, when the vicar left £50 to educate local children.

It’s been closed twice in its history, the first time from 1838 to 1846, when villagers ran out of money. The second interruption came in 1944 when Nazi bombs destroyed the buildings.

For the next three years, youngsters were bussed to Dagenham for their education.

Eight. A First World War tragedy at Rainham was hushed up for 97 years.

In September 1916, seven people were killed when a munitions works blew up. The full story was finally broken by the Recorder – in 2013. A memorial tree planted outside Rainham Library commemorated the centenary of the tragedy.

Nine. When suburban growth spread into Rainham in the 1920s, some house sites were so cheap that the linoleum used by the new residents as floor-covering was more expensive per square yard than the land.

Much early development was of poor quality. In 1944, a government report even recommended clearing the east side of Rainham and returning the land to agriculture.

For years, many local streets were just mud tracks. Rainham people fought to get them properly surfaced – and they still fight for their interests.

Ten. Rainham’s Anglican church is the oldest in Havering. Built around 1170, the style is Norman.

The chancel arch is a mystery. It has the classic semi-circular shape of Norman work, but it’s unusually large.

Experts think it must have been widened, but when and why, nobody knows. The architect who restored the church in the 1890s liked the robust 15th-century timber roof in the chancel, so he copied it for the whole church.

See if you can spot the difference. Outside, Havering’s most dignified War Memorial dates from 1920.

So it’s ten out ten for Rainham. Go and take a look for yourself!