I think it is fair to say that my home town of Rainham in Essex is not the most glamorous of places, just beyond Dagenham at the end of zone six it didn't seem to have much for the 18 year old me, but now I am older I actually appreciate it a lot more.
Recently a property that was closed to the public in my childhood has been opened up by the National Trust and is currently housing a 1940's exhibition, when it was used as a day nursery.
In the summer Rainham Hall is hidden almost entirely by trees but beyond the iron gates lies a wonderful and colourful history.
Rainham Hall was built in the early 18th century by Captain John Harle but due to it being passed quickly through the family it was later tenanted. The house has been painted, decorated and lived in for many years with each tenant leaving their stamp.
Whilst this means that the house is not as historically accurate as other national trust properties it has a lived in charm.
The Day Nursery
The main reason I wanted to go to Rainham Hall was for the day nursery exhibition, the hall was used as a day nurses during the war. Records are scarce and the exhibition uses testimony from local people to get a personal view of peoples experiences. I love the idea of local people contributing to this whilst it is within living memory.
The exhibition spreads throughout the house, introducing what a day nurses was for, how and when they were opened and who ran them.
In the Matron's office some Pathe film footage promoting the day nurseries is projected on the wall. The nurseries were promoted as a very positive thing, allowing mums to go to work and children to be well looked after in the nurses capable hands.
The kitchen was clearly an important part of the day nursery with some of the testimony being centred around food, Roger clearly didn't think much of the fish pie!
The contributors all agreed that the sleeping arrangements were very uncomfortable in these camp style beds. Some reported sleeping upstairs whereas others thought it was in the lower part of the house.
Playtime seems to be fresh in the memories of the contributors, they remembered a rocking horse which must have been such a treat at the time as they almost certainly wouldn't have had one at home.
There is an old fashioned gramophone in the exhibition which you can ask the staff to assist with.
The children remembered wearing aprons or tabards, each had their own to avoid getting their clothes dirty. Some had images of fruit or flowers. The exhibition pointed out the irony of children wearing prints of fruit they may never have actually held in their hands.
The children didn't recall much punishment and certainly not being harshly punished, they described being happy at the day nursery, one saying she didn't want to leave, and another remarking on what a privilege it was to spend your childhood days in such a place.
There is even a love story that had it's beginnings in Rainham Hall Day Nursery!
Other local interests - there are maps in the exhibition details where the local nurseries were in relation to where wartime incidents, like bombings and plane crashes, took place. I was amazed to see that a V2 bomb dropped right where my own home would later be built in the 50's.
There was also this jar of Rainham ointment which was produced locally in a road I know only too well at 135 Wennington Road, it's a world away from the pharmacy at Tesco!
Rainham Hall has, to my surprise, 3 acres of gardens. These are open to the public and not only house some beautiful meadow like flower beds but some initiatives for local children like the insect village.
I love the way the flowers are not super plotted out like you see in some places but rather left to grow in an integrated way, it looks very natural.
There is a section of the gardens encouraging bees to the grounds which seems to be working!
It would be a wonderful place to come and spend a few hours and now I know these beautiful grounds are accessible I think I'll be spending some summer days there.
There is a cafe in the grounds also where visitors can get tea and and a slice of cake or a hot lunch.
It's fantastic to see this beautiful house opened up to the public and I hope many more people get to enjoy it. I am looking forward to the next exhibition documenting the tenancy of Vogue Photographer Anthony Denney.
I think it's great that the exhibitions are to be refreshed regularly to document the house and it's history of it's 50 tenants. To get to Rainham takes about twenty minutes from Fenchurch Street station, why not pay a visit?
Until Next Time