An elevating experience

RAINHAM HALL IN the London Borough of Havering is a fine example of a house built in the early 18th century for a prosperous merchant. Owned and managed by the National Trust (‘NT’), the house stands at one side of its large garden. Across the yard next to the house, there stands the recently restored 18th century combined stable block/coach house and brewhouse. The ground floor of this building contains the NT reception area, a small second-hand bookshop, toilets, and a café. The upper storey contains a large exhibition/community space beneath a timber roof. The restoration of this edifice was completed in October 2015.

There are two ways to reach the upper floor from the lower one. And it is the design of these that really impressed me. There is a spiral staircase, whose treads are cantilevered from a central timber cylinder. Bands of metal surround the cylinder in the same way that similar bands can be found binding the timber elements of wooden barrels. This design was chosen to commemorate the former existence of Rainham Hall’s brewhouse (brewery).

The lift at the upper floor level

The cylinder not only supports the staircase, but it also contains a lift shaft. The circular lift is entered on the ground floor through a barely discernible door in the cylinder. The lift consists of a circular platform without a ceiling. A mechanism below it raises the platform to the first-floor level, where it is surrounded by the top edge of the central cylinder. A door opens to allow access to the upper floor from the lift.  

The restoration and renovation of the stable block was carried out by Julian Harrap (Architects). The firm’s website (https://julianharraparchitects.co.uk/projects/rainham-hall) noted:

“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 the modern insertions to reinforce the understanding of the buildings’ original use.”

I believe that the architectural firm’s ambition has been fulfilled. Although the 18th century Rainham Hall is well worth seeing for its antiquity, the ingenious new combined lift and staircase should not be missed.

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