Where you should visit in Essex: Unexpected delights
PUBLISHED: 09:31 06 June 2016 | UPDATED: 09:31 06 June 2016
Why not get out and about and visit some of the great local sites that are on your doorstep? Gemma Smith reveals some of the more unexpected highlights to see in the south of the county
Essex is a varied and vibrant county, but there is a common perception that the closer you get to the county’s border with London, the less likely you are to find highlights of historic significance or natural beauty.
Well, be prepared to think again. Discover Me is a network of organisations which works together to promote the excellent places to visit in the south of Essex. The group includes a range of exciting places including historic houses, gardens, museums and forts, so there is something for everyone, whatever your interests might be.
Fantastic Havering venues include Havering Museum, Rainham Hall, Thames Chase, The Old Chapel and Upminster Windmill, and the history of all of these sites combine to highlight the changing nature of the area over the last few hundred years.
Havering Museum, based in the old Romford Brewery building in the High Street, tells the story of this famous borough. As well as a permanent display which explores the different areas of Havering, the museum regularly hosts temporary exhibitions on a wide range of topics. There are also regular talks and fun family activities throughout the year, so it’s well worth a visit. Reminiscence Groups are held on Friday afternoons, which are a great opportunity to remember or just listen to others’ stories, and the museum is situated only a 10 minute walk from Romford Station.
Rainham Hall, a National Trust property, opened to the public in October 2015 following a major two-year conservation and interpretation project. The hall was built in 1729 by sea merchant, Captain John Harle, and is situated at the heart of Rainham Village. The first exhibition tells the story of Harle’s life and times through objects, audio-visual installations and hands-on activities. The dilapidated historic stables have been transformed into a new café and community activity space, and the site features a nearly three acre garden for visitors to enjoy. Rainham Hall is only a few minutes from Rainham Station.
Thames Chase combines heritage with the natural landscape. At the site there is a 17th century threshing barn, the Essex Barn, as well as the Thames Chase Forest Centre and Café. As a visitor you can enjoy walks, bike hire and many varied activities held throughout the year. The Thames Chase Community Forest covers 40 square miles of countryside around the London/Essex borders and Thames Chase Trust works to restore and maintain this landscape.
The Old Chapel in Upminster opened to the public in 2013 after a full restoration. It now opens on the first and third Sunday of the month from April to October, 2pm to 5pm, and hosts a wide range of events based around local history. There are also regular talks and family activities. It was originally built in 1800 as a Protestant Dissenters’ Chapel. In 1911 it was taken over and used as a Brethren Chapel. Sadly, after the numbers in the congregation decreased in the 1980s, the chapel fell into disrepair. Sacred Heart of Mary Girls’ School now owns and makes use of the building, as well as the local community.
Upminster Windmill was built in 1803 by James Nokes and is an icon of the town. It has been run by volunteers for 60 years and is currently closed for a two-year restoration, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Veolia North Thames Trust. Despite holding works over the years by the volunteers, the mill is in need of a full restoration to get it back to working order. A new Education and Training Centre is under construction and will be open for visits later, from 2017 onwards. The new centre will provide a space to welcome visitors and much-needed facilities will house some interpretation of the mill and its history. Once the full restoration of the windmill is complete, there will be a programme of regular open days and events. Both the Old Chapel and the Upminster Windmill are about a 10 minute walk from Upminster Station, and a five minute walk, right up the hill, from Upminster Bridge.
There are a host of exciting events happening across the Discover Me sites throughout the year. Talks, workshops, activities, shows and more range in price from a few pounds to absolutely free, so there’s something to suit every pocket. Also, you can use suggested itineraries to have a fantastic Discover Me day out. Whether you are a lover of social history, a military buff or simply interested in the Essex landscape, you’ll find somewhere that is perfect for you, perhaps in a location you didn’t expect. The itineraries also give you all the travel information you need to move from place to place, so all you need to do is check the opening times of the sites before you leave.
Find out more
Discover Me formed in 2013 and obtained a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to develop a marketing strategy as well as a website. Discover Me has a Facebook and Twitter feed highlighting what’s on at member sites, search for Discover Me on Facebook and @DiscoverMEssex. Metropolitan Essex has fascinating sites across the London boroughs of Havering, Barking and Dagenham, Redbridge and also Thurrock, ideal for a day out. More details about member sites can be found at www.discoverme.london. On the website you will find a map of the local area highlighting where the venues are, making it easier to plan your visit.