Chalkwell Hall (2009) documents Rachel Lichtenstein's time in residence with the arts organisation Metal when she conducted intensive research to help them explore and understand the long history of their new headquarters Chalkwell Hall, in Essex.
Using a number of methodologies, including rigorous archival research, the collection of personal memorabilia, found objects and audio recordings, Rachel wrote a comprehensive essay on the history of Chalkwell Hall. She managed to trace the owners, tenants and occupants of the estate back to the 14th Century. She uncovered stories stretching as far back as the 10th century, including tales of Viking raids, the Black Death, Celtic burial mounds, hidden natural springs and buried treasure.
To accompany the essay, Rachel produced and directed a film (with Sean Groth), which documents her research process and the story of the house.
The film is available to view at Chalkwell Hall as a permanent artwork.
To download a PDF of Rachel’s essay please click here.
When I was first asked by Metal to research the history of Chalkwell Hall House I knew little about the building, although the park itself has been part of the landscape of my life for decades. I played there as a child in the 1970s, whilst visiting my grandparents who lived on the nearby Chalkwell Hall Estate. I have many happy memories of whizzing down the curling helter-skelter slide in the playground, feeding the peacocks in the aviary and of playing hide and seek in the rose gardens with my sister, but I never went inside the house, it was permanently closed back then.
My father, who went to Chalkwell Hall Primary School in the 1940s on one side of the park and lived in a house on the other side, told me there had been a café in Chalkwell Hall House when he was a child. His memories of it are rather vague but he told me it was as a great treat for him to go there with his mother and brothers, and have a penny ice-cream, “which always seemed to be bright pink.”
Last year, I went inside Chalkwell Hall House for the first time, after Metal invited me there for a meeting. Back then, in early 2007, building work was yet to start and the house was in a fairly poor state of disrepair. In a small office on the ground floor I found a jumble of discarded artefacts that revealed Southend Park Services had once been based at the house: rusting gardening tools, faded letters and pamphlets, old calendars, empty box files and curling piles of damp records. A large airy room on the ground floor, with high ceilings, ornate plaster coving and floor to ceiling French windows opening out onto a veranda overlooking the rose gardens, hinted at the house’s former grandeur.
At the time I saw the house the first floor rooms had been temporarily taken over by Metal as office space. The main office was situated in a spacious room, with perfect Georgian proportions, and a beautiful tiled fireplace, that I imagined was once the master bedroom of the house. The view from the sash windows in this room, is spectacular, looking out of the back of the house onto the park and beyond to the glittering Thames.