‘To re-introduce the public to a unique and historic building which, along with inspirational and varied collections and events with contemporary facilities, will celebrate our local and national heritage from the 13th century to the present day’
There is evidence that influential townsmen used to meet at the Guildhall from as early as the second half of the thirteenth century. But in December 1966 the Bury St. Edmunds Borough Council met for the last time in the Guildhall. Thereafter the building, which is thought to be the oldest surviving civic building in England, fell into relative obscurity and disuse. The Guildhall Project is about reversing that sad trend.
The Bury Chronicle relates that two Lords of the Realm came to the town in 1279 and gave final judgement in the Guildhall against some local miscreants. Over the following centuries the Guildhall served as a regular meeting place of the townsfolk, was a refuge during the plague, an armoury, the Council Chamber, a library, a soup kitchen, a savings bank, and a place for auction sales, exhibitions, concerts, lectures, and drama. By the outbreak of the Second World War it was a Royal Observer Corps headquarters.
The Guildhall Feoffment, St Edmundsbury Borough and the Bury St Edmunds Heritage Trust have formed a joint venture aimed at returning the building to the public. The building structure would be interpreted imaginatively in order to be an attraction in itself. On the ground floor there would be flexible spaces and a community facility for educational and group activities. On the first floor the former Royal Observer Corps Operations Room would be presented in World War Two form. The site would be served with new catering and toilet facilities.
Most of the cost will have to be found from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). The project team is raising enough funds to satisfy the HLF requirement for ‘matched funding’ and to finance a degree of preparatory work, and is now preparing a bid to the HLF which will be submitted in May. If the bid succeeds the development phase would start in September, and the project would be complete by mid-2016.
Evidence of support will be critical to a successful bid, and the ‘Friends of the Guildhall’ is a growing organisation. If you are interested in joining please email Sarah Grieveson at firstname.lastname@example.org