An exciting project to create a ‘living history’ experience at the town’s historic Guildhall received a top seal of approval at a fund-raising auction for the project.
A bottle of wine signed by PM Theresa May was an unexpected auction prize donated by Bury St Edmunds MP Jo Churchill who told guests at Saturday evening’s event that the Prime Minister would approve of the million pound project to restore and bring back to life one of the town’s oldest buildings.
Mrs Churchill said: “ I am sure she would thoroughly approve of making sure a building of this importance is enhanced for future generations to enjoy and to live and learn from.
“The building looks absolutely beautiful. It’s an amazing launch to encourage people to see the start of things to come
with living history going on all around us, which is a perfect way to bring a building to life.”
The Guildhall Experience has received £669,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund and has so far raised £1.5million to carry out essential repairs and to refurbish the building to bring it back into use as a living history centre where its historic rooms will feature a series of galleries and re-enactments, providing an interactive experience for visitors.
Saturday’s fund-raiser raised £8,000 and saw re-enactors displaying Georgian dancing, monks from the Abbey and a Victorian judge sitting in judgement at a mock trial in the courtoom. There was also re-enactment of the Royal Logistics Observor Corps which used to operate from a room in the building in World War 11.
The Guildhall, while sponsored by the Abbey, was built by the townspeople for the people of Bury St Edmunds in the 13th century. It is believed to be the oldest civic building in England.
Bury St Edmunds Heritage Trust, the Guildhall Feoffment and St Edmundsbury Borough Council have collaborated to help make the Guildhall Experience become a reality.
Trust Patron the Marquess of Bristol Frederick Hervey said on Saturday: “As part of the Bury Heritage Trust I couldn’t be happier with the response to tonight’s event.”
Lord Bristol said support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic England, the Bury Town Trust, Town Council, Bury Society and loyal friends had helped to make possible the restoration of the Grade 1 listed building which he described as a ‘gem in the heart of our town’.
Air Vice-Marshal Mike Jackson, project director, said the evening had been a great success. “What we are aiming to do here is not just a museum but a living experience and we hope to make it available so that people can hire it for weddings, dinners and civic events.
Already the front roof of the building has been repaired and in January work begins on the back roof before the major capital works get underway.
The Trust needs to raise a further £300,000 to complete the project.
The building is now closed while work is carried out and is expected to open in the summer of 2018.