01 Mar 2021
Everything you need to know about the £14.5m Chester House project, making over 10,000 years of Northamptonshire’s heritage and history accessible to the public as a free to enter attraction.
Work has begun on the completion of a nationally significant project on the bank of the River Nene at Irchester, near Wellingborough, Northamptonshire. The new team at The Chester House Estate, a site of national historical importance, has started the final phases of construction which will introduce a range of facilities for the local community, as well as attracting visitors from far and wide.
The latest and final chapter in the story of the Chester House Estate is part of a £14.5m project paid for by Northamptonshire County Council and the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The site, a scheduled monument, has been designed to be a popular destination and event venue, with particular interest to history enthusiasts since it is steeped in history dating back 10,000 years. This ambitious, complex and culturally important site is on course to be completed in the autumn, with a grand opening planned for later this year.
Heading up the project is Business Manager Jack Pishhorn, who says: “We have a very challenging 10-month build ahead and we are due to open the site fully in time for the October half term. This is a unique project with key stakeholders from all over the country; it is history in the making and we can’t wait for the community to get involved.”
The project has been split into three phases. Due to be completed in April is Northamptonshire Archaeological Resource Centre (ARC), which is of vital importance for the county’s historical archive storage. The planned education centre, wedding venue and artisan courtyard is due to open in the summer. And finally, the restoration of the 17th century Grade II* listed Farmhouse to provide hospitality and event facilities will form the final part of the project and open in October.
Cllr Lizzy Bowen, of Northamptonshire County Council said: “The Chester House Estate will become a site of national historical importance and will be a local gem that will attract visitors to Northamptonshire from all over. In addition, the site will create new jobs in the community and offer local residents a hub for leisure, education, business and heritage.”
Post Covid-19 economic recovery for Northamptonshire
Chester House Estate will form the hub for post Covid-19 economic recovery for the Nene Valley area, promoting local food and drink, small businesses, local farming, and creating nine full-time roles, along with up to 50 part-time and seasonal positions. Eight internships have already been created for college and university students with recruitment underway. The Estate will have a space for business conferences and will add to the tourism and leisure portfolio within the local area.
Cllr Bowen added: “We’re thrilled to be working in partnership with the National Lottery Heritage Fund to finance the final stages of the Chester House Estate project, and we’re all very eager to see the positive impact this momentous development will have in the local area.”
Anne Jenkins, Director of England, Midlands & East, for the National Lottery Heritage Fund said: “We are delighted to support this project, which thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, will mean that more people will be able to get involved with, protect, and learn about the exciting heritage right on their doorstep.”
A free attraction with something for everybody
An important point for the local community is that it will be entirely free to enter. People will be able to access the site by car, on foot, by bike, by bus and even by boat. As well as an artisan shopping courtyard featuring local produce, and a restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea, there will be a state-of the art education centre, catering for schoolchildren and adults.
There is already a full calendar of top events in place, such as the Nene Festival, and a diverse programme of activities to look forward to like outdoor theatre and cinema, festivals, craft fairs, bush craft weekends, hands-on lambing events, and much more. The restored spacious Threshing Barn will become a sought-after wedding venue. In addition, the original farmhouse will have three catered conference rooms, and overnight stays will be accommodated in the two-bedroomed bed and breakfast unit within the main building.
Buried treasures – 10,000 years of history at our feet
As well as being the site of a Roman walled town, evidence has been discovered from the Mesolithic, Iron Age and Medieval periods. Chester House Estate is working in partnership with the University of Leicester to curate annual digs on site and is linking up with the University of London to enable students to get involved in unearthing the site’s treasures.
Archaeological Archives Curator Ben Donnely-Symes has been at The Chester House Estate since August last year. He will be overseeing and transferring and cataloguing of 1,600 boxes of important historical material which will be arriving at the new Archaeological Resource Centre this spring. Local volunteers will be invited to get hands on with archiving and with this year’s planned summer dig, while visitors will be able to enjoy a timeline walk in the Roman walled town and explore a large indoor museum when it opens in October.
Jack added: “At present much of this heritage is buried or kept in unsuitable conditions; our challenge is to preserve it, bring it to life and tell its stories. The partnership with the University of Leicester’s Archaeology Department is really exciting because the digs on site will be accessible to the public who can come and volunteer on site. Part of the process will be to involve the local community in everything we do. We have the opportunity to create a legacy for many years to come. The future is positive and is, in itself, history in the making.”
From February, there will be monthly updates about the restoration project on the Chester House Estate’s social media platforms.
Senior Responsible Officer at Northamptonshire County Council, Kerry Purnell said: “This is a really exciting restoration and regeneration project for Northamptonshire. The Local Authorities are extremely grateful for the support provided over a number of years by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and look forward to continued partnerships with our funders and other key stakeholders locally, regionally and nationally.”