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In February 1994 a lease was signed for the creation of the Wotton-under-Edge Heritage Centre in the Chipping. George Carpenter (Historical Society-the tenant), John Cordwell (Wotton Town Trust-the landlord) supported by Vernon Jotcham (surety), signed the lease that enabled the conversion of the former Fire Station into a Museum and Heritage Centre. It is now 30 years since that event, and it will be celebrated at the Historical Society AGM to be held on Friday 24th May at 7.30 in the Civic Centre.

In writing this article, we hope to pay tribute to the many people that have worked in the centre and possibly attract a new generation of volunteers to come on board.Man working at desk on computer

Since 1930, local people have been gathering and tabulating historical information about Wotton-under-Edge and district. The Historical Society was set up in 1945 and reaches its 80th anniversary in 2025.

The most recent generation of volunteers have streamlined the collection by removing duplications, recording every artifact on a database and improving accessibility. They have re-fitted the museum and continue to add content. We salute all those, past and present, that have dedicated themselves to preserving local history. It is a vibrant, exciting occupation with continuing stimulation from uncovering more historical knowledge.

However, if the Heritage Centre is to exist much beyond 2025, we need to attract new Trustees and volunteers. Some of the existing team has served for a long time and are looking to step back while continuing to volunteer in a supporting role. We need to evolve the committee with some new Trustees willing to take over and go forward.

As a Society, we are running into a critical period during the next twelve months. If we are unable to recruit help to take over the running of the Heritage Centre, we will have to consider closure and enacting a plan for dispersing the collection to Gloucester Archives and the Stroud Museum. The Historical Society itself will continue for as long as its members want it.

In concluding this article, we would like to round of with some of the history of how the Society was formed and how far we have come. How far we now go in the future very much depends on who comes forward to help.

In the 1930โ€™s, a small museum was set up by the Town Trust in the Reading Room of the Town Hall. After the foundation of the Historical Society in 1945, the collection was taken into the societyโ€™s care. The early members of the Society were particularly interested in collecting antiquarian books, thus laying the foundation of the reference library in the current Research Room.

From 1945, the library, photographs and artefacts were housed in a room in the Tolsey on the corner of Market Street and opened to the public only rarely. The Tolsey was sold in 1983 and for three years the collection was stored in the Tabernacle Schoolroom. By then, the Society had obtained permission to lease the cycle and pram porch of the County Library on Ludgate Hill and to convert it into a museum in 1986. Once the building work was completed it opened to the public on Saturday mornings.

The collection soon increased, together with the number of visitors, and opening times were extended. Before long it had outgrown the space available and had already gained provisional registration as a museum. The former Fire Station in The Chipping, owned by the Town Trust became available to rent and a lease was obtained in early 1994. The building had been used by the County Council for storing roadwork materials and was little more than a shell.

Articles on display in Wotton Heritage CentreFunds were raised and grants sought for the building work required to make it suitable for museum and research use and to provide access for disabled visitors and volunteers. At that time, Stroud Museumโ€™s collection was being put into store until their new premises in Stratford Park were completed. They donated display cases and office furniture came from Berkley Power Station which was being decommissioned.

From September 1994 the Heritage Centre was opened to the public, with the official opening by Mr John Berkeley the following May (1995), celebrating at the same time the Golden Jubilee of the Historical Society. The room in Ludgate Hill was retained and is still used as a store for the reserve collection.

During this period, the centre was run by many enthusiastic supporters. Those that took key roles included Beryl Kingan, Jo Williams, Mary George and Michael Chappel to name a few. The museum flourished with a large team actively involved in presenting Wottonโ€™s history to the public.

From 2014 the Heritage Centre evolved and was upgraded by obtaining grants and regular support from Wotton Town Council. The card index, which had worked so well for two decades, was replaced by a database. The display cabinets were replaced as was the lighting. The visitor information area was developed along with the gift shop and social media. The sustainability of the Heritage Centre has been helped by shop sales, Town Hall Teas, other fundraising events, the annual Wotton Calendar and grants of various descriptions.

There are plans for the future. We need to expand information accessibility. The research room and website need updating. We need to consolidate fragmented information on important topics into data-packs e.g. The Mills of Wotton, The Pubs & Inns of Wotton (plus many others). The next chapter has exciting prospects.

If you are interested in helping to take this remarkable asset of Wotton-under-Edge forwards, then please give us a call. 07885 544498.

Jeff Walsheย 
Wotton-under-Edge Historical Society