One of Chard’s most important historic buildings has been saved for posterity after being acquired by Somerset Council.
Working with Historic England and Somerset Buildings Preservation Trust, the Council has made sure the future of the property, The Old Courthouse, at 9 Fore Street, has been secured.
The Old Courthouse is a Grade I listed building which dates back to the late16th century.
It escaped the modernisers of later centuries and retains most of its original features including a first-floor courtroom with a barrel-vaulted ceiling and superb original plasterwork with figures depicting Justice and Wisdom and scenes from the Judgement of Solomon.
The building has been in private ownership and has been a long-term fixture on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register.
Considerable effort on the part of the then local authority South Somerset District Council (SSDC) went into protecting the important building since the 1990s, but its condition has been a concern since the 1930s with various phases of repair taking place in the last century.
That work has now resulted in the site being acquired by Somerset Council, the new unitary authority which has replaced district and county councils. Historic England supported the council to make the purchase with a grant of £147,000.
Somerset Building Preservation Trust will lease the building from Somerset Council and this will allow the Trust to complete a full range of surveys and studies to explore the long term future of the building with a view to completing repairs and restoration.
Cllr Ros Wyke, Somerset Council’s Lead Member for Prosperity, Assets and Development, said:
“This building is an important part of our shared past. All those involved have worked so hard to make sure this heritage gem is protected for future generations to admire.
“I would like to thank Historic England for the support, advice and grant funding and Somerset Buildings Preservation Trust (SBPT) for taking the lease, and look forward to seeing plans for the future preservation and restoration of 9 Fore Street.”
Patrick Stow of the SBPT, said:
“This is a huge relief. We have been expressing our concerns about this remarkable building for some years but while it remained in private ownership, we were unable to take on this project.”
He expressed his thanks to Somerset Council, local councils and the Architectural Heritage Fund for their belief and backing at the start of this acquisition process and especially Historic England for their support, advice and grant funding without which it would not have been possible.
John Ette, Partnerships Team Leader at Historic England South West, said:
“We’re proud to have played a part in securing such an important building in Chard’s fascinating history. We’re already seeing great results in the regeneration of the town through the High Street Heritage Action Zone, and finding a sustainable future for The Old Courthouse will help achieve this wider aim. Thanks to the council and the SBPT, that’s now a big step closer.”
The shop premises on the road frontage are used by the Chard Community Hub which provides space for local groups and a range of activities.