Wow, we have only gone and done it! We have received confirmation that Wirksworth Heritage Centre has been successful in its bid to Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for redevelopment of our St John’s Street building into a new modern heritage centre and focal hub for the community. This is fantastic news and a just reward for all the work put in over more than two years by trustees, consultants and volunteers to enable this to happen. This will really focus our minds on applications to other grant funders to raise the balance of our match-funding requirement which must be in place before we can go ahead..
As a result we will soon be evicted from the shop at Webster’s as we get the builders in. While it is closed we plan to have a stall at the monthly Farmers’ Market to continue our sales shop and keep everyone up-to-date on the project’s progress. However, it would be good to have a stronger presence in the town if we could find some smallish premises where we could be open each week.
The announcement also means it now seems like old news that Our T’Owd Man Rocks event at the Town Hall on 19th November turned out to be a great success, so much so that many attendees clamoured for another similar one each year. Facsimile created a great atmosphere and got everyone dancing but the night wasn’t without its moments, however, as the Town Hall cooker wasn’t working. A lot of innovative thinking came into place at very short notice and thanks go to EVR railway for steaming in to provide the hot food.
We also did very well at the Wirksworth Christmas Market on the 27th thanks to a good turnout of both visitors and of volunteers manning Webster’s and our street stall down the road. We hope the revitalised Traders’ Association can continue to develop this event in future years.
It looks like we will all be having a Merry Christmas. What a great end to the year.
One thing we often say in the heritage centre is that much of Wirksworth’s heritage is beyond the museum, in the town and its community. I have thought of that quite a bit this month.
David, one of our volunteers, has been involved in drawing up a new architecture trail walk picking out the town’s significant buildings and this is now an official printed leaflet to accompany the Wirksworth mini guide.
Both are available from the centre and many of the town’s retail and catering outlets.
Volunteers Nicole and Diane have recently been helping Sally in extending the range of walks we offer to schools throughout the area. Wirksworth Junior School last month spent a morning learning about the mines and tunnels under their feet. After dressing up as lead miners and acting out the famous mining tale of Stafford’s Dream, they optimistically jumped up and down together in the Market Place to be sure they weren’t about to fall through to the depths below.
We were sad to hear that Raymond Doxey had unexpectedly died after living all his 75 years on The Dale. Some months ago, he had told us of his adventures as a boy playing in the tunnel which carried trucks loaded with stone from the quarry at the top of the town 1,200 metres to the railway at the bottom. The Doxey name has featured round Wirksworth for 500 years and it had been my intention to talk to him properly about life in Wirksworth from WW2 onwards. As happens all too often, I left this too late and I have promised myself that we must record as many other such stories as we possibly can.
The auction of the Silk Mill, October 27, is now almost upon us, and so we are continuing to pack up all the contents with only a little still to do.
Finally, the tickets for the T’Owd Man Rocks dance on November 19 are selling well! They are still available from Traid Links and the heritage centre. Don’t forget too your tickets for our big raffle which will be drawn on the night.
In boxing up lots of old papers recently we came across a copy of one of our early newsletters dated March 1989 which featured Woolley, the woolly rhinoceros, on the front page. It seems nothing in this world ever changes as the topics raised in its five pages included the perennial need for fundraising, the dependence on willing volunteers and, particularly relevant, the clouds of dust in the Silk Mill as the team were clearing it out.
The Silk Mill, the home of Wirksworth Heritage Centre for 30 years, was sold by auction on 27 October. The sale created a deadline for the current clear-up by our volunteers, and added impetus to our packing up of the heritage collection for storage in Derby. In the process Woolley has finally come out of the dream cave in the corner of the first floor and gone into hibernation until he/she finds a new home in 2018.
By the time this article appears our big dance and raffle will have taken place and brought much-needed funds to add to the pot of match-funding money we must have in support of our Heritage Lottery Fund bid. We have also made a number of grant applications which we hope will be positive and help get us to our required total as quickly as possible after our successful (we hope) bid is announced, perhaps around the end of the year. Probably the last local fundraiser we will have this year will be the Wirksworth Christmas Market on 27th November when we will again have the centre open as well as a stall in the marketplace. Last year’s was extremely cold so we had to rotate the volunteers on the stall every hour and, even with the mulled wine, it probably discouraged the visitors from staying too long. With luck, this year’s will be bright with some much-deserved sunshine warmth.
At the beginning of September the Wirksworth Heritage Centre trustees and volunteers had a bus excursion to the National Civil War Museum in Newark. Their director gave us a guided tour and lots of background information on their project. Despite having once lived near Newark, I knew very little of the civil war other than the town’s battered castle and most of our volunteers were in the same position. As well as being a very informative lesson on the wars we all came away with ideas for our own project and many said they would go back to the museum again.
The dust has settled on our HLF lottery bid application so we are now engaged in the serious business of fund-raising for our share of the project cost.
At the Wirksworth Festival trail weekend we were operating a café in the courtyard behind Webster’s and we started slowly during Saturday morning’s bad weather. However, we ended up running out of cakes on Sunday afternoon, so a great event for the town was also a good step on the campaign for us.
We hope to raise a good proportion of our required funds from the auction on 27th October of the old Heritage Centre premises at the Silk Mill in Crown Yard. We will be sorry to see such a lovely building go out of our control but we are sure someone will turn it into a lovely home. The auction does mean that the volunteer team is busy working to a deadline packing up the collection for storage with Derby Museums.
Our dance event at Wirksworth Town Hall on 19th November has been titled T’Owd Man Rocks and tickets are £12 each from TraidLinks and the heritage centre. As I have mentioned before, the Derbyshire band Facsimile is playing and we expect the night to do really well for us. In conjunction with the dance we are running a Funding Our Future raffle in which the top prize is a diesel-train driving experience. Everyone is busy selling the tickets but, if I could, I think I would have bought all of them myself and had a go at something I’ve thought of previously as a “man thing”!
Well it’s in! After months in the preparation, the trustees have submitted our application to Heritage Lottery Fund for the funds to complete our redevelopment project. It comprised hundreds of pages and we couldn’t have done it without our two consultants who have given us far more than we, and probably they, could have expected.
However it is too early to raise a glass to Jim Oribine and Lucy Godfrey as we must now wait until January before we know if we have been successful. There again, perhaps we should just raise that glass anyway! We have come a long way since we first asked for the views of the town’s residents on the sort of heritage centre they wanted and whatever happens now we have given it our best shot.
We all feel we deserve success in turning Mrs Webster’s building into the heritage centre and community hub that Wirksworth deserves. Assuming that we do win the award, we still have to raise our own share of the project cost before we can go ahead. When my husband and I first fell in love with Wirksworth, the icing on the cake was the fantastic atmosphere generated by the two weeks of art, music and drama of Wirksworth Festival – the like of which we had not seen before.
It is the biggest event of the year for the town and kicks off with the Art and Architecture Trail on September 10 and 11. The heritage centre will again be an arts venue that weekend so we are currently in the throes of reorganising Webster’s to accommodate the pen and ink drawings of Peter Wheatcroft. His cityscapes should look all the more futuristic in our olde-worlde beamed surroundings. Joan, our renowned cakemaker, will be head-down in her kitchen and it will be all hands to the pumps all weekend to staff the art display, the shop and the courtyard café. We can only hope the weather is good and that there are plenty of visitors with deep pockets and a need to rest their legs and enjoy some fine refreshment,
The financial report for the carnival/bank holiday weekend is now in and it was clearly a huge success for Wirksworth Heritage Centre. We had nearly 500 visitors who bought refreshments and other goods, which really swelled our coffers. This was very encouraging to all those who worked so hard over the three days.
Work is continuing on the collection, which is still housed in the old Silk Mill building. Our band of volunteers have all undergone training on the skills necessary for cataloguing, labelling and packing, conservation and environmental control of all the different kinds of items held there. This work looks set to go on for some time yet as there is so much history within the mill walls.
My own role, beyond staffing Webster’s, is entering details of items onto the standard museums database system, which gives me the opportunity to learn a lot more about the collection. Among the artefacts are those reflecting Wirksworth’s key role in the production of red tape for the civil service during the Victorian era. It always seems strange to me to think that Wirksworth’s mills churned out enough tape for the whole of the British Empire. Further work on the provenance of many items will soon be required as their source is unknown and many photographs are undated or of unidentified persons.
Visitor numbers in the town are increasing now we are in midsummer and we are opening Webster’s on Sundays in addition to the existing Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. A series of town walks is soon to be launched too, to show off the history around the town’s streets and ginnells. Perhaps I should call them jitties, as many of the local people seem to call them. Next month the trustees will be making their pitch to the Heritage Lottery Fund for funds to enable the redevelopment to go ahead, but we still need to raise money from other sources too. More on that, perhaps, next time!