WEST DEREHAM HERITAGE GROUP
Our monthly report from the West dereham heritage Group
Our meeting this month was a week later than usual to fit in with our guest speakers itinerary. We were on home ground at the Village Hall on the 24th.July when we were delighted to welcome David Flower, Chairman of Downham Market Heritage Society.
His talk outlined the formation of the Society and its progress to date.
Formed in September 1995 with the aim of recording and preserving local history and antiquities. Like so many rural towns and villages much of what consisted of daily life has been lost, forgotten or even destroyed. Thoughts turned to the establishment of a Heritage Centre for Downham Market
The Society at first envisaged buying the Magistrates Court building which had been put up for sale as proceedings had been transferred to the Kings Lynn Court. This seemed to be an ideal location for the Society to set itself up with a historical building to hold meetings and display records, artifacts and carry out research. There was a great deal of interest in the building from private buyers with one having already started negotiations with the aim of turning it into a private residence. The Society was unable to challenge this buyer as they had insufficient funds to even think of making an offer. As it happens this may have been a blessing in disguise as it was found to be in need of considerable repair work due to age and damage from vandalism.
Other properties were looked at but it was always the problem of funding that hampered their progress. Fund raising continued until 2002 when it was decided to abandon the project and to reconsider what should be done with the money raised so far.
At this time the Borough Council having received cash for a Regenerating Scheme were wanting to improve facilities and the use of Downham Market Town Hall. Quite unexpectantly the Society were offered the use of the inside balcony which up until then had proved to be of little use.
Things moved very quickly after the offer was accepted and grants were obtained for the purchase of 12 museum quality glass display cabinets and 12 display/story boards. These would enable the Society to start setting up the items of history they already had and added to that were the steady trickle of items donated/loaned by the general public .By the middle of 2003 the display cases had arrived and work started to get then up to the balcony. This proved to be more difficult than it looked but after a lot of effort by the delivery drivers, agents reps and members it was accomplished. The first displays were set up ,the slow trickle of items increased to a steady flow and they were able to open to the public.
The displays have continued to grow and there is also a show case in the Town Library which is changed on a regular basis. They now have over two thousand fully catalogued items stored or displayed at the site.
Currently the Town Council has reclaimed ownership of the Town Hall and intends to carry out a programme of repair and refurbishment. This means the present Heritage Centre, on the balcony, will close. All is not back to square one as the Town Council are owners of the disused Fire Station on Priory Road and this site has been offered to the Society as their new home for the Heritage Centre. Planning permission has been obtained for change of use and refurbishment is in progress. This site will make a permanent home for the Society and provide more room for the ever expanding display space and storage. It is hoped the move will take place before the end of 2008.
The membership is at just under a hundred people and continues to grow. New members are welcome. Meetings are held monthly and outside visits take place to interesting sites. There is also a web site which gives updates and has the years programme laid out showing meeting times and venues.
West Dereham Heritage Group will not hold a meeting in August. Next one is 20th September when the Group will be visiting Gressenhall Rural Life Museum, Farm and Workhouse. Any local people who would like to join us are welcome please make your own way to Gressenhall by 10.15.,you pay on entry, and you can join our guided tour. This lasts about an hour and then you can look at the rest of the site which can easily take several hours. There are ample facilities on site for toilets and refreshments. I understand there is also excellent access for the disabled with wheel chairs available for those who have difficulty with walking.
Secretary to the West Dereham Heritage Society.
Richard C. French