Celebrating 10 Years of Wye Heritage (Part Two)

The proposed new Wye Heritage Centre on the High Street, Wye

2015 and onwards

You will find part one here

There were two very important events during 2015 which were to profoundly affect Wye Heritage and its plans for the future.  The first was the announcement by Imperial College that having failed to progress their master plan or find a suitable leaseholder for the College campus they were going to sell the property.

On July 21st 2015 Telereal Trillium (TT) announced that they had purchased the Wye 3 site from Imperial College. The purchase included all the College buildings, the ADAS site and all the land and properties along Occupation Road, including the Wye School site. The purchase also included Ian Carruthers & Bexley House, Wolfson Lecture Theatre on the High Street and Wolfson House on Upper Bridge street.  Withersdane Hall was not included in the purchase.

The Latin School, as part of the College buildings, would now be owned by Telereal Trillium. Wye Heritage immediately started a dialogue with Telereal Trillium to find out whether it would be possible for us to continue to use the Latin School. We met with TT and were granted permission to use the Latin School while they developed their plans for the future of the college buildings. TT expressed their support for both Wye Heritage and the Wye College Agricola Club and hoped to work closely with us as the plans developed. In the interim they would not be seeking to charge us for the use of the Latin School.   

The current home of Wye Heritage in the Latin School
The current home of Wye Heritage in the Latin School
The entrance to the current centre
The entrance to the current centre

The second event was the tragic death of Ian Coulson in December; he had played such a key part in the formation, development and success of Wye Heritage and had been our chairman from the beginning.  He would leave a void that was going to be very difficult to fill.

Happier thing were taking place.

Prior to 2015 Carol Jovanovic, acting as resident property manager, had been instrumental in arranging the gifting, by Imperial College, to Wye Heritage of a number of key artefacts, as and when she found them. Now, with the sale of the College agreed, a few more items emerged including over 2000 postcards of Wye College and Withersdane rather more importantly, Imperial College, prior to their final departure also gifted 16 wooden garden seats, including those on the College Green. We much appreciated Carol’s support of the whole Wye Heritage venture, right from our formation in 2009. 

It is of course still the case that Imperial College hold most of the Wye College ‘Treasurers’ in their archives department in London, however, it is certainly our long term objective to repatriate many of these items.

With the loss of Ian and the declining health of Don Thake, we clearly needed additional committee members and in the next couple of years we were joined by Michael Payne, Cilla Deeks and Michael Wain with Karen Mitcalfe agreeing to take over the chair. Committee members from 2017 are: 

  • Karen Mitcalfe ​- Chair
  • Francis Huntington – Secretary
  • Lucy Huntington ​- Treasurer
  • Janet Astles
  • Cilla Deeks
  • Maureen De Saxe
  • Tom Hill
  • Michael Payne
  • Michael Wain
  • John Walters 

The content of the collections continued to grow and we agreed to house the archives of other Wye based organisations including the Church of St Gregory and St Martin, Wye Gardeners Society, Wye W.I. and Luckley House. We were particularly encouraged by the many gifts donated by past members of the College, both staff and students.

We continued with major exhibitions, and in 2017 Michael Payne staged ‘The History of the Latin School’ and produced a cake to celebrate it’s 570 years of occupation.

The 2017 cake to celebrate the 570 year since the signing of the college statutes in 1447
The 2017 cake to celebrate the 570 year since the signing of the college statutes in 1447
Members of the committee marking the anniversary of the signing of the College Statutes on the 14th January 1447
Members of the committee marking the anniversary of the signing of the College Statutes on the 14th January 1447

As well as the major exhibitions we have staged over 40 displays on topics connected with Wye or Wye College including:  

  • Brick making at Naccolt
  • Wye College Scarcies River Expedition 1963
  • Wye Shops past and present
  • Maps of Wye
  • Wye Race Course
  • Christmas in Wye 1917
  • History of Taylor’s Yard
  • Wye Bridge through the ages
  • Models of buildings and wagons from Brook Museum
  • Wye College stained glass
  • HRH Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee celebrations in Wye
  • Wye College Silver, Metalware & Clocks
  • Withersdane Hall and Gardens
  • Wye goes to war 1914
  • Wye goes to war 1939

Throughout 2016 and 2017 we worked with TT to secure a long term future for the Wye Heritage Centre. TT was unwilling to agree to us leasing us the Latin School but instead offered a larger space within the Edwardian buildings which we accepted and immediately embarked on working with their architects, to develop the room layout and facilities for our specific needs. 

The plan shows an independent access from the High Street through a small courtyard.  The proposed new Centre comprises an entrance foyer, main exhibition room, small kitchen and servery, accessible toilet and an archive and study room which can store up to 150 archive boxes. The expectation is that the space will be made available to Wye Heritage on a long lease at a peppercorn rent.  These proposals will provide the long term facilities to which we have been aspiring for the last ten years.

The proposed new Wye Heritage Centre on the High Street, Wye
The proposed new Wye Heritage Centre on the High Street, Wye
The proposed new Heritage Centre – layout drawing
The proposed new Heritage Centre – layout drawing

For those students and staff familiar with the site in years past, the proposed building has had various uses over the years, including games room, television room, postgraduate common room, estate office and, at one time in the 1960’s, ‘noisy’ common room, the ‘noisy’ was to distinguish it from the ‘quiet’ common room housed in the wheel room. 

In 2017 the designation of the space for the Wye Heritage Centre featured in TT’s comprehensive plans for renovating and re-purposing the Medieval and Edwardian buildings of the College. Since the submission of the planning application to achieve this, there have been delays spread over nearly four years, during which time many objections to TT’s plans have surfaced, mainly focused on the lack of community provision and limited access to the Medieval buildings. At the same time, it appeared that Ashford Borough Council’s planning department were under severe pressure and were under-resourced to deal with this and the avalanche of other applications within the Borough. Added to which, during 2019 and 2020 the ‘Wye College Regeneration Action Group’ (WyeCRAG) emerged with radical ideas on how to develop a major alternative plan, providing a community hub, a visitor centre, a library and museum as well as a restaurant and boutique hotel. On top of that, the Wye Parish Council embarked on the process of seeking a judicial review into the absence of an adopted master plan for Wye 3 and the perceived departures from the Neighbourhood Plan and other national and local planning guidelines. These controversies came to a head in January 2021 with the start of a public planning enquiry. During April 2021 we were notified that the planning inspector had ruled that the renovation and re-purposing of the Edwardian and Medieval buildings can go ahead.

This means that we are now back on track to create a new Wye Heritage Centre in a part of the Edwardian buildings. As soon as building work is underway we will update you on progress.     

The College – proposed re-purposing of the Medieval and Edwardian building, with the new Heritage Centre shown in purple
The College – proposed re-purposing of the Medieval and Edwardian building, with the new Heritage Centre shown in purple
Artist’s impression of the proposed central quadrangle
Artist’s impression of the proposed central quadrangle
Artists impression of the proposed East Garden
Artists impression of the proposed East Garden

Encouragingly, during 2018 and 2019 we were successful in boosting visitor numbers to the Latin School by improving our publicity and presence on social media, adding coloured images to our posters and establishing our presence on the Our Place Wye Facebook page had a dramatic effect.  Visitor numbers over the two years grew by over 50% with the Saturday morning openings becoming increasingly popular.  

Our membership currently stands at 230 family members (all those living in the same household) and 12 corporate members, namely:

  • Wye College Agricola Club
  • Wye Historical Society
  • The Church of St Gregory and St Martin, Wye
  • Wye Rural Museum Trust
  • Wye W.I.
  • Wye Arts Association
  • Wye Business Association
  • Wye Gardeners
  • Wye Parish Council
  • Wye School
  • Lady Joanna Thornhill Primary School
  • Spring Grove School

We have had amazing support over the years from our members, particularly from the Wye Historical Society, who have produced material for a number of our display, and the Wye College Agricola Club who have helped us financially with our initial launch, our major exhibitions, and supported the appointment of our part-time centre administrator. 

In 2019 we were able to celebrate 10 years since the establishment of Wye Heritage, with a major exhibition charting all that had been achieved. Whilst preparing our Charity Commission application during 2019 it was pointed out that we urgently needed a completely new website, which became even more apparent during the spring of 2020 and the ensuing pandemic ‘lockdowns’. By late summer we had created a dynamic website which gave a full picture of all that we do, how we welcome visitors and particularly important, enabling us to produce a series of blog posts, which you are now reading. These are taking the place of our regularly changing displays which would otherwise have had no audience. 

As we enter 2021, we have achieved another mile stone, charity registration as Wye Heritage CIO, Registration number: 1193580. We are hopeful that the next milestone, now that the planning impasse has been resolved, Telereal Trillium and ourselves can start to creating the new Wye Heritage Centre. We remain absolutely determined to secure a long term future for the Heritage Centre and its ever expanding collections.

Needless to say, we are also looking forward to re-opening the Latin School to our members and visitors, once it is safe to do so.

Our logo says it all

“Our past shapes our future”

Compiled by Lucy and Francis Huntington

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