Major Northants historical attraction could be fully open by October half term - and entry is going to be free

The final part of the £14.5m build it underway

The attraction is due to open in October
The attraction is due to open in October

The final part of a long-running project to bring a historic Irchester farm back to life has begun.

The Chester House Estate scheme - which has been rebranded from its former name of Chester Farm - is a £14.5m project paid for by Northamptonshire County Council and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

In April the county's valuable Northamptonshire Archaeological Resource Centre (ARC) will open, followed by a courtyard, education centre and wedding venue in the summer.

Weddings and conferences are expected to be put on at the Chester House Estate

Then in October, the jewel in the crown of the project, the refurbished farmhouse, will have its own grand opening.

The site, which has history dating back 10,000 years, is a scheduled monument and has been designed to be a popular destination and event venue, with particular interest to history enthusiasts.

It has been many years in the making, and has been hit by delays and financial woes but a rejuvenated team got the project back on track last year and it has now progressed quickly.

This culturally important site is now on course to be completed in the autumn.

The 17th century farmhouse is being fully restored

Heading up the project is Business Manager Jack Pishhorn, who said: “We have a very challenging 10-month build ahead and we are due to open the site fully in time for the October half term.

“This is a unique project with key stakeholders from all over the country; it is history in the making and we can’t wait for the community to get involved.”

The project has been split into three phases. Due to be completed in April is Northamptonshire Archaeological Resource Centre (ARC) which is of vital importance for the county’s historical archive storage. The planned education centre, wedding venue and artisan courtyard are due to open in the summer.

And finally, the restoration of the 17th century Grade II* listed farmhouse to provide hospitality and event facilities will form the final part of the project and open in October.

Cllr Lizzy Bowen, of Northamptonshire County Council said: “The Chester House Estate will become a site of national historical importance and will be a local gem that will attract visitors to Northamptonshire from all over. In addition, the site will create new jobs in the community and offer local residents a hub for leisure, education, business and heritage.”

Chester House Estate will form the hub for post Covid-19 economic recovery for the Nene Valley area, promoting local food and drink, small businesses, local farming, and creating

nine full-time roles, along with up to 50 part-time and seasonal positions. Eight internships have already been created for college and university students with recruitment underway.

“We’re thrilled to be working in partnership with the National Lottery Heritage Fund to finance the final stages of the Chester House Estate project, and we’re all very eager to see the positive impact this momentous development will have in the local area.”

Anne Jenkins, Director of England, Midlands & East, for the National Lottery Heritage Fund said: “We are delighted to support this project, which thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, will mean that more people will be able to get involved with, protect, and learn about the exciting heritage right on their doorstep.”

The site will be free to enter. People will be able to access the site by car, on foot, by bike, by bus and even by boat.

As well as an artisan shopping courtyard featuring local produce and a restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea, there will be a state-of the art education centre, catering for schoolchildren and adults.

A full calendar of events is already in place including the Nene Festival and a diverse programme of activities to look forward to like outdoor theatre and cinema, festivals, craft fairs, bushcraft weekends, hands-on lambing events, and much more.

The restored spacious Threshing Barn is expected to become a sought-after wedding venue. In addition, the original farmhouse will have three catered conference rooms, and overnight

stays will be accommodated in the two-bedroomed bed and breakfast unit within the main building.

As well as being the site of a Roman walled town, evidence has been discovered from the Mesolithic, Iron Age and Medieval periods. Chester House Estate is working in partnership with the University of Leicester to curate annual digs on site and is linking up with the University of London to enable students to get involved in unearthing the site’s treasures.

Archaeological Archives Curator Ben Donnely-Symes has been at The Chester House Estate since August last year. He will be overseeing and transferring and cataloguing of 1,600 boxes of important historical material which will be arriving at the new Archaeological Resource Centre this spring. Local volunteers will be invited to get hands on with archiving and with this year’s planned summer dig, while visitors will be able to enjoy a timeline walk in the Roman walled town and explore a large indoor museum when it opens in October.

Jack added: “At present much of this heritage is buried or kept in unsuitable conditions; our challenge is to preserve it, bring it to life and tell its stories.

“The partnership with the University of Leicester’s Archaeology Department is really exciting because the digs on site will be accessible to the public who can come and volunteer on site.

“Part of the process will be to involve the local community in everything we do. We have the opportunity to create a legacy for many years to come. The future is positive and is, in itself, history in the making.”