Chester Farm on course for Lottery money

Chester Farm
Chester Farm

One of the county’s most important historical sites, which was severely damaged by fire more than two years ago, could receive millions of pounds to aid its development.

Chester Farm, in Irchester, was awarded a grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) last month, and a report presented to the county council on Tuesday, November 13, outlined the next stage of development as officials seek to open up the site for tourism and education purposes.

The site provides evidence of 2,000 years of human settlement in Northamptonshire, and includes the remains of a Roman walled town, a medieval village and farm buildings dating back to the 16th century.

Initial development of the site suffered a major setback in May 2010 when the Grade II* listed farm building was destroyed by fire.

In October, the HLF announced it had awarded a grant of more than £135,000 to the project.

It is the first stage of an application to the HLF which would be worth a total of £4.1m.

Cllr Jim Harker, leader of Northamptonshire County Council, described the presentation of the report as a “milestone” in the development of the site because it allowed the council to welcome the awarding of the Lottery grant for the first time.

He said the council now had to ensure it prepared a good case for the main award.

Cllr Harker said: “It has been very competitive to get this far.”

He added he was optimistic the full award would be given by the HLF, but that it was reliant on “two or three months of really hard work” to put the best case forward.

He said: “If we get that it’s full steam ahead. We are a rapidly growing county, and what we are really intent on doing is giving all the people here access to the heritage and the history of the place they call home.

“Chester Farm is not just of local or regional importance, it’s of national importance.”

The county council will have to submit a bid for the second stage of lottery funding at the beginning of next year.

But with estimates suggesting as much as £10m is needed to complete the project, the county council report indicated it needed to find “other external sources of funding”.

Robert Wharton, the chairman of the trustees of Wellingborough Museum, which is currently running an exhibition on Chester Farm, said he was delighted the council had made its commitment to the project.

He said: “For years we have been pressing them about Chester Farm.

“Suddenly, when times are hard, they find the money.

“But we are delighted. It is an extremely important site.

“By Northamptonshire’s standards it is the equivalent of Stonehenge.”