Councillors agree to invest in historic site

Firefighters at the scene of the farmhouse last May
Firefighters at the scene of the farmhouse last May

Councillors have backed plans to spend £1.8m of insurance money on a historic site which was hit by fire.

Chester Farm in Irchester contains the remains of a 2,000-year-old Roman walled town, a deserted medieval village, a 16th century farmhouse, 17th century farm buildings and 19th century ironstone extraction.

On May 4 last year the farmhouse lost a large part of its roof when it caught fire but the building will now be stabilised and made watertight after Northamptonshire County Council’s cabinet backed plans to invest the £1.8m in the site.

County council cabinet member Cllr Heather Smith described the site as “Northamptonshire’s hidden jewel”.

She said: “This money will enable us to make the building secure and watertight. This council is committed to preserving the whole site and I’m sure that will happen.

“This site is of national importance. It is not being mothballed – we have big plans for it. We’re working hard to secure more funding for the site so we can achieve the vision we have for it.”

The county council bought the site in 2004 with the intention of creating a heritage park. A business plan for the site’s future had just been completed when the main house and adjoining cottage went up in flames.

The options for the long-term future of the site include using it as a visitor learning and educational experience, as office or conference space, as heritage allotments or community orchard, or as grazing space for sheep.

The council has been in talks with a number of organisations about the site, including English Heritage and the Wildlife Trust.

Chester House was earmarked as a place at risk in English Heritage’s annual Heritage at Risk register last October but at the time the organisation said it was confident about the county council’s ability to refurbish it.

The cabinet’s decision is subject to a call-in period which will finish at 5pm on Monday.