Wednesday, 1st October 2014

Unearthing secrets of past centuries

Underneath a fortress of scaffolding, secrets from Shrewsbury’s past are being unearthed by a team of builders working to transform the former Music Hall into a museum and art gallery.

The £10 million project began in February last year and workers are busy excavating the site to reveal the complex of historic buildings that lie underneath.

sd3911002sh23mus-2-music.jpgWork taking place inside the main auditorium.

The Music Hall contains a unique collection of buildings including the Grade II* listed 13th century Vaughan’s Mansion, one of only a handful of early medieval defensive Hall Houses that remains in the UK.

The main part of the site is the 19th century Music Hall and Assembly Rooms designed by Edward Haycock in 1835 and listed as Grade II. The complex also includes a medieval shut, 18th century prison cells and a 20th century nuclear bunker.

High above the town, underneath a canopy to protect it from the elements, builders are carefully revealing the historic timbers of the medieval Vaughan’s Mansion.

Project manager John McStay, from ISG Construction the main contractor for the museum project, described the challenges involved with the restoration work.

“It is painstaking work and really is a labour of love. You peel back one layer and discover another part of the town’s history,” he said.

The work has led to new discoveries, including a previously unknown medieval doorway and window in the 13th century mansion. Only last week new medieval foundations were discovered below the main auditorium.

More urgently, the renovation work has uncovered some serious structural damage which had the potential to cause part of the medieval mansion to collapse.

Mr McStay said: “We discovered that part of the medieval roof had been extended during the 16th century which had caused unsustainable pressure on the bottom corner of the medieval gable truss.

“We are now in the process of reinforcing the truss with steel, but without the restoration project there could have been a danger of part of the roof collapsing.”

sd3911013sh23mus-9-mus.jpgProject manager John McStay has a look at the 13th century foundations.

The work has also seen the 19th century Assembly Hall, which was the town’s theatre, flooded with natural light for the first time in years-after the building’s windows were exposed.

Public interest in the project, which is due to be completed by spring 2013, has been very high, and a behind-the-scenes tour held last weekend was a sell-out.

Tim Jenkins, museums manager for Shrewsbury and Much Wenlock, said: “We have incredible public interest and support for the facility and we are very lucky.

“We are very excited about having the ability to install Shropshire’s unique collections here.

“It can definitely help with tourism. It will be integral to that, and improving the visitor offer for the county and also promoting what we have got elsewhere.”

Nigel Nixon, from Shropshire Council’s museum service added there would be a range of historic collections on display once the museum opens its doors.

“There will be Roman, Medieval, Tudor and Stuart collections, and there will also be space to have temporary exhibitions.”

The project has been mainly funded with money from the now defunct Shrewsbury and Atcham Borough Council. A total of £1 million was also granted from the Heritage Lottery Fund and a further £100,000 from Arts Council England.

by Catherine Ferris