New hope of finding home for Ottery’s history

The old Town Hall building in Ottery. Ref sho 14-16TI 8474. Picture: Terry Ife

The old Town Hall building in Ottery. Ref sho 14-16TI 8474. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

Long-held hopes of an Ottery museum could be realised if the library vacates its premises and moves to the former NatWest bank.

Ottery Heritage Society has set its sights on the Old Town Hall - and civic leaders revealed they were broadly in support of the move.

However, driving forces behind the bid were warned this weeek that the project is ‘a little early’.

The property is currently occupied by the library – subject to separate relocation plans – and Ottery Silver band, which has a lease until next year.

Speaking at a meeeting of Ottery Town Council on Monday, mayor Glyn Dobson said: “It’s something I would support, but I believe we’re a little early – we’ve still got two tenants.”

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Heritage society chairman Robert Neal told councillors it was ‘surprising’ that Ottery, with its millennium of documented history, did not have a museum, despite most other East Devon towns having one.

A museum has been on and off the council agenda for decades.

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In the ’90s, the old hospital came on the market and members considered using it to house a police station, a council chamber, a library and a museum - with plenty of parking - but missed out.

Mr Neal said: “It was snapped up by a developer – it was a great opportunity lost.”

The heritage society formed in 1999, with a museum one of its key aims.

The then-landlord of the Salston Manor Hotel, keen historian Martin Dowse, soon came forward and offered the group space in the historic property to start it off.

A museum opened in 2004 to great support but, after four years, the hotel was sold and the heritage society had to vacate.

Now its exhibits are in storage and only get aired once-a-year.

Councillor Geoff Pratt, a society member, said: “The proposal says ‘subject to vacant possession’ - so it’s not premature. If we could have an indication from the council that you would like this to happen, that gives us some positive inclination.”

Cllr Jess Bailey added: “It’s a bit unreasonable to expect the heritage society to sit on their hands for nine months, not knowing whether the council is broadly positive or broadly negative.”

The idea for the museum to find a home in the Old Town Hall has materialised as the town council plans to turn the former NatWest building into a multi-use community centre. It is proposed this will feature new library facilities, public toilets and a tourist infirmation centre.

On the potential museum, Cllr Ian Holmes agreed with the mayor.

He said: “I would like to talk about it as and when we know if the library are taking on NatWest. At the moment we are talking in principles.

“We should know more in a month or so.”

The council agreed to send a ‘letter of comfort’ to the society.

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