WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA? NEWTON’S PLACE*: An accessible community space, celebrating heritage, the town and its people.
NEWTON ABBOT TOWN COUNCIL is delighted and excited to announce towards the end of August 2016 it had been successful in acquiring the former St Leonard’s Church, Wolborough Street.
The Council’s intention is to transform this building into a town-centric space with community facilities that will have throughout the building exhibitions, artefacts and stories of the heritage of Newton Abbot and its people by relocating the Town & GWR Museum from Devon Square to this building.
This will provide the opportunity to embrace the future whilst preserving our past. Those of you who know Newton Abbot will recall that the last use of this building was as an antique ‘emporium’ but has stood empty for a number of years. When the cost of this building became affordable the Town Council took the bold step of purchasing the property from its existing capital funds.
The hard work starts here of course as the Town Council is now pursuing various funding avenues such as the Heritage Lottery Fund and GWR Communities Fund to pay for the refurbishment. Initial estimates suggest the building might be open for business by the middle of 2019. Please continue to watch this space for updates.
St Leonard’s Church-
The 19th century building of St Leonard’s Church, a Grade II listed building that has lain empty for over 5 years, will be restored and used by the local community through this project. St Leonard’s Church is a gateway into the town, and is a recognisable landmark for the community and visitors to the town. It is presently in a dilapidated state but has many of its original features that will be preserved through this project. Local people view the building as having an important link to the town’s past, as it replaced the original St Leonard’s chapel built in the 13th century. The Market Charter was granted in 1220 by King Henry III to enable the people of the town to hold an annual fair on the Feast of St Leonard. This celebration still continues today.
*NEWTON PLACE – adopted project title.
Quote from Mayor, Councillor Liz Roberts – “Since becoming a Town Councillor in 2011, residents have been telling me that what they want is a larger Museum in a central position along with a more accessible Town Hall. I am absolutely delighted that the Town Council has now taken the bold step of grasping this fantastic opportunity for both the Museum & the Town Council to be in the town centre by purchasing this iconic building. The town & its hinterland, with the planned growth over the next 18 to 20 years, deserves a Museum three times the size it is now, this will realise this ambition along with the potential to deliver far better cultural facilities which the town deserves. As well as these improved public facilities, the structure that is the former St Leonards Church, a Victorian Grade II Listed Building, will be preserved and renovated for the benefit of future generations. The Town Council sees this as very much phase 1 as it has further aspirations to provide much better overall community facilities which it could not do from the current location at Devon Square (we have now outgrown the site). Funding for the purchase is from existing capital funds. Funding for the renovation and development of the premises will be a challenge, however, the Town Council is confident it can externally funded as much as possible leading hopefully to a Precept (Council Tax) neutral outcome.”
Quote from Town Clerk – “I am of course very pleased indeed that the Town Council has been able to realise the aspirations of the community as voiced in the town’s Community Plan as long ago as 2008. Many of the 20 projects identified at that time have been realised, such as the refurbishment of Victoria Gardens and the Town Quay, together with the acquisition and redevelopment of Golden Lion Square as a public amenity. One of the largest projects identified at that time was the creation of a ‘Community Hub’ in the town centre which the Museum and Town Council could be a part of. This has been a much greater challenge to deliver, but now this opportunity has arisen, to deliver phase 1 of works towards providing a ‘distributed hub’ and at the same time preserve for future generations an iconic building at one of the town’s important gateways, the former St Leonard’s Church. I am very proud that the Town Council has taken this bold step. All the hard work for the Town Council starts here, with putting together a scheme which the community can get behind and at the same time persuade funders such as the Heritage Lottery Fund to support financially.”
DEMOLITION OF CHAPEL AND REBUILDING NEW ST LEONARD’S CHURCH
By 1827 the Chapel having no money spent on it became neglected, the end East wall containing the Alter began to collapse. The Feoffees collected enough money from the good people of Newton Abbot to employ a mason who rebuilt part of the East wall. Shortly after this the roof began to leak, to the Vicar the Rev. Robert Bradford this was the last straw! He informed all including the Church authorities he was refusing to take divine service in such a dilapidated Chapel. A group of people associated with a common aim assured him a new Church was to be built on the site of the old parsonage in Wolborough Street. On June 4th 1834 it was resolved that the old Chapel should not be taken down before the new one was erected and divine service performed therein, then the old Chapel could be taken down. A strong petition from Newtonians insisted the Tower be left standing and preserved. By the 20th September 1834 work started on the ‘new’ Church – it was finished in two years at a cost of £2,400. On the 24th November 1836 to a full congregation Dr. Henry Phillpotts, Lord Bishop of Exeter consecrated the ‘new’ St. Leonard’s. Sadly, by 1997 the new St. Leonard’s was found by the Church authorities to be surplus to requirements and on the 5th October 1997 found it packed with people for the last service of thanksgiving.
For a glimpse of the empty property now please CLICK HERE.