THE man behind plans for a new town centre museum in Rayleigh says his search for its home is nearing an end.
Mike Davies, Rayleigh’s citizen of the year, has been trying to find the perfect place for the museum since taking over as town historian from Ernie Lane in the early 2000s.
He has now identified a site in a Grade II listed, 14th century building in the High Street and submitted a planning application to Rochford District Council.
The site, 91 High Street, is the oldest secular building in the town and vacant, so the owner approached Mr Davies to see if he could use the space.
He said: “It’s fantastic news. I had made a couple of tentative approaches on other places, but this is definitely a viable situation.
“I have known the owner for a while and they just asked if I wanted to use it.
“It’s just a shame it became available because the tenant, Yours Clothing, went in to liquidation.”
The owner, listed on planning documents as a Hertfordshire pensions company, now plans to put a restaurant, thought to be a well-known high street chain, on the ground floor, and keep the top floor open for the museum.
Plans have already been submitted to the council, including a lift for less mobile visitors. Mr Davies added: “We have our fingers crossed for the applications.
“The building is listed and in a conservation area, but Essex senior historic buildings adviser has already given approval, so that’s a big step forward.”
An application has already been sent to the Heritage Lottery Fund for £80,000 to £100,000 to help buy display cabinets and cover other costs, with Rayleigh Town Council also providing funding.
Mr Davies said: “I have had the backing of the town council, which has always been very supportive, and Mark Francois MP has also written a letter with the grant to say he backs it.”
Cheryl Roe, Rayleigh town and Rochford district councillor, said: “Mike set up a working party for the museum last year and we have been extremely impressed by its dedication and commitment to this project.
“We are grateful to the owner of 91 High Street who has offered a tenancy on this property.”
For more details about the project, go to www.rayleigh townmuseum.co.uk
AMONG THE EXHIBITS
A HOST of artefacts is ready to go in the museum.
- More than 5,000 images of Rayleigh dating back to 1860
- An original 6ft by 5ft 17th century bow-fronted shop window from the High Street
- A scale model of Rayleigh windmill, with rotating sails, partly made by students at Sweyne Park School
- Photographs showing how Rayleigh looked during the First World War
- A collection of 400 postcards showing Rayleigh through the ages
- A bread cart from a 19th century Rayleigh baker’s cart
- Maps detailing the development of Rayleigh over the centuries