Work starts on Monday, 4 December, to clear the site of the former Enterprise Centre, Lightfoot Street, Chester in preparation for building work in the new year for a new History Centre.
Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, a shared service of Cheshire West and Chester Council and Cheshire East Council look after the county’s unique and irreplaceable written and pictorial history and plans to rehouse the archives in two new state-of-the-art history centres in Chester and Crewe.
The site clearance is expected to be completed by 22 December. In advance of the redevelopment of the site, archaeological investigations will occur to explore and record the history of the site. The work will focus particularly on several structures depicted on historic maps which were associated with the railway but will also provide an opportunity to record any evidence for earlier use of the site before the building of Chester station.
The Hoole History and Heritage Society has recorded the fascinating history of Lightfoot Street, highlighting the arrival of the railway from Crewe in 1840 and the building of Chester General Railway Station in 1848. In the 20th century the Railway authorities released property; Pickfords had a warehouse which was destroyed by fire in 1996 and in 2010 the goods shed which had become an Enterprise Centre was also destroyed by fire.
At the same time, work will also be underway at the Crewe site as ‘Cheshire’s archives: a story shared’, aims to transform the way the archives service works and give greater access to collections and opportunities to interact with them more easily helping them to celebrate their personal and communities’ histories.
Councillor Louise Gittins, Leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council said, “Following planning permission being granted earlier this year, we are now moving to the next significant milestone before construction starts in the new year. The site clearance work is not extensive and will not involve any heavy machinery. Therefore, no disruption is expected.
“Our precious archives have been preserved for 70 years in their current location, they have both local and national importance, recording the history of the county over the last 900 years.”
“Next spring the Chester Record Office will be closing its doors to the public as the huge job begins to prepare the archives for moving to the new homes in Chester and Crewe. The Service will still be available online and through pop-up locations. There will also be an outreach programme across Cheshire running over the next four years.”
Sean Fenner, managing director at Kier Construction North & Scotland, said, “We are delighted to have been appointed by Cheshire West and Chester Council to deliver pre-construction works at the site of the new Cheshire History Centre and we’ll be working closely with local supply chain partners to deliver these works.”
The exciting project, in partnership with Cheshire East Council, will provide access to a wider audience and protect the collection for future generations.
The National Lottery Heritage Fund is contributing £4.45m, which has been made possible through money raised by National Lottery players, allowing for construction of the centres to go ahead.
Helen Featherstone, Director, England, North at The National Lottery Heritage Fund said, “It is fantastic to see this exciting project get underway, which we’re delighted to support thanks to money raised by National Lottery players. It’s great to know that the archive and collections will have this amazing new home and be preserved for years to come, meaning that local communities and visitors can learn more about Cheshire’s rich heritage.”
The funding from the Heritage Fund not only contributes towards the new facilities but will help the service to fund a programme of new activities across the county until March 2027.
Work to build the centres is expected to begin in spring 2024 and finish in winter 2025.