£14m museum extension plans move forward as Northampton Borough Council prepares to buy gaol block

The old gaol block of Northampton Museum and Art Gallery.
The old gaol block of Northampton Museum and Art Gallery.

Northampton borough council is poised to buy the old gaol block of County Hall in order to pave the way for the £14m extension of the town’s museum and art gallery.

Plans to be discussed by the authority’s cabinet next week (September 10) propose that the museum on Guildhall Road will extend into the gaol block, creating an ‘imposing’ new entrance to the visitor attraction.

Both the gaol and Guildhall Road blocks of County Hall will become vacant when Northamptonshire County Council moves to its new building, currently under construction in Angel Street.

The cost of the extension and redevelopment of the museum is estimated to be £14 million and the £8m raised through the sale of the Egyptian Sekhemka statue will all be used to pay for the project.

Cabinet papers suggest the council will seek funding from other sources, including European funding grants and commercial developers, to make up the shortfall.

Leader of Northampton Borough Council, Councillor David Mackintosh (Con, Rectory Farm) said: “As the Leader of a local authority, I am very proud to be able to propose such a major investment in our museum service and it is a mark of our confidence in how the ambitious regeneration programme in Northampton is shaping its future.

“We are working closely with Northamptonshire County Council on this significant development for the cultural life of the county town.”

The council has projected the will see visitor numbers at the museum increase from its current 80,000-a-year to 200,000 by 2018.

The extension will include a new entrance and feature gallery, doubling the exhibition space to 2,300 sq metres.

New galleries will “tell the history of Northampton in a manner that is relevant to today’s audiences,” the council says and the museum will display a large part of its 3,000-piece art collection, which includes works from artists such as David Hockney, John Piper and Sir Edward Burne Jones.

A 380sq metre exhibition space, with catering facilities as well as a ‘shoe resource centre’ to highlight the town’s history of footwear manufacture.

An education suite and lecture theatre are also proposed alongside a 400sq metre retail space with food and drink facilities.

Cabinet is also due to discuss the restoration of Grade I listed Abington Park Museum.

The museum currently houses the two regimental collections along with furniture, social history and geological artefacts, in displays have not been changed for around 20 years.

The earliest part of the house, formerly known as Abington Abbey or Abington Manor House, date back to the late 15th Century and was once the home of Shakespeare’s grand-daughter.

It is proposed to focus on the historic house while continuing to operate the building as a museum and developing the Northamptonshire Regiments collection.

Commercial uses for the building, including as a venue for weddings or conferences, will also be explored.