Irchester's £14.5m Chester House Estate now taking car park bookings for new FREE attraction
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Bookings for free entry into the much-anticipated Chester House Estate are now being taken for car park spaces as the £14.5m attraction prepares to welcome visitors after years of set backs, delays and financial wrangling.
The long-awaited opening of the nationally-significant heritage site at 10am on Saturday, October 23, will allow guests to finally glimpse how the £14.5m of council tax payers and lottery funding has been spent.
Previously known as Chester Farm, and Chester–by–the-Water, the site is one of the few places in the country that can demonstrate more than 10,000 years of human activity on the same site.
Based around a grade II-listed 17th century farmhouse overlooking the River Nene between Wellingborough and Rushden, the fields surrounding Chester Farm also contain the remains of an walled Roman town - the old Irchester.
Hoping to become financially independent, the free-to-enter estate offers a farm-yard shopping courtyard, outdoor play area, interpretation space, farmhouse café, pizza restaurant, learning centre, archaeological archiving centre, bed and breakfast accommodation, and a wedding and events venue.
As well as being the site of a Roman walled town, there is evidence from the Mesolithic, Iron Age and Medieval periods, together with a complex of traditional farm buildings dating back to the 17th century. At present much of this heritage is buried with the challenge for the team to bring it to life and tell its stories.
The project will include a timeline walk in the roman walled town and a large indoor museum within our education and community building.
A courtyard area is to be developed as an artisan shopping area and there will be a small shop selling branded gifts and toys, local guidebooks and produce within the café that seats up to 50 people indoors. There is also an outside seating area.
As part of the project, there will be a children's natural outdoor play area featuring including a small Roman village, tractors, play farm animals and an archaeological digging sand pit.
Access to the site is also possible from a mooring along the Chester Farm section of the River Nene banks.
The attraction promises an 'exciting and diverse range' of events .The 2021/22 programme will include, a lambing festival, pumpkin patch, Easter egg hunts, historical re-enactments, outdoor cinema and theatres, food and craft fairs, ice skating, beer and music festivals, light festivals, Father Christmas Experiences, archaeological digs, The Nene Festival, wedding fair, a bush craft weekend and private hire events
Opening alongside the house on Saturday will be a giant pumpkin patch filled with locally-sourced pumpkins, with Chester House team members on hand to help carve creative designs.
Pumpkin patch passes are available to purchase on the day within the visitor centre.
Car park pre-booking is essential before visiting to allow management of the car parking capacity during the opening period.
Claudius Way is the main visitor car park and can be accessed through the Prologis Park Wellingborough using postcode NN8 2DH to find the entrance - BOOK TICKETS HERE .
The main visitor Claudius Way car park at is a five to ten minute walk to the main building complex through the historic and natural landscape with a pushchair friendly path.
Lime Avenue straight off the A45 is only accessible to Blue Badge Holders, conferencing guests and wedding guests.
All tickets for this entrance must be pre booked in advance. Use postcode NN29 7EZ to find this entrance - BOOK TICKETS HERE.
Anyone arriving by foot or bike does not need to pre-book. The footbridges across the River Nene are currently closed and are on track to be fully replaced and operational by spring 2022.
With an opening date of October half-term, the final phase of the project will be the completion of the 17th Century Grade II* listed farmhouse which will house a restaurant and bed and breakfast accommodation.
For more information on the Chester House Estate project, sign up to the newsletter at www.chesterhouseestate.org.
From Chester–by–the-Water to Chester Farm to Chester House Estate a timeline
The 45-acre farm, which is situated just off the A45, is of significant historical importance according to historians.
The 17th century farmhouse is built on the site of a former Roman walled town and has evidence of Mesolithic, iron age and medieval periods.
Bought in 2004 for £900,00 by the now disbanded Northamptonshire County Council.
In 2006 the council had entered into an agreement about the site’s future when it received £1.2m of Government funding for the project.
In February 2010, it was announced that up to £250,000 had been set aside to open up a crumbling historical farm site to the community.
May 4 2010, tragedy struck in the early hours when the historic farmhouse was ravaged by fire just one month before major restoration works were due to be completed.
In November 2010, Northamptonshire County Council’s cabinet approved contracts for the main contractor who will be responsible for the work needed to make Chester House safe.
April 1, 2012 The late 16th century farmhouse looked set to be stabilised and made watertight after Northamptonshire Country Council received a £1.9m insurance award.
In October 2012, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) announced it had awarded a grant of more than £135,000 to the project.
In 2013, support of £3.97 million was secured from the National Lottery Heritage Fund which enabled the authority to embark on an ambitious project to develop the site.
In 2018, when NNC were making huge numbers of redundancies the project was supported 'through gritted teeth' The authority put in a further £2.2m to the Chester Farm project . The extra millions were on top of £4.9m the council had already put into the project to join a £3.97m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The project was behind schedule.
In June 2019, the County Council’s Chester Farm developer plunged into administration. Shaylor Group, the construction firm tasked with redeveloping the jewel in Northamptonshire’s heritage crown, went into administration, with 200 staff made redundant.
NCC Cabinet agreed in December 2019 to support a further capital investment of £1.374m following a comprehensive options appraisal. The authority said mothballing the behind-schedule heritage project in Irchester could under the terms of an agreement mean handing back just under £4m to co-funders the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF).
In the period from 2013 to 2020 Northamptonshire County Council spent £9,821,223 (capital expenditure) and £852,575.60 (revenue expenditure) on the project, a total of £10,673,798.60
2021 The final part of a long-running project to bring a historic Irchester farm back to life began. The Chester House Estate scheme - which was been rebranded from its former name of Chester Farm.
In April the Archaeological Resource Centre (ARC) was the first part to open to store and catalogue the county’s valuable Northamptonshire archaeological finds.