Heritage collection could move out of town

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GUARDIANS of Morpeth’s historic artefacts may have found a new temporary home for the collection.

The Morpeth Antiquarian Society has been struggling to find premises for its heritage items since it was forced to quit its free storage room in Morpeth Town Hall.

The group had kept more than 1,000 artefacts in the former caretaker’s flat in the building since leaving the Chantry 13 years ago, but in September members were given formal notice to leave as the space was needed for offices.

In October, the collection was moved into county council-owned premises on the edge of the town, but the facility was only available until the end of this month.

The antiquarians have inspected several possible alternative storage options in the town, but none has been suitable.

However, this week they visited premises in Newbiggin, which could be available for a year.

And while the society does not want to move its collection permanently out of Morpeth, the 12-month option would allow more time to find and fund a long-term solution in the town.

Chairman Alan Wade said: “At the moment we are obviously looking for another home because we have to be out of our current premises by the end of March.

“We have been offered several properties to look at from the county council and we would like to continue the link with the council.

“We have looked at premises in Newbiggin that are available for 12 months, which would give us breathing space to sort something out so we are looking into that at the moment.

“The council officers are being very helpful and depending on negotiations we hope to move at the end of March.”

The society was founded in 1946 to catalogue, curate and store an extensive collection of artefacts, pictures and documents on behalf of the town.

Items held by the group include photographs, archaeological finds from Newminster, a copy of the first Morpeth map, timber from the old Chantry footbridge, a knitted Morpeth, parts of First World War machine guns and even a pair of stone axes.

Its ultimate aim has always been to establish a Morpeth museum and recently members have teamed up with the Greater Morpeth Development Trust and the Friends of Morpeth Museum to try to progress the plans.

Consultant Frank Robinson, who is an expert in heritage management, was brought in to raise community awareness of the collection, provide guidance and identify funding opportunities, as well as explore the options for premises.

His report will be presented to the groups this week.

Mr Wade said: “As a group we can support premises for at least a year, but the society only has limited funds.

“The basis of the report is the first stage in applying for various grants that we need to go forward.

“The aim is to get a heritage centre because this is about the heritage of the town that we want to preserve.

“It is still a long way off, but that is the ultimate aim. The main thing is to preserve the collection and not lose it.

“Newbiggin is not in the town, but it would give us 12 months breathing space to find out what we can do.

“It would also enable Frank Robinson to organise a team of helpers to sort through the records and catalogue everything.”

He added: “We have got a vast array of 2,500 pictures which need to be digitalised and they can then be available on a website.

“There is a lot of work to do, but hopefully it is going to progress.”