New hope for iconic but dilapidated Wiltshire building

Written by Peter Davison on .

Devizes Assizes CourtDevizes Assizes CourtA dilapidated landmark building in Devizes could be given a new lease of life – as the county’s new museum.

Wiltshire Museum – which displays treasures from Avebury, Stonehenge, and further afield – is currently based in a former grammar school and two adjoining Georgian town houses in Long Street, Devizes.

But museum bosses want to move into the former Assize Court building in the town’s Northgate Street.

The distinctive Grade II* listed building, built in 1835 in the Classical style with ionic pillars, has been empty since the 1980s when it ceased to be used as a magistrates court.

Multiple plans to bring the building back into use have come and gone. It remains on the Historic England Buildings at Risk Register.

The current owner has had planning permission and listed building consent to convert the building into flats for a number of years but has not yet implemented the permission.

Museum director David Dawson said: “Relocating the museum to the Assize Courts would be a transformational project, linked to a newly revitalised area of the town. It could be a world-class building matching the importance of its internationally significant designated collections.

"The building would offer more space, including a café, new library and purpose-built galleries."

Mr Dawson said a business plan is being developed to ensure that a move would be financially sustainable, and any additional costs of running the new museum would be met from income from increased visitors and from investing the sale proceeds of the current property.

"There is lots of planning work to do over the next two years before a decision can be made on whether to go ahead with the project or not, and is conditional on the building being acquired for such use," he said.

"A major fund-raising campaign would be needed to restore the building to its former glory and create the new Museum, which could open in five to ten years’ time. Meanwhile the museum continues to develop its existing offer and attract increasing numbers of visitors and new members."

The proposals will be discussed at the AGM of the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society – which runs the museum – on Saturday, October 15 from 2.30pm at Devizes Town Hall.