Three days was not long enough for specialist consultants from Ingham Pinnock Associates to find their way round our Town Hall. The team took twice as long as they thought to map all its nooks and crannies before they could begin to formulate proposals for its future.
The Team formally presented their key findings to a meeting of the Full Town Council last week. Initial proposals indicate that up to £15 million needs to be spent to restore the building to its historic splendour and install necessary modern access, toilets and kitchen facilities. In response to questions from vigilant Councillors the team was keen to point out that the initial proposals had received enthusiastic support from Historic England, the Government’s heritage watchdog and that as the building is Grade 2* listed (putting it in the top 6% of significant buildings nationally) any changes would need to be limited and carefully managed. Historic fixtures and fittings are included in the listing and would be retained. Other plans include a cafe and historic holiday apartments (with regular public access days) in parts of the building currently out of use.
The Maison Dieu, the oldest of the Town Hall buildings, was founded by Hubert de Burgh, then the Constable of Dover Castle in 1203. It was built to provide short term accommodation for pilgrims travelling to the shrine of Thomas a Becket at Canterbury, and for the care of wounded and destitute soldiers. Over the last 800 years the building has seen many owners and fulfilled many functions from military store to Council Chamber, from centre of local justice and punishment to concert hall. The Maison Dieu contains a collection of arms and armour and some fine paintings. It is also home to the famous unique Zeebrugge Bell given to Dover by the King of the Belgians in 1918. The painted stained glass windows depict notable historic events and date from 1873.
The team plan to be back in Dover at a later stage to continue to talk with local people – so your views matter.