Step right up: Street to lace up for new shoe museum despite heritage hiccups
By Daniel Mumby - Local Democracy Reporter
17th Sep 2023 | Local News
A new shoe museum will be built near one of Somerset's main shopping destinations after plans were narrowly approved by councillors.
The Alfred Gillett Trust is a charity based in Street which preserves the heritage collection of C. & J. Clark Ltd. (the founders of Clarks shoes) and the history of the local area, including a significant collection of ichthyosaur fossils found locally.
The charity put forward plans in March to regenerate the Grange on Farm Road, building a new shoemaking museum to connect the existing buildings and create a new major tourist attraction for the village.
Somerset Council has now given the plans the green light, despite concerns from certain councillors as to whether the plans were the best way to preserve Street's heritage.
The Grange site lies between Clarks Village and the A39 Westway, with the main white building of the Grange being visible to visitors entering the shopping area from the main car parks.
The site comprises the Grange itself and the Barn (both of which are grade two listed) along with the archive building, Hoddinotts Cottage and the surrounding green space.
Under the proposals, a number of existing unlisted buildings will be demolished and replaced with a new two-storey building, which will connect the Grange and the Barn and provide a base for the new museum.
The project will also include the creation of offices and a café with outside seating, with all the trust's archive material being safety stored and presented on site.
Councillor Liz Leyshon, who represents the Street division, sang the charity's praises when the application came before the council's planning committee east in Shepton Mallet on Tuesday afternoon (September 5).
She said: "I have always felt a sadness that the ichthyosaurs are not publicly available, except on a few dates in the year if you're lucky. They used to be in a museum in Crispin Hall many years ago. They are a fascinating part of our country's history, equal [in importance] to Lyme Regis in understanding the Jurassic era.
"The industrial revolution in Street and the part that the Quakers played as employers was fascinating then and still is now – including how the employers considered the physical and mental health needs of all their employees and their extended families. I'm seeing this project as bringing three eras together – from many millions of years ago to our contemporary history, in a project which would be open to the public in a way that the Grange has never been before.
"The relationship with Clarks Village could be a symbiotic relationship for this museum. People visiting the museum could visit Clarks Village, where there is an extended hospitality offering, and people visiting Clarks Village could be encouraged to learn more about Street – which is a much more fascinating place than I think people realise. There are car parks which are within easy, level walking distance, and there are also many bus routes through Street stopping very close to the site. We can make this part of Somerset a real destination for people to spend more time."
Rosie Martin, one of the trust's directors, said the project would open up green space in Street as well as ensuring the future of these historic buildings.
She said: "This project will open up the gardens to the public. We want an oasis of calm in an urban setting – but we do not want to be a hidden gem. We want people to know that they are welcome – we want to look open and accessible to all people.
"Public benefit is absolutely at the core of our being, and we have so much to celebrate in Somerset. We want our museum to be a must-see visitor attraction in the county."
Councillor Heather Shearer, who lives in Street and represents the neighbouring Mendip West division, said that the project could have huge benefits for the village.
She said: "Not often do we have a big project like this, or any kind of application, where there's no objector. I do see this as a really important and useful addition to all of Somerset's leisure, heritage and tourism strategies. We get 4.2 million visits to Street through Clarks Village, and it would be really good if some of them spent their pounds in this facility."
A number of Conservative councillors objected to the proposals, arguing that the removal of one existing wall within the Grange's courtyard would be detrimental to the street's heritage.
Councillor Bente Height (Shepton Mallet) said: "The existing wall is about 1.6 metres high – I'm 1.62m metres tall, to be very accurate, and most people can see above me. As a minimum, the wall has got to be left in its entirety."
Councillor Barry Clarke (Mendip Central & East) added: "If we keep nibbling away, we soon have no wall left at all. When we identify things as being important from a conservation point of view, I believe we should keep them."
The committee narrowly voted to approve the plans by a margin of six votes to five. A separate vote to grant listed building consent for the changes passed by eight votes to three.
The trust is aiming for the new museum and associated facilities to be open to the public by 2025.