"I rise to register my support for Congleton Museum’s aspirations to move to Bradshaw House. In its first 16 years of existence, Congleton Museum, a charitable trust entirely run by volunteers, has had considerable success locally, regionally and nationally. The museum was established as the local history museum for Congleton but quickly evolved to become recognised within the wider area of Cheshire and the north-west through the acquisition of hoards found in east Cheshire. It is now the area’s leading museum in collecting and analysing archaeological finds. It has been entrusted with the care of important Roman coin hoards from further afield in the county, the Knutsford and Malpas hoards, in addition to two further 17th century hoards found locally, but there is now simply inadequate room to display these collections.
The Congleton Museum’s status has brought about many partnerships within the national museum community. For instance, it has been working with the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and regional holders of national collections such as the Museum of Liverpool. I pay tribute to the dedicated work of the museum’s trustees and other volunteers for those achievements. Given that success, a move from the museum’s current and—dare I say it—now cramped premises at the back of Congleton Town Hall to Bradshaw House would be fitting.
Bradshaw House is a fine Grade II listed late Georgian home from the late 1820s in the historic heart of Congleton. It takes its name from Congleton’s most famous, or possibly infamous, resident, John Bradshaw, who was president of the High Court, oversaw the trial of King Charles I and was the first signatory to his death warrant. Bradshaw House is currently owned by Cheshire East Council but has been unoccupied for some time.
The benefits of a move to Bradshaw House for the museum are manifold, and not only for the museum, but for Congleton, the broader Cheshire East community and our wider heritage. The museum could be more sustainable in the long term. It is a highly appropriate tenant for such a listed building. Cheshire East Council says that it has no current plans for the future of Bradshaw House while seeking a commercial buyer, but if the museum were able to take it over, it could be fully restored and cared for for the full term of a 30-year lease, potentially taking advantage of Heritage Lottery Fund funding, which is much needed for restoration costs, which few commercial purchasers would readily commit to. The museum’s offering could be increased, with space available for larger numbers of children, making a visit more cost-effective for schools.
Bradshaw House is much more visible and attractive than the museum’s current premises, located as it is in the heart of the Lawton Street conservation area. The museum would be able to handle a much larger number of visitors and host conferences. Improved facilities would encourage more visitors to the town, thereby benefiting the economy. There would be exhibition space, storage, education and research facilities as well as room for a café and a larger gift shop. As I mentioned, it would also be able to accept and display more artefacts.
This proposal has not only my strong support, but the support of Congleton Town Council and of local residents, who, in just four weeks, have signed a petition. A total of 857 signatories have been added to the petition and the number continues to rise daily. I look forward to presenting it to the Speaker in this House in the autumn.
I am pleased that, just last month, Cheshire East Council, which has previously rejected the museum’s bid to move to these premises, agreed to suspend activity related to the commercial disposal of Bradshaw House—that is, disposal by way of commercial sale. It has suspended activity pending discussions taking place between the museum and the Heritage Lottery Fund on options for HLF support for this proposal.
I do hope that the proposals will be supported strongly by Cheshire East Council. I am today seeking the active support of the council, which is our principal authority. I also invite the leader of the council, Councillor Rachel Bailey—who I know is a good woman with a real heart for our local communities—to join me and museum representatives to meet the HLF to discuss what support may be available from HLF for this project. Such a meeting would also enable museum trustees to clarify to the leadership of Cheshire East Council that its reservations about the viability of such a scheme can be satisfactorily addressed."