A former United Reformed Church chapel in the centre of Avebury has been purchased by the National Trust as a space to highlight their conservation work and to engage people with the special landscapes within the World Heritage Site.
‘Our vision is to develop this unique and beautiful building into a welcome and information space for both local communities and visitors to share our passion for the landscape, its abundant nature and world-renowned archaeology. We’ll be working with World Heritage Site partners to showcase the essential work undertaken to conserve and protect the WHS, and will also offer advice and information on wildlife and heritage.’ said Jan Tomlin, General Manager for the National Trust Wiltshire Landscape.
‘The initial plan is to undertake sympathetic renovation, while retaining the special character of the 300 year old building and grounds.’
Like many buildings in Avebury, the chapel – founded in 1670 – is located within the main stone circle and partly built from broken standing stones. It is rare to find a Christian building sited within a prehistoric henge and stone circle, although there is a similar example at Knowlton in Dorset which is built within a Neolithic henge, but without a stone circle. It is also one of the few remaining examples of a ‘Five Mile Chapel’; a story that will be included in the various displays.
Until recently the chapel was a place of Christian worship and was also used as a tourist information centre. With the closure of the TIC in 2011, and with a dwindling congregation, the chapel was eventually offered for sale in 2015. There has been much local concern about the future of the building, which is greatly valued by the local community including the National Trust. Initially a local group hoped to buy the chapel; however, negotiations fell through and, with no community bid on the table, the National Trust stepped forward to secure the chapel’s future.
Jan Tomin added: ‘We will also seek to establish the building as a space within the village for talks and presentations by specialists in ecology, archaeology and heritage, to promote conservation and the National Trust’s core work in the outdoors.’
Hilary Makins, National Trust Countryside Manager: ‘Our Ranger team, based at West Kennet Farm, help to care for ten varied countryside places across the rolling chalk downs from Swindon to Salisbury, including the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site. They’re really looking forward to having a dedicated space to promote the wonderful outdoors to our local, national and international visitors.’
The National Trust acknowledges the professional services offered by both the United Reformed Church and Perry Bishop & Chambers Estate Agents, who have helped to complete this important sale quickly and allowed them to share this news with the communities as soon as possible.