Chestnuts House on Hoe Street is a bit of a hidden treasure, with hidden being the key word. Standing back from the road and locked behind metal gates, you’ve probably walked past it dozens of times without giving it a second thought. But make no mistake, this large brick-built 18th century house is a real gem. It was built in the 1740’s and has had all kinds of uses over the years, first as a private home, then an asylum, and most recently council offices. Since the council moved their Adult Learning Services out of Chestnuts House it has been closed to the public, but that could all be about to change. Funding has been secured to undertake a feasibility study to restore the house, which is grade 2* listed, and the council are looking for ideas for its future.
On Saturday the Chestnuts project team held an ideas party at the Hornbeam cafe, where they asked the pubic for thoughts about the future use of the house. There were all sorts of interesting ideas being discussed, could it be a gallery, or live work units. Maybe it could be used for events space, a cafe, gym, weddings or all of the above. Having never been inside the house though, it was pretty difficult to come up with sensible ideas. But, as part of the meeting at the Hornbeam, the project team had also arranged a tour of the house. So at 2:15 we headed down Hoe Street, and took a look inside.
Walking in through the front door, the first thing I noticed was the grand staircase at the rear of the large entrance hall. With its curved handrail and plaster work walls and ceiling, it is nothing short of magnificent. As we meandered along the corridors and rooms of the old house, I was struck by how many of the original features had survived. From plaster mouldings to the old wash room complete with flag stone floor, this house is a real beauty. Of course, much of the detail and history is hidden beneath paint, screened by safety glass or lurking beneath old carpet, but the potential of Chestnuts House is evident in every room.
I freely admit that I love old stuff, especially old buildings, so having a nose around Chestnuts House was just my kind of thing. But what I really liked about Saturday is that it gave me, and rest of the attendees the chance to engage with the council about the future of the house. In the grand scheme of things, I guess it would have been much easier for the council to sell Chestnuts to a developer. But instead, they are tying to find ways to bring it back in to public use, and they are engaging the public in that process. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for this grand old house.
If you’d like to see the house there is another tour in the evening of the 2nd November, you can book a place by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also send your comments, and feedback to the project team here