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  Reprinted from Newsletter 150, dated 2018 autumn

Glastonbury Town Museum envisaged for the empty Tribunal building Jim Nagel

The mediaeval merchant’s house now known as the Tribunal houses the Antiquarian Society’s finds from the Lake Village on the upper floor, but the ground floor is empty now that the Tourist Information Centre has a new home beside the town hall.

A Glastonbury town museum on the ground floor of the Tribunal, letting the 15th-century building itself tell much of the town’s story.

  That’s the vision Liz Leyshon presented to the Conservation Society committee meeting on August 20.

  The Tribunal building, in the High Street with a garden backing onto St John’s Square, has been leased from English Heritage by Glastonbury Tribunal Ltd (GTL) for the past 25 years. The ground floor housed the town’s Tourist Information Centre for most of that time; the tourist-info services recently moved to new premises at St Dunstan’s House beside the Town Hall as part of Glastonbury Information Centre. The Tribunal’s upper floor houses the Lake Village Museum, run by the Antiquarian Society, which is not affected by the proposal.

  Liz has been doing volunteer duty at the Tribunal every Friday and says she has come to appreciate the building more now that is empty of all the tourist paraphernalia.

  She tests out the idea of a Glastonbury town museum on people she talks to. “I get encouragement from the visitors who come in. People of Glastonbury are keen; visitors are keen.”

  Mary Parker, owner of Abbey Tea Rooms, was one of the first to point out that Glastonbury does not have a town museum. Long ago there was one in the Town Hall, but the space was wanted for other purposes.

  So 7,500 Glastonbury artefacts owned by the Antiquarian Society are now in storage in Taunton. Many more objects are in private houses. The list includes two swords from the Monmouth Rebellion, the magic-lantern slides by Alice Buckton that were saved from a skip, and Arts and Crafts objects from the renowned potter William Worrall who lived in Stonedown Lane in the 1930s.

  The Glastonbury town museum would not show everything at once, but rather a core display plus themes that change from time to time to attract people repeatedly.

  Tim Hopkinson-Ball, the Antiquarian Society chairman, is outlining a way of telling a story, like the British Museum, in around 50 objects.

  If the vision for a Glastonbury town museum gets approval, the first phase of work would be to remove the old tourist-information desk and stud walls from the Tribunal’s ground floor, then to upgrade electrical, lighting and heating services.

  English Heritage is offering a five-year lease, with a break point at two years. Running costs for Glastonbury Tribunal Ltd had been less than £10,000 a year, including the lease.

  “So we’re thinking £50,000 for Phase A,” Liz said. “That’s not an insignificant amount, but we don’t need to be afraid of it. It’s nowhere near the project we did at Strode Theatre.” (She was its manager 1994–2017.)

  Submissions would be made to grant-making trusts, and a local Friends group would be established to help raise funds, like the Friends of Strode Theatre.

  If everything goes smoothly, the new Glastonbury town museum could be open for Easter 2019.

  “Then if we are able to move on to Phase B, we would look to appoint a heritage professional,” she said.

  Liz Leyshon is one of two county councillors on the board of Glastonbury Tribunal Ltd; the other is Terry Napper. The board also includes Jon Cousins and John Brunsdon from the town council, and Mary Parker.

The Tribunal’s present opening hours are Wednesday to Saturday, 11am to 2pm, but volunteers often stay later and do Sundays as well.


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