31 March 2014

Historic farmhouse to become art gallery

​WORK has started on an historic farmhouse in Chorley to give it a new lease of life as an art gallery.

The 400-year-old Astley Farmhouse forms part of the town’s Astley Hall complex which is owned by Chorley Council.
We wanted create an exhibition space for community groups to use and display art works and hold workshops

Now the council is investing £130,000 to refurbish the Grade 2 listed building so that it can be opened up to community groups as an exhibition space.

Councillor Bev Murray, who oversees the Astley Hall Museum and Art Gallery for Chorley Council, said: “The Farmhouse is an important old building within Astley Park which we’re refurbishing and bringing up to modern standards, without spoiling its character.

“We wanted create an exhibition space for community groups to use and display art works and hold workshops.

“Part of the building has  been home to the Chorley branch of the Lancashire Family History and Heraldry Society and the group will move back in once the work has been done. But the rest of the building has been empty for some years now, apart from a pop-up shop which used it last summer.

“We wanted to bring it properly back into use for exhibitions by local groups and it will also add to and improve the experience for visitors to Astley Hall by complementing the existing gallery and exhibition spaces we already have there. In fact, the first exhibition to be held in the newly refurbished Farmhouse will be a joint one by the Chorley Lodge Artists Society and the Chorley Photographic Society which is currently being planned for the summer.”

Speakman Contractors moved on site in January and expect to complete the work ready for the summer programme of arts. They’ve fitted a steel framework to stabilise the building, rewired throughout, opened up ground floor and first floor exhibition spaces and knocked a new doorway through facing the Coach House into the courtyard.

Councillor Alistair Bradley, Chorley Council leader, said: “We had originally planned to create the exhibition space just on the ground floor, however during the design stage we discovered significant additional work was needed and it was more cost effective for us to have it done all at the same time.

“It also means that the whole building is refurbished and modernised so that it can all be used in the future.”

The farmhouse dates back to the 17th century, or earlier and is one of the collection of buildings that formed the service area for Astley Hall. It’s older than the Coach House opposite, and is of considerably lower status as shown by the rough-hewn timbers found in the roof structure and now partly exposed in the first floor exhibition space.

The recent works have revealed the remnants of a timber frame which suggests the building was re-skinned in brick probably during the 18th century.

Apart from the re-skinning, the building has been greatly altered over the years with former cart door openings blocked up, door and window openings also closed and others created showing how the use of the building has evolved throughout its history.

Councillor Murray added: “These latest works we’re doing have been sympathetically designed to allow all the changes that have gone before to be clearly seen and will add yet another layer to its history.”