The £2.5million project that would breathe new (and old) life into Saffron Walden Town Hall

Saffron Walden Town Hall basement would be transformed into interactive Victorian cells, as they onc

Saffron Walden Town Hall basement would be transformed into interactive Victorian cells, as they once were - Credit: Archant

Victorian crimes and their ­perpetrators may be shadows of the past haunting Saffron Walden Town Hall in the near future.

That is if it undergoes a £2.5million transformation which would draw on the building’s history and see it become a “focal point” for the community.

Increased accessibility for old and young, a new theatre bar, interactive maps and a revamp of many of the building’s rooms are part of the plan, which has just passed the feasibility phase and will be lodged with the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) in November for £1m of funding.

“I think it’s an amazingly exciting opportunity for the town hall,” said Councillor David Watson, who presented the plan with Kay Pilsbury Thomas architects Sibyl Thomas and Sheila Moss-King.

“The building should always be the focal point of the town and the scheme, as it was presented to the town hall, was just that.

“It will be the point where everyone who comes into Saffron Walden, for more people to really understand the town and its history,” he said.

The architects wanted to merge the building’s history – built with a Georgian design in 1761 but ­extensively rebuilt in 1879 – with an increased functionality which would attract more visitors to sample the town’s history.

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“The main thing we want to do it to draw up the building’s rich history and get more people to use the building itself, but also other tourism places to go to in town,” said Ms Thomas. “We want to be able to encourage people to go to the ­building, which we’re addressing by adding changing rooms – also for children – and a lift for wheelchairs and buggies.”

Two Victorian holding cells would be brought back to life under the plans, with actors telling stories of real crimes committed by those held by the courts in Saffron Walden. The Court Room will regain the original judge’s chair and jury-box, and have a map on the wooden floor so that visitors can get a feel for how justice was doled out in that very room.

At the meeting, the architects made clear that the potential lottery funding of £1.1-£1.5m would have to be matched by the same amount, from a range of funders, as well as a contribution from the town council itself.

“It is a very, very exiting project,” said Mayor Sandra Eden, “I am looking forward to what comes out of it.”