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Friday, February 28, 2014

Owner's ambitious plans for Old Armoury's future

* Ambitious plans ... the Old Armoury.

The woman who rescued an historic Llangollen building from dereliction has revealed her ambitious plans for its future.

Sue Hargreaves bought the empty and rundown Old Armoury, dating back to 1834, two years ago and embarked on an extensive renovation programme which has seen her introduce displays giving a flavour of its past uses as a lock-up jail and a police station.
And at the end of a fascinating talk about the project at Llangollen Museum on Tuesday night she gave details of her plan to complete the transformation of the building, which lies between between the A5 and Hall Street.

The scheme would see the armoury once again separated from the shop next door as it originally was before the first floor was turned into an army drill hall running the length of the first floor above the two buildings in the 1870s.
The ground floor of the armoury would then house a full reconstruction of the original lock-up while a small community hall, for exhibition and educational purposes, is created upstairs.

While the ground floor of the property next door would remain as a shop, a studio flat would be created above it, with income from its letting being used to help pay for the running of the armoury and hall.
In her talk, Sue Hargreaves said that when she bought the armoury two years ago she knew very little about it but immediately began looking into its history.

She started her investigation from the basis that it had been a police station but soon found there were no details of this use recorded at the Denbighshire county archives in Ruthin.
However, she did find a number of valuable documents including an original floor plan for the building, showing accommodation for a jailer and two cells downstairs with a small courthouse upstairs.

The building was in a poor condition and volunteers from Llangollen’s Tidy Town Team stepped in to clear it up and strip it back to basics.
Sue then decided to recreate, as faithfully as possible, the building’s earliest days as a lock-up and police station.

However, she is clear that it was never a fully-fledged jail but rather a place to hold prisoners temporarily until they could be brought before the magistrates.
By September 2012 the building was ready to be shown off to the public during Denbighshire’s Open Doors history event when it attracted 300 visitors on just two afternoons.

The armoury is still open to visitors on request to Sue who has made her recreation of the police station and lock-up as authentic as possible by kitting it out with props such as a Victorian policeman’s truncheon and handcuffs.
She told her audience at the museum that she had just submitted an application to the county council for listed building consent to carry out the alterations which will enable her to finalise her renovation plan.

“I want to restore the building to the same size it used to be, with no drill hall above, using the first floor of the armoury as an exhibition and education centre,” she said.
“We would have art and sculpture displays and perhaps Welsh classes there. I have had enquiries from a number of organisations who say they would be interested in using it once it is set up.

“We would form an organisation to run the building and the shop and flat next door. Its provisional title is Llangollen Arts Community and Education (LACE).
“The shop next door would stay as it is and have a studio flat above. The income from letting the flat would supplement the lock-up and the community hall.”

Old Armoury facts
·   The building was designed by the county architect for Denbighshire and is the only known building in Llangollen constructed from limestone.
·    Its first “keeper” was  a David Davies who lived in Chapel Street.

·    Sue’s research shows one of the lock-up’s prisoners was an Edward Hamer of Chirk who was arrested in 1860 after being found in possession of a chisel and poker and suspected of being about to break into a dwelling. He and another man, Thomas Humphreys, were eventually acquitted of the crime when they appeared at Ruthin quarter sessions. Sue has a recreation of Hamer lying on a bed in one of the cells – with his poker and chisel hidden underneath it.

·  Denbighshire was the first non-metropolitan county in Britain to set up its own police force in the 1840s, but Sue has been able to find very few details about the armoury being a police station. However, one piece of evidence for this comes in a reference made to Llangollen Fair in the book Wild Wales by George Borrow in which he details a family holiday through north Wales in 1854. The fair was held in a square (now Victoria Square) a principal feature of which was a police station, according to the author.

·   In 1871 the building was sold to local solicitor Charles Richards, with the purchase price apparently being less than the original cost of construction. In 1879 it became a base for the 9th Denbighshire Rifle Volunteers, which is why the drill hall was built above both the former lock-up/police station and the adjacent shop. It was at this time it became known as the armoury.

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