Museum hopes to celebrate town's historic couple with summer reopening

Bishop Bonner's Cottage Museum. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Bishop Bonner's Cottage Museum. Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

A Norfolk town’s heritage museum, housed in a 500-year-old cottage, is aiming to reopen this summer with a timely new display and spruced-up building.

In a report to Dereham Town Council, Dereham Heritage Trust said it hopes to reopen its museum in Bishop Bonner’s Cottage in the first week of June - having been closed throughout 2020.

They warned, however: “Clearly this depends on the end of Covid, and [the] confidence of our volunteers that they are not at risk - many of them are over 70.”

“As well as our present displays, we are planning new displays on John and Ellenor Fenn, and their life and work in Hill House,” says the trust’s report.

“John’s work included publication of the Paston Letters, which are of international importance on medieval life, and we are planning the new displays in association with the Paston Footprints project, based at UEA and financed by National Lottery Heritage Fund.

 “Our angle will be life in 18th century Dereham, but it will link with Paston displays elsewhere in Norfolk. Similarly displays on the innovative and neglected work of Ellenor Fenn will link with the new Ellenor Fenn Park.”

The trust added that despite being closed, its membership increased during lockdown to 66, and YouTube views of virtual talks hosted by the trust “have significantly exceeded the normal attendance at monthly meetings.”

Over the spring months, work is due to continue to reduce the cottage’s recurring problem with damp.

Dereham Heritage Trust chair Trevor Ogden

Dereham Heritage Trust chair Trevor Ogden - Credit: Submitted

At a meeting of the town council’s heritage committee, trust chair Trevor Ogden thanked members for work done in the autumn to protect the building’s exterior.

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“I’d like to say what excellent work was done to protect us from damp - I don’t know if people have seen the new trench,” he said, referring to a gravel-filled gully installed by council contractors to prevent rainwater eroding the cottage’s paintwork. 

“We’ve still got to treat the damp inside, but I think that’s a really good step forward,” Mr Ogden added.

Committee members also agreed to look at what work could be done to help preserve the building’s elaborate plasterwork, known as pargeting.