St David’s Day celebrations usually mean an additional something in Presteigne – the opening for the season of its multi award-winning museum, The Judge’s Lodging. But this year, something is afoot – the doors are still shut. Do not worry, the building, its dedicated staff and volunteers are still all fine, working hard behind the scenes for a 2019 opening for the Easter holidays. It is just that something very significant for them has just happened…
At last, The Judge’s Lodging is in the hands of the community, following a long process of transfer from Powys County Council ownership to that of a charitable trust – The Judge’s Lodging Trust Ltd. It’s a wonderful asset for Presteigne – a grade 2* listed early 1800s house, packed with original artefacts, and housing the Presteigne Community Collection.
Many people will remember the painstaking 1997 restoration that opened the building up to the public, revealing its original décor and gas lighting, dining and sitting rooms, bedrooms, kitchens and courtroom. So much that is retained at the Judge’s Lodging embodies the heritage of Presteigne as the commercial and social hub of Radnorshire. With its vivid, hands-on approach, it has racked up many awards over the years and caused visitors and celebrities alike to exclaim such things as ‘Wow – what a stunning place!!!’ (Lucy Worsely on social media), ‘Breath-taking in its authenticity’ (from the 2018 visitor book).
The asset transfer was initiated by Powys County Council in 2013 as its budget decreased. Even at that point, Powys was failing to keep up with the building repairs needed. The Lodging’s managers and trustees had to decide whether to take it on or to risk it being wound down and closed by the local authority. It has been a difficult process to complete the transfer but it is now done.
With support from the Welsh Government, work is starting to upgrade the audio experience for visitors and create a new welcome area and shop. In April, work will start on the building’s roof, making it sound for the future and then repainting the front – what the staff are calling ‘it’s having a hair do and facial!’