The Museum of Farnham has been awarded a £734,335 rescue package by Arts Council England for essential – and long overdue – repairs to its historic home, Wilmer House.

The 18th-century building is a Grade I-listed Georgian town house, considered by Historic England to be of exceptional heritage and architectural merit.

But the attractive building has been masked by unsightly scaffolding for the past five years after engineers warned in November 2018 the poor condition of its 300-year-old facade was putting the public at risk.

This scaffolding has cost museum owners Waverley Borough Council more than £50,000 in hire, licence and inspection fees to date. But with the total cost of the repairs estimated at around £1 million, the council warned it would be unable to fund the repairs by itself.

Farnham Town Council and the Farnham Museum Society both pledged £10,000 – but until this week’s grant from Arts Council England, the museum’s future had looked increasingly uncertain.

What is wrong with the Museum of Farnham and Wilmer House?

The front of Grade I-listed Wilmer House is in poor condition, with brickwork decay right across the façade.

The brick window arches on the second floor are collapsing, cracking is present through most of the window openings, and mortar joints are deeply eroded.

Extensive decay is present in the cornice with vertical and horizontal cracking visible.

Original architectural mouldings are now very fragmentary, as much of the original surface detail has been lost through long term decay.

As a result, building owners Waverley Borough Council is facing a bill of up to £1 million for the most basic of repairs to the building.

Several options have been considered, including relocating the town museum elsewhere.

But Waverley says the Arts Council funding will not only finance the repairs but allow the heritage site to be kept in public ownership too.

Under the terms of the £734,335 grant from Arts Council England’s Museum Estates and Development Fund, a minimum of ten per cent funding is to be sourced locally for repairs to the Museum of Farnham’s Willmer House home.

Farnham Town Council and Farnham Museum Society have each committed to contribute £10,000, along with up to £200,000 from Waverley Borough Council – meaning the repairs can now begin.

The Museum of Farnham's scaffolding could soon be a thing of the past with funding now in place for the building's repair
The Museum of Farnham's scaffolding could soon be a thing of the past with funding now in place for the building's repair (Casey Oakley)

Waverley’s executive head of commercial services, Kelvin Mills, said: “We are absolutely delighted to have been awarded the grant from the Arts Council, and this is fantastic news for Farnham, as Wilmer House is one of the town’s most important historic buildings.

“The funding will allow us to address urgent external building fabric repairs, including rebuilding the parapet wall, repairing the gauged brick cornice and replacing the second-floor gauged brick window heads.

“Not only does this guarantee the Farnham Museum can remain in the building, but it enables Wilmer House itself to become the jewel in the crown of the museum’s collection. 

“The restoration will offer an exciting opportunity to share, explore and preserve the history of this fascinating house with a wider and more diverse audience and tell the story of its construction and conservation as part of the collection.

“Our officers will be moving forward with the work as quickly as possible, to prevent any potentially irreplaceable loss of the historically significant fabric of the building. 

“We’re incredibly grateful to the Arts Council, without whom none of this would have been possible.”

The Museum of Farnham’s Grade I-listed building, Willmer House, West Street
The Museum of Farnham’s Grade I-listed building, Willmer House, West Street (Tindle)

Councillor Kika Mirylees, Waverley’s portfolio holder for culture, said: “As someone who is committed to the arts, I am so delighted that finally, after years of trying, we have got Arts Council funding for the museum and Wilmer House. 

“This has been a long and difficult process, and although I am aware there are other problems to overcome, I am sure we are now on the right road. 

“At a time when funding is in short supply and projects such as this might not be considered a priority, it is thanks to the work of our officers and others, including the Maltings, that has enabled us to get what we needed. 

“I know so many people have been very concerned about the museum and I imagine they will be very relieved to hear the good news as well.

"I am so looking forward to seeing the scaffolding removed and the beautiful facade of the Grade I-listed house there for all to see once more. This is great news."