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Full steam ahead to turn railway house into town's heritage centre

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Keith Craze (left) and Milton Heritage Society treasurer Alan O'Sullivan at the station master's house
Keith Craze (left) and Milton Heritage Society treasurer Alan O'Sullivan at the station master's house

MOVES to create a heritage centre in New Milton gathered momentum when permission was approved for the town’s disused railway station master’s house to host the facility.

The town council has welcomed being given the go-ahead by New Forest District Council to change the use of the 19th century building in Station Road, which has been disused for about 10 years, from a dwelling to a heritage centre/museum.

As reported in the A&T, the project – set to cost nearly £60,000 – was spearheaded by deputy mayor Cllr Keith Craze and is being carried out in collaboration with the Milton Heritage Society. The idea is to provide an attraction telling the history of Milton Parish.

It has been christened No.1 New Milton, reflecting the fact the station master’s house was the first building erected in 1886 before the town grew around it.

The town council has signed a 12-year lease for the building from South Western Railway at a peppercorn rent and has also agreed to pay for its amenities including heating, electricity and water.

Following the NFDC approval, drawings and descriptions of the proposed works – primarily painting and decorating – will be submitted to Network Rail’s head surveyor.

This could see the house repainted in salmon pink, white and cream – the London and South West Rail colours of the late 19th century.

It is hoped that once these have been approved the work will begin in earnest and the free-to-enter facility could be ready to open to the public from around April next year.

It has been promised there will be no impact on local tax payers, with funding coming from local companies and the residents’ association, as well as community infrastructure levy, South Western Railway and councillors.

The plan is to exhibit displays in each room of the house’s ground floor, and to create a learning centre in a large room upstairs for schools and youth groups to visit and use. This will also feature further heritage displays.

One section will consist of maps, images and artefacts showing the very early history of the area through to the arrival of the railway in 1886.

Another section will continue the history up to the end of the First World War, while others will cover the 1920s and 1930s, the Second World War, and up to the present day.

It is hoped visitors will be able to hear excerpts from oral history recordings made by local residents sharing their memories.

Although it will not be possible to provide disabled access to the building’s first floor, following advice from the New Forest Disability Information Service, a plan has been formed to help compensate for this.

Inspired by a similar scheme at Eling Tide Mill, it is intended to employ cameras on the first floor, with footage of the exhibits fed to monitors downstairs so less mobile visitors do not miss out.

Cllr Craze told the A&T: “We are absolutely delighted that our plans for the change of use have received the go-ahead from New Forest District Council.

“We have agreement from South Western Railway and are currently submitting our plans regarding the works that we need to undertake internally, these works being primarily painting and decorating.

“Once we’ve received approval from London, we will then commence the works.

“Included in the plans is to transform the garden area to enable access for disabled people and work stations for those living with dementia.”

The station master's house in the early 1900s
The station master's house in the early 1900s

Alan Watson, chairman of New Milton Residents’ Association, had written to NFDC to express his support for the change of use application.

He said the planned heritage centre would be “a valuable asset to New Milton, both for the residents and the thousands of visitors which come to New Milton”.

He continued: “It will assist all ages to learn about the birth and growth of New Milton, Ashley, Bashley and Barton-on-Sea and to have a better understanding of how the town has developed over the years.

“It will be an ideal repository for the mass of historical information which has been collected from a variety of sources and which needs to be preserved for us and for future generations.”

In addition to the centre itself, the old café on the station’s Bournemouth-bound side will be returned to its former use as a passenger waiting room, complete with an information hub. As well as advertising from local businesses, there will be guides and leaflets promoting events and attractions.

Thanking all those who had supported the project, Cllr Craze added: “We look forward to the New Milton community and visitors coming to enjoy seeing the heritage of the town.”

Further volunteers to run the centre and being sought, along with memories and memorabilia, with those able to help out encouraged to contact the heritage society’s chairman Nick Saunders by emailing nick@miltonheritagesociety.co.uk or calling 01425 618549.

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