Huguenot Heritage Centre Scheduled to Open in 2015

Posted in museums by Editor on April 15, 2014

The recipient of a £1.2m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the French Hospital in Rochester, Kent is on schedule to open in 2015 the first museum dedicated to the history and legacy of the Huguenots in Great Britain.

From the project description:

The story so far
95 High Street, Rochester, Kent

huguenot-heritage-centre_1In 2010 the Directors (Trustees) of the 295-year-old Huguenot-founded French Hospital in Rochester High Street, were presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This was afforded by Medway Council which gave them the opportunity to purchase the two storey building which would allow, not only an increase in the number of flats for people of Huguenot descent from 59 to 63, but also the establishment of the first Huguenot Heritage Centre in the UK.

The building stretches from the High Street to the line of the Roman Wall, from its fine, art deco-style rooms at the front through to more functional facilities. It also lies opposite and very close to the proposed, new railway station and within a very short walk of the Cathedral and Castle. This offer fulfilled the wish of the Directors to increase the number of almshouse flats, creating secure state-of-the-art facilities for the storage of Huguenot family archives, books and historical material of great significance, in an air-conditioned and temperature controlled environment. Importantly it also provides new spaces and an existing 96-seat theatre for creating the first ever museum and education centre covering the extraordinary role played by French Protestant immigrants to this country.

To take full advantage of the large number of visitors to Rochester, the French Hospital has leased back the ground floor to Medway Council for the next 20 years, so that it can continue to provide the existing Visitor Information Centre and café for its 320,000 visitors per annum.

The past and the future

Successful integration of immigrants into a community is a skill. There is much that can be learnt today to the country’s benefit from the practices and initiatives of both the Huguenot immigrants and their welcoming nation. The Huguenot Heritage Centre will be the first and only visitor centre in Britain focussed specifically on this sizeable immigrant population, demonstrating the positive benefits well-managed immigration can bring to Britain and providing a useful comparator with later influxes of immigrants. To achieve these aims a dedicated Huguenot Heritage Centre Committee is working on the plans for conversion of the building and the raising of the money to complete this exciting project.

The Huguenot Heritage Centre will provide

• A major focus and source of pride for those of Huguenot descent, with an important opportunity to learn about their heritage and, if desired, to have the opportunity to safeguard their artefacts and papers in the long-term.
• Greater accessibility to the collections and archives for the public, researchers and heritage professionals.
• An expansion of public knowledge about an important part of the history of modern Britain as well as the history of Huguenots and their descendants.
• An improved physical access and condition of display of precious heritage artefacts which will also be better conserved, as well as being digitised.
• Educational courses and research facilities, which will be available with the collections and archives for teachers, students, community groups and individuals. Subjects covered will include important elements of British history, genealogy, family history, immigration, persecution, tolerance and the skills and trades brought to Britain by the Huguenots; and the lessons which can be learnt from these.
• A new opportunity for personal development and growth through volunteering.

Four new flats for the French Hospital Almshouses

To satisfy the increasing need for additional sheltered accommodation for those of Huguenot descent and to reduce its waiting list of some 100 applicants for the French Hospital, four new flats will also be included in the conversion. These well insulated, lift accessible flats with good views across the River Medway and surrounding countryside, will be compliant with the Almshouse Association guidelines and contain a living room, two bedrooms, kitchen and a bathroom.

book-coverA background profile of the French Hospital

The French Hospital, known by generations of residents as La Providence, was founded in London in 1718 as a charity, offering sanctuary to poor French Protestants or Huguenots as they are known. It has had several subsequent locations and currently maintains 59 self-contained, sheltered flats in the ancient Roman City of Rochester in Kent. On the same site, it owns a highly regarded collection of paintings, engravings, furniture, silverware, clocks, books, archival records and other items illustrating the culture and history of the Huguenots. However, the collection is neither readily accessible by the public, nor is it professionally displayed in a museum gallery setting.

Fundraising campaign

The total target for the campaign is approximately £5 million. . . The French Hospital is governed by a board of nearly 40 Directors (Trustees) including a Governor, Deputy Governor, Treasurer and Secretary. The Board has begun a fundraising campaign for the recent purchase of 95 High Street, the development of a Huguenot Heritage Centre and additional almshouse sheltered accommodation. For more information and how to fulfil these aims, please visit the French Hospital’s website or write to us:

The French Hospital
Charity number 219318
41 La Providence, Rochester
Kent ME1 1NB

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