Green light for an historic town centre building restoration

Planned renovations to one of the oldest buildings in High Wycombe have been given the green light, thanks to the granting of Listed Building Consent and Planning Permission.

Dating in part from 1399, the three-storey number 2-3 High Street has been largely empty since the 1960s, except for use as two shops on the ground floor. After restoration it will echo one of its former uses - the 17th century Wheatsheaf Inn - with a Cafe Bar at street level and community use to the upper floors.

The timber-framed building is thought to be the earliest surviving building in High Wycombe apart from the Parish church.

The journey to restoration has been long and deliberate, says Patrick Hogan, Buckinghamshire Council's Cabinet Member for Culture, since the Buckinghamshire Historic Buildings Trust (BHBT) began negotiating with the former Wycombe District Council, which eventually invested in its purchase, to free the Trust's funds for future refurbishment.

The story that followed has been the result of a vision by the Trust and collaboration with many stakeholders to return it to a usable building, retaining its 14th century features.

"None of this just happens" says Patrick. "This has been an excellent collaboration between a considerable number of people - the Trust’s team of historic building experts, architects, surveyors, structural engineers and cost and business consultants, as well as the Council's officers, with the support of Council Members.."

Patrick said the Council's Conservation Officer, Sarah Oborn, who has a keen eye for neglected buildings warranting restoration, had felt the building could be rejuvenated for a use that revealed its past and showcased its history, and had drawn it to the Trust’s attention, feeling it would be the right body to do the work. The Trust then successfully bid for an Architectural Heritage Fund grant, and with the planning green light, can start work on the restoration 'Wheatsheaf Project',

"We have our meticulous Heritage and Conservation team to thank for a strong guiding hand in protecting another piece of the town's history," says Patrick, “having already seen their hand at work in the preservation of Brunel's Engine Shed by the station.”

“These two projects contribute to the uplift of the Town Centre’s Historic Quarter being at either end and act as a catalyst for heritage led regeneration,” says Patrick’s Cabinet colleague, Steve Bowles Cabinet Member for Town Centre Regeneration.

While 2-3 served the town as The Wheatsheaf Inn during the 17th century and a coffee house in the 18th, its position close to the church and market-place suggests it may have originally been a guildhall, market house, or connected with the church. In the early 20th century the shop became The Old Wheatsheaf Pharmacy and later served the historic High Street as a tobacconist and dry cleaners.

Dr James Moir, who chairs the BHBT, said the 'Wheatsheaf' was being designed to meet the need to improve the town centre's night time offer to young commuters and students, as well as becoming a busy hub for community users during the day.

"We’re excited, through this successful partnership with Buckinghamshire Council, to be creating a focal community space which will delight in using its heritage as a means of encouraging everyone to linger in and cherish the town’s historic quarter," said Dr Moir.