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Bearsted's old village school and library up for auction


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Bearsted residents are worried that an important piece of their village history is at risk.

The building, which has stood there since 1839, has been put up for auction by Kent County Council.

The old library is up for sale
The old library is up for sale

It is to go for sale through Clive Emson Auctioneers on February 9 with a guide price of £380,000 to £400,000.

The Bearsted and Thurnham Society is concerned about what could happen to the property it is picked up by a developer, as the building is unlisted.

Its chairman Caroline Vanhecke said: "The society was surprised and disappointed to learn that KCC has decided to put the former Bearsted School and Masters House up for auction without consulting Bearsted Parish Council or other interested bodies beforehand.

"As the building, which dates from 1839, is located in a prominent and important position adjacent to The Green, which is acknowledged as being the dominant defining characteristic of the Bearsted Conservation Area, the society feels that its future must be safeguarded against any unwelcome development.

"The society is investigating options to secure its long-term protection."

The school foundation stone
The school foundation stone

The society has already lodged an application with Maidstone Borough Council to have the building listed as an Asset of Community Value (ACV).

In addition, the society will shortly be submitting an application to Historic England for the building to be added to The National Heritage List for England.

In the meantime, it has asked Cllr Mike Hill, the Kent County Council (KCC) cabinet member for community and regulatory services, to remove the property from the current auction.

If granted, a community asset listing will give a six-month breathing space for Bearsted to come up with alternative schemes, and heritage listing should ensure that at least the fabric of the building will be protected even if it does fall into private hands.

Bearsted Parish Council is due to discus the issue tomorrow.

Caroline Vanhecke,told its members it would be submitting a request to the Secretary of State to have the old library registered as a listed building.

The red-brick building sports a central cupola to the original school and the foundation stone is prominently visible.

A survey, conducted by engineering firm KMG Partnership for KCC, six months before the closure, stated that the building was in a “very poor state of repair,” and riddled with dry rot, damp, and fungal spores.

The floor in the schoolmaster’s house had collapsed because of the dry rot, which had spread to the public part of the library, putting the floor there "at risk of sudden failure.”

A Kent County Council spokesperson said: “We are very aware that this old building holds a lot of affection with the local community, but the library has been operating from its new location for some time.

He said: "Given this, we are releasing the property and will reinvest the proceeds in vital KCC services. We very much hope the new owner will be able to give it a much-needed new lease of life for future generations.”

Cllr Mike Hill
Cllr Mike Hill

The original Bearsted School was built in 1839 and occupies a prominent position opposite the village green.

In 1847 a wing was added on the south east corner to create the schoolmaster's house.

In 1972, the school transferred to newer premises, and in 1975 KCC, which owns the site, turned it into the village library.

However the building was poorly maintained and the collapse of a floor necessitated the urgent closure of the library for repairs in April 2017.

Subsequently, KCC found new premises for the library at the nearby old station masters house adjacent to Bearsted Station, since when the old school building has stayed vacant.

The society is encouraging anyone who feels passionately about the future of the building to write to Cllr Hill at KCC to make him aware of the strength of local feeling. His email is michael.hill@kent.gov.uk

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