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Where in the Thames Valley would you find parts of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace, Downing Street, the former Wembley Stadium and other iconic buildings in one place?

Stephen Head, Business Space Director at Hicks Baker, has acquired many offices, industrial properties and other commercial buildings in his career. However, following a meeting with representatives of the Brooking Museum of Architectural Detail for the first time in 2019 it was clear that this particular property search and acquisition was going to be unusual and unique. 

unusual and unique
Stephen Head

As an educational charity, the Brooking was created to advance the education of the public and professions in the field of architecture; and to develop, preserve and maintain a unique collection of architectural details for educational and museum purposes. 

The charity had a problem. The collection is estimated to comprise half a million objects, an eclectic mix of windows, doors, stained glass, staircases and other architectural artifacts spanning a 500-year period of English history. It had been housed at the University of Greenwich from 1988 to 2012 but, when the buildings there were put to other uses, everything was put into emergency ‘temporary’ storage where it has remained. However the storage was sub-standard; a disused and knowingly failing former poultry barn, four shipping containers and some wooden sheds. The collection was at serious risk and a more permanent property solution, therefore, had to be found. 

Prior to that first meeting, Paul Bonnici-Waddingham, the Chair of Trustees, would have been the first to acknowledge that he had only a very limited understanding of the scale of the task and how the commercial property market worked. However, using Hicks Baker Commercial Property Acquisition Service, and tapping in Stephen’s considerable experience in this field, a plan was carefully put together. 

The unique criteria set by the Brooking unveiled a varied range of ‘interesting’ property opportunities including old aircraft hangars, redundant grain silos and multi-storey former mill buildings. Finally, after a painstaking market search that took around 18 months (not helped by the restrictions caused by the pandemic), the Brooking finally got its building and acquired a former showroom and garage premises in Whitchurch, Hampshire.

As Stephen recalls: “It is fair to say that, in the beginning, we only had a vague idea of what the final outcome would be with so many possible property outcomes. But we like a challenge. 

“The key was to listen very carefully to the Trustees so we could fully understand their objectives while at the same time helping them to understand the potential limitations that the property market would impose in terms of styles of building available, planning restrictions and, of course, working to a realistic budget.” 

With the acquisition of new premises, the Brooking can look forward and plan to fulfil its educational purpose and to realise its potential as a leading heritage organisation. This recognised national treasure and world-leading collection will become a unique and unparalleled educational resource for audiences including building guardians, planning authorities, architects, designers, conservation specialists, craftspeople and manufacturers.  

unusual and unique

In due course the Brooking’s new home will include a museum exhibition space; this will make the collection accessible also to schools, university students and any members of the public who are interested and intrigued by the world around them and want to experience and share this heritage first-hand. 

Once the collection has been moved and made safe, the initial museum programme will facilitate, amongst other activities, the first phase cataloguing, rationalisation of the collection, archive development and supervised oral history recording. However this is only the first step in a multiple phased project and long-term strategy to ensure the Brooking’s assets are protected, accessible and developed for future generations. 

The acquisition of the premises in Whitchurch will help propel The Brooking from being the guardian of a globally recognised unique and valuable collection of historical artefacts, held in storage and at immediate risk, into a world-leading modern museum, education provider and collaborator.

Paul Bonnici-Waddingham said: “The building that Hicks Baker helped us find boasts many benefits that will make it a fantastic long-term home for the Brooking. Whitchurch provides an enviable setting, more than adequate amenities and a characterful and welcoming backdrop that already boasts a number of complementary heritage destinations such as the Silk Mill and close-by Bombay Sapphire and Highclere Castle.”

For more information:

[email protected]

07900 912050

0118 955 7089 

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