A ROW has developed between the Town Council and Vale of Evesham Historical Society (VEHS) over the decision to end a partnership that has lasted more than six decades, and claims the society has been forced to remove its collection from a town museum.

In a statement to the Evesham Journal, the society has said it is "saddened" by the "sudden decision", warning being "expelled" from the Almonry Museum meant some of the historical items that had been in the collection on display to the public, could now be lost to the people of Evesham.

VEHS said the council had resolved to end the longstanding relationship at the end of February 2019, notifying the society’s collection and belongings be removed before that date.

The Almonry Museum was originally founded in 1957 by the society whose members renovated the then-derelict building as a venue to display its collection of over 24,000 historical artefacts, documents and photographs.

The present museum collection combines this collection with items owned by the council and those on loan from other donors.

VEHS says the relationship had been a "fruitful one", pointing out the society ran the museum until the Town Council took over the complete management of the Almonry in 1997, when the Abbey Gate museum combined with the Tourist Information Centre.

But VEHS says since then the society’s activities in the museum - including curatorial work, refurbishing artefacts, planning, mounting and enhancing the displays, and sharing research materials - had become "increasingly restricted".

A spokesman for the VEHS said: “We are saddened to see the Town Council end our partnership, unilaterally and at very short notice.

"We thank them for their hospitality to our society and museum at the Almonry over the years.

"We would like to apologise to our members and supporters that the Town Council made their intentions public so soon after their letter of notification was delivered to us in confidence, and we were unable to inform them ourselves beforehand.

"We will continue support the great historical heritage of Evesham – to tell the story of the Evesham, the town and the Vale, from its origins to the present day – and make our resources available where possible – including our season of talks, our displays in St Laurence’s church and elsewhere, our publications, and our research activities.

"This does not affect our links with other organisations."

VEHS statement added the Almonry building is showing significant signs of deterioration and has recently been placed on the “Heritage at Risk” register by Historic England.

The statement said: "The VEHS understands that an offer on 17 June 2014 of a £1.4m grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund, to refurbish and develop the building, could not be taken up when it was discovered that the application had incorrectly attributed the entire museum collection to the Town Council – and the work on the building had been closely tied to the value to the public of its contents.

"The situation appeared to have been resolved when the society obtained an authoritative legal opinion on the method by which ambiguities in the attribution should be decided - ownership of the collection should no longer be an issue in grant applications.

"However the council have now resolved on a sudden and total break with the society."

Town Mayor Mark Goodge said: "While we are extremely grateful for the work done by VEHS in establishing the museum and building up the initial collection, we have reached a point where the future of the museum requires us to take full control of it and ensure it is managed professionally throughout.

“The Almonry is one of Evesham’s most iconic buildings, and we owe it to our residents to make sure it is preserved for future generations. A clean break between the two organisations gives us the best possible opportunity to take advantage of grant funding available to us.”

Ashleigh Jayes, Almonry manager, added on the issue of returning items to VEHS: "In the first instance this will let us see areas of the building that haven’t been accessible in many years and will allow us to have essential repair work carried out. 

"Secondly, we will be able to look at how the museum and the collection are going to take shape for the future.  We need to further professionalise the museum. We are working hard to develop a forward thinking, resilient service."