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Is there a future for the Tabernacle stones?
Buy this photo » Coun Rod Bluh with some of the stone
THE STONES of a long-demolished building, once dubbed Swindon’s St Paul’s Cathedral, still lay out of sight in a field – six years after being bought by Swindon Council to include in the town centre regeneration.
The 19th-century Baptist Tabernacle, which stood on the site of the Pilgrim Centre in Regent Circus, was demolished in 1978 and the stones sold off after it was vandalised and fell into disrepair.
Swindon Council paid out £360,000 in 2006 to secure the stone pillars, apex and frontage of the building, with all the windows, and hoped to include it as a feature of a £215m regeneration plan for Swindon’s town centre, focusing on Granville Street car park.
The council even had a guarantee it would be reimbursed for the cost of the stones by development partner Modus. But the firm went into administration in June 2009, and the stones have been left on one of the former runways at the Science Museum in Wroughton.
Council leader Rod Bluh, said a few ideas had since been suggested for their use, including in the new £500m Union Square development – but he thought that development was too modern, and felt the Regent Circus end of town would be more appropriate.
He said: “There are a number of schemes that are being looked at which would involve using them but there’s nothing definitive on the table yet.
“We’re looking at ways of using them in the town centre regeneration, as frontages to buildings or as features.
“There’s a couple of interesting ones that have come up literally in places that I never would have thought about. There’s about three or four ideas bouncing around but none of them have got any traction at the moment.
“I’m proud of the fact I got them returned to Swindon because it’s an important part of Swindon’s heritage. I took quite a lot of stick about it at the time but also got a lot of support.
“It was going to be part of the Modus scheme that fell through because of the recession.
“There’s a lot of people like myself who think it could be an important part of the town centre regeneration. A town that doesn’t invest in protecting its heritage rarely does well.”
But Des Moffatt, the Labour group’s finance lead, said the purchase was a foolish decision by an inexperienced leader and still could not see where they could be used.
He said: “We’re in the age of glass and concrete.
“You could never see the tabernacle stones fitting into that concrete and I was surprised the council leadership had managed to persuade a developer to even consider them.
“They’re still laying in a field at Wroughton and I expect them to be there for a great deal longer. I cannot see any modern designer seeking to incorporate them.”
Dan Rose, the chairman of the Mechanics’ Institution Trust, said: “As the council owns them it would be nice to see them used in some way, whether that’s part of a building or in some sort of public art or something, because clearly money has been spent on them.
“There’s no point debating whether they should have been bought or not. They have been bought. I think it would be good to actually get them used.
“I can’t think of a scheme where they could be used, either in a restoration or in a new building. But we have got them so we should try and look at how they should be used.”