THE RICHARD Jefferies Museum is a hidden gem.

Tucked away on the border of Coate Water, the birthplace of Swindon’s most famous Victor-ian writer is often overlooked by passers-by.

But now the Richard Jefferies Society, with help from Forward Swindon, is seeking to develop the newly-reaccredited museum into a popular attraction.

Jean Saunders, the secretary of the literary society for six years, says many people do not know the facility exists, because it has not been promoted enough by owner, Swindon Council.

However, visitors are increasing – with 1,000 people stepping over the threshold this year – and there are plans to open up a new section on Victorian agriculture and local archaeology.

Jefferies and the land around Coate, known as Jefferies Land, have come to the fore in the recent planning inquiry, and Mrs Saunders says Swindon people are lucky to have the museum.

She said: “People travel from all around the country and all around the world to visit it.”

The museum was opened in 1960 and run by council staff for about 25 years before the responsibility was taken on by volunteers from the Richard Jefferies Society, which has just under 300 members worldwide.

The building, which was part of a dairy farm, and Jefferies home until the age of about 27, has about 500 items related to him and his family.

The attic is a recreation of the author’s study-bedroom, and includes his original writing table, his parents’ dining table, and a trunk in which he kept some of his handwritten manuscripts.

Other gems include the original manuscript of his children’s fable, Wood Magic, and photos of him and his family.

This summer the garden – which still has some original trees from Jefferies’ time – was the focus of the revived Richard Jefferies Festival.

Forward Swindon has set up a Trust which is expected to take over the running of the museum and will be able to more easily apply for grants.

However, Mrs Saunders, who has been heavily involved in the Save Coate Campaign, says she would not be surprised if the development is approved.

She said: “If we win this case, it’s going to be on detail rather than principle, because Swindon Council has already set the principle of developing. And that’s going to be difficult for the planning inspector to overlook.”

The museum is open on the second Wednesday of each month from 10am to 4pm, and also on Sundays from 2pm to 5pm, between May and the end of September only.

For details call 01793 783040.