DOCUMENTS dating back to the 16th Century – some bearing the seals of royalty – have been found during the restoration of Guisborough Town Hall.

The project, which will see the Grade II-listed building transformed into a tourism hub, providing accommodation and information on walking and cycling, is nearing completion.

Known as the Guisborough Town Hall Gateway Project (GTHGP), the community-led initiative run in partnership with Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council and the North York Moors National Park aims to create a sustainable business and community asset led by a Community Interest Company.

As refurbishment got underway, various documents have been discovered that warranted further examination. At the weekend, volunteers gathered for a workshop at Sunnyfield House Community Centre in Guisborough to help examine and preserve some of the items.

Many of the documents were from Buchanan and Richardson, solicitors who had offices in the building until the 1920s. These documents covered several generations and included estate papers, deeds and wills, some of which date back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Other documents were derived from the old Chaloner Estate, which owned much of the town's priory and surrounding lands. Included in the finds were estate records from the 17th Century, bearing the great seal of King James I and King Charles I.

The workshop was initially addressed by Dan Sudron, archivist from the North Yorkshire County Record Office, who introduced the work of the Record Office, its collections and the paper archives recovered from Guisborough Town Hall. Some of the records held by the North Yorkshire office and Teesside Archives include police records, ecclesiastical records of parishes, school records, and the registry of deeds and freehold conveyances. The Chaloner Archive included Manor Court records and books, maps and plans, tithe maps, estates and manorial records and much property.

Members attending the workshop were then instructed on how to treat and partially restore the documents by Rachel Greenwood, conservation and digitisation manager at the North Yorkshire County Record Office. She listed the ten agents of detrition, with a focus on mould damage, and showed how to handle and clean the items with brushing and the use of a smoke sponge and groom stick. Disposable aprons and nitrile gloves were issued and participants set about preserving the documents.

Also at the workshop, were Carolyn Lloyd-Brown and Jo Scott, heritage activity planners for the Gateway Project for the Town Hall. Part of the Community Interest Company (CIC) and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, they are working with Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council on community engagement with the project. They maintain that the condition of the Town Hall, being three buildings wrapped into one, provides a once in a generation opportunity to engage people with the restoration work, with specific insights into the architecture, social and building research and traditional craft skills required for the repairs.

Th engagement work is being carried out using heritage skills training workshops and talks by specialists for the Town Hall CIC team and volunteers. After the revamped town hall opens, there will be tours and talks and specific heritage events. This will include hard-hat tours of the building for students from Laurence Jackson School in Guisborough, and a heritage festival planned for October 2023.

There will be hands on opportunities, live demonstrations and talks by specialists in Sunnyfield House, hard-hat tours and talks by the CIC at the Town Hall and a LEGO challenge for local families and visitors. There will also be a refreshed and updated Town Trail. The whole restoration process, and the work of local volunteers to showcase the project by a volunteer team, will be photographed and filmed to create a documentary.

It is intended that this activity will help people to engage more with the Town Hall and civic and social history, with organisations and community groups working better together. It is hoped to produce new heritage-inspired activities and offers that help boost the local economy with a strong cohort of local volunteers, who support the Town Hall and community activities during renovation, now and after the building opens.