IT’s taken more than three years and plenty of debate, false starts and speculation, but this week the public were finally allowed back into Tymperleys.
The new proprietors of the historic house in the heart of Colchester – once the home of Tudor physician, physicist and natural philosopher William Gilberd – invited in visitors to explain their plans to turn it into a cafe and function room.
The 500-year-old listed building was bequeathed to the town in 1979, along with a historic collection of clocks by businessman and philanthropist Bernard Mason.
The Tymperleys Clock Museum, was closed by Colchester Council in October 2010 to save money.
Attempts to find someone to reopen the building floundered until the Charrington family, which runs Layer Marney Tower, stepped in last summer.
The Charringtons were given planning permission to alter an extension, which was added to the building in the Eighties, and last month signed a £310,000 deal to take on a 125-year lease.
For two days this week, the public was invited through the arch, which gives access to Tymperleys from Trinity Street.
Nicholas Charrington said: “I’m excited and I’m terrified.
We’ll struggle a bit to get visitors through the archway, but I’m sure we can do it.
“I think we’ll make it work, and there’s nothing quite like it in Colchester.”
The ground floor is to be largely set aside for a cafe, selling tea and cakes in the morning, salads and other meals at lunchtimes, followed by afternoon tea.
Most of the physical changes will be to the extension, which is to be converted into a kitchen and main entrance to the building.
The extension’s roof is being replaced with a flat roof, and a new flight of steps will give direct access to the first floor, which will become a private function room.
Mr Charrington envisages it being used for business lunches, meetings, weddings and receptions.
He said: “We’re not going to be having dancing or music in there, so I think it will appeal to older couples and second or later marriages.
“I want it to be busy, but we don’t want it to be noisy. It should retain the atmosphere. I think we can do that.”
Mr Charrington’s daughter, Alice, will run the venue, and live on the second floor.
The gardens, described by Ms Charrington as an oasis of peace in a crowded town centre, will be open to the public for much of the year.
The clocks which used to be housed at Tymperleys, were moved to Hollytrees Museum and museums service storage after it closed. Mr Charrington hopes some of them will return to the house.
He also plans to put up displays, telling the story of William Gilberd, who was physician to Queen Elizabeth I and is credited with coining the word, electricity.
Mr Charrington plans to have Tymperleys open for real in time for Easter – at roughly the same time as the revamped Colchester Castle.
He promises it will add a new dimension to the town’s appeal.
He explained: “There’s a lot going on in Colchester – the Firstsite art galley, Williams & Griffin expanding its department store and the changes to Lion Walk.
“There are some quite positive moves in the town centre and we want to be part of that.”