Shropshire Star

'Beautiful sleeping giant' awakens as furniture store sets up shop in restored Shrewsbury hall

"This beautiful building has been hidden away, waiting to be re-discovered and re-used, we hope she is a sleeping giant."

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Boss Jack Brooks outside the new Pieces for Places shop in Shrewsbury

That's how Jack Brooks describes the renovated building that is now home to Pieces for Places, his independent furniture and homeware retailer.

Wightman Hall, just off The Square on Princess Street opened earlier this month. Built in 1863, thanks to funding from leading temperance campaigner Julia Wightman, and originally opened as a Temperance Hall.

After her death in 1898 it became Wightman Working Man’s hall before finding use as a pay office for the army in 1915 during the First World War and an army social club before it became the Shrewsbury Repertory Theatre in the 1940s.

Between 1986 and 2008 it was an antiques centre, and more recently was home to the The Wightman Theatre until its closure in 2019.

Pieces for Places took the property on in 2021 when it was an empty shell of a building, but has now been completely transformed.

The hall before Pieces for Places boss Jack Brooks started renovating. Photo: Jack Brooks
The original floor . Photo: Jack Brooks

"When I walked in (to view it) I knew straight away it was the right place we had been looking for," he said. "Right town, right premises.

Renovations have included sandblasting the walls to unearth the original decorative brickwork, replacing the rotten floor, creating a Shrewsbury inspired Tudor gallery, re-wiring, painting and tiling to name just a few of the tasks undertaken to sympathetically revitalise the building.

“Unfortunately the hall hasn’t kept up with the town around it,” said Jack.

Jack has spent the last couple of years restoring the hall
Jack says he has seen a number of customers who have also visited the existing branch in Barmouth

“At some point the original entrance into the hall got knocked down and swallowed by a newer building, essentially isolating the hall from Princess street. This beautiful building has been hidden away, waiting to be re-discovered and re-used, we hope she is a sleeping giant.

“Its taken a while, but I didn’t want to rush it. I have just chipped away at it very gradually with a handful of local lads, to be honest restoring this building has been a lovely experience."

Work has also included improving the entrance off Princess Street to make it more welcoming than the 'strairwell then door that looked like a broom cupboard' that existed previously.

Inside the restored building is a tablet that pays tribute to Julia Wightman.

It reads: "To the hallowed memory of Julia Bainbrigge Wightman who erected this hall and for more than 50 years abounded in labours of love in the town of Shrewsbury.

"An apostle of temperance, a succourer of many. A helper of the church and the friend of the poor. She was loving and beloved, holy and honourable and richly endowed with that Godly wisdom which is full of mercy and of good fruits.

"She rested from her labours Jan 14 in the year of our Lord 1898."

A tribute to Julia Wightman stands in the shop
The shop opened on Tuesday, and is the second Pieces for Places store alongside the one in Barmouth

Pieces for Places' Shrewsbury branch is very much in-keeping with its primary store; a renovated Grade II-listed Methodist Chapel in Barmouth, North Wales, where the company has operated since 2014.

"We like nice environments to put the shops in. It's interesting with lots of character," added Jack.

The shop opened on Tuesday with many of the customers coming in saying they've frequented the Barmouth branch in the past.

"We've been overwhelmed with the interest, it's been so busy," Jack said. "Original Shrewsbury posted about it on Instagram and we have been inundated since then."