The Story of 104 High Street (Curiosity Cottage)
This cottage is part of a row of labourers’ dwellings built in the eighteenth century. The actual date of the building is unknown but it is thought possible that the houses pre-date the Congregational Chapel (now the Museum) which was completed in 1752. One theory is that a cottage adjoining 104 may have been knocked down to provide access to the Chapel’s site.
There are few records of past residents, though we do know that among them were families named Woodhams, Tobin and Ross, and that Edward Maurice Smart was born there in 1925. Mr Ross was a photographer, and used the annex to the Museum as his studio. He and his family moved out in the 1970s and the cottage stood empty until 1979 when Wollaston Parish Council pronounced it unfit for use. In order to prevent the cottage from being demolished, the Society bought the building for £125.
As the Society’s funds were very low, the cottage remained empty and was used only for storage until members became aware that Heritage Lottery Fund might view the cottage as a worthwhile project. Two applications were made and late in 2004 the Society was awarded a grant of £60,500.
While the cottage had naturally been altered over the years, the Society’s aim was to avoid any further visible modernisation while making the building safe and attractive to visitors. They also hoped to provide a tangible record of living conditions in an earlier age. Major repair work was carried out in the cottage, with additional financial help from Wollaston Parish Council. All the work was carried out by local self-employed craftsmen, with the bulk of the work being the responsibility of John Luck of London Road. The outer walls were re-pointed and old local stone inserted where necessary. A bearing beam was added between the upper and lower floors. The ground floor was dug out, foundations built, a damp course added and under floor heating installed before the original quarry tiles were re-laid.
Local people generously donated furniture and fittings for the cottage. The name “Curiosity Cottage” is not traditional but was given to the building when the application for the grant was being made. The most recent improvement to the Cottage has been the creation of an Archive Room in the rear upstairs room. This now contains a number of albums of photographs, war records, old books of interest to Wollaston, as well as a number of other old documents and artefacts. The room is furnished with table and chairs for research, and staff on duty during opening hours will assist in helping to find relevant material. In August 2009 the Archive Room won the prestigious Renaissance East Midlands Heritage Award for ‘Caring for our Collection’. The plaque is on display in the Archive Room.
In July 2005 the Cottage was officially re-opened by Geraldine Northway who, as Geraldine Ross, had spent most of her youth there. Her father had died when Geraldine was 20 and consequently Geraldine’s mother Kathleen lived in the cottage alone until she moved to a flat in Wollaston during the 1970s. Since its refurbishment, Curiosity Cottage has proved a source of interest and pleasure to visitors and has also hosted Evacuees Days for Key Stage 2 pupils from surrounding schools.