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Hall of Clestrain restoration project moves one step forward

The Hall of Clestrain, in Orphir.

The long-held aspiration to restore the Hall of Clestrain – birthplace and childhood home of Orcadian Arctic explorer Dr John Rae – moved a step closer this week, as Orkney Islands councillors approved funding towards a feasibility works project.

Councillors at a special general meeting, held earlier today, gave their backing to a request from the John Rae Society for grant assistance of 50 per cent of the total eligible costs, up to a maximum sum of £14,730, meaning the full funding package of £29,460 has now been secured.

The society is contributing £10,830 of its own resources towards the project and has been awarded £3,900 of grant funding support from the Architectural Heritage Fund. The feasibility work will focus on developing a business plan, options appraisal and a conservation report.

In 2018, the society completed the purchase of the Hall and carried out urgent repair works. The building is currently wind and watertight, but remains in a fragile state.

A commissioned feasibility study completed in August 2019 concluded that the project, with an estimated project cost of around £3,000,000, can become a financially viable visitor centre and community resource.

John Rae Society president Andrew Appleby said: “The development of The Hall of Clestrain, John Rae’s birthplace and family home, has been such a long-awaited ambition.

In Orkney everyone knowns the true tales and traditions of John Rae discovering final links of The North West Passage. He took home the grim news of his friend, Sir John Franklin’s fate and that of his expedition’s tragic end. Our John had to relate this personally to Sir John’s wife, Lady Jane Franklin. We all know the outcome of Dr. J. Rae’s honesty – don’t we – vilification; exile from recognition and paint-brushed from the Honours Lists.

The John Rae Society now owns outright his honourable A-Listed Home, The Hall of Clestrain. With this alone, we can paintbrush John Rae and his magnificent ethos, achievements and sheer examples of humanity back onto the palate of 19th Century, 20th Century and 21st Century history. Thus, illuminating further his splendid and historic contributions to Arctic heroism.

A restored Hall of Clestrain will certainly be a gem in Orkney’s preciously radiant coronet. The huge world of the Arctic Nations that we belong to and are surrounded by, will duly applaud and reflect this!”

The money from Orkney Islands Council has come from the Community Development Fund.