Two pieces of Birmingham’s heritage came together this weekend with the completion of a massive restoration project.
Saint Nicolas Place, Kings Norton, winner of the BBC’s Restoration in 2004, saw the final additions installed to the 15th Century buildings last month, ending a seven year initiative.
And on hand to mark the celebrations was Veronica Chambers, daughter of Rev Wilbert Awdry, who created Thomas the Tank Engine during his time as curate of St Nicolas Church in the 1940s.
The church lies between the two restored buildings; a former Tudor merchant house and grammar school.
Mrs Chambers, who was born in Kings Norton but left aged just three, only returned to her father’s former church last year.
Since then she has become reconnected with the site’s heritage and local residents who remember Rev Awdry and his family.
Attending both days of the St Nicolas Festival this weekend with husband Richard.
She said: “I found it fascinating – people were telling me thing about my family and about my father when he was working here.”
Following the restoration, which has seen a crumbling Tudor merchant house and former grammar school returned to their former glory, it is hoped the connection with Rev Awdry – which remains largely unknown – will help attract visitors to St Nicolas Place.
Mrs Chambers added: “If it would bring people off the main road they would be pleased they took that detour.
“Last year was the first time I’ve been back but I felt immediately comfortable, that’s a lot to do with the people I think.
“It wasn’t cold and dank, it was a used place and I just felt somehow that my father would have been delighted.“For him to have been here six years, it was a happy time.”
The completion of the Saint Nicolas Place project, which includes additional modern facilities, saw electronic translators installed which visitors can use to learn the history of the site.
Saint Nicolas Place says the total project cost was £4.3 million. Of this, grant total was £3.2 million.
However with Heritage Lottery funding now due to expire, the facility will have to stand on its own two feet.
Canon Rob Morris, from St Nicolas Church, which owns Saint Nicolas Place, said fund-raising would begin shortly to ensure overhead costs are met and the buildings remain in the public domain.
He said: “(The buildings) were in a desperate state despite everyone’s hard work.
“We had to do something and the only choices were to sell them and develop modern facilities elsewhere, or restoration.”
The choice to restore the site proved to be the right one when the buildings, which still boast their original Tudor fittings, won the hit BBC show.
And although the main construction work finished in 2008, Canon Morris said the project was still exciting.
“The way the design works, three years on it still excites me. We have more work to do to make sure people feel it belongs to them. This is a wonderful part of Birmingham’s heritage with three buildings together.
“It is a unique mix.”
Canon Morris added the connection with Rev Awdry was another piece in the rich history of the site which included school master and legendary book collector Thomas Hall.