A 15TH CENTURY staircase uncovered during refurbishment of Abingdon’s Guildhall is set to be sealed up again.

The medieval spiral staircase was revealed as part of exploratory work ahead of the installation of a disabled toilet in the Old Magistrates Court section of the building.

The staircase was concealed behind a modern brick partition wall believed to have been erected in the 1960s and re-exposed when this wall was partly removed.

Plans for the toilet, including inserting a new partition to block the staircase off again, were approved by Vale of White Horse District Council in August on the condition a full historical building record was carried out.

This has now been completed by Sarah Watt, director of Asset Heritage Consulting Ltd, on behalf of the town council which owns the building, and was submitted to the district authority earlier this month. In the document Ms Watt discussed how the staircase tied into the heritage of the building and Abingdon Abbey.

She wrote: “The staircase appears to date from the late 15th century and was constructed in order to provide access to the room above the Abbey Gateway and to an intermediate floor level contained within a porter’s lodge.

“After the Dissolution [of the Monasteries] these spaces contained prison cells which presumably the staircase continued to serve.”

She added: “It seems likely that the staircase fell out of use in the 1820s when the Abbey Room was converted out of the former prison cells; it is possible that it was blocked off at this time in order to prevent unwanted access into the Abbey Room from the police station and cells on the ground floor.”

The scheme will include refitting the interior of the space which contains the staircase to form a new ‘changing places’ toilet.

Changing places are much larger than standard disabled toilets to give people more room. It will be able to be accessed from near Abbey Gate. The space was formerly divided by modern partitions forming a toilet (accessed internally only), a fire exit passage and a cleaners’ cupboard.

The new disabled toilet follows a £1m refurbishment of the historic section of the Guildhall which took place earlier this year.

This included turning the Guildhall’s muniment room into a space for the town’s archives, improvements to the reception area and complete re-paving of Roysse court gardens, as well as the removal of the steps on the south side of the gardens.

The building’s 1960s extension, the Abbey Hall, meanwhile, reopened last week as a cinema after three years empty.

Initially proposed almost a year ago, a rental deal with the owners of The Regal cinema in Evesham, Worcestershire was agreed in April, covering until the summer of 2020.

In the longer term, the Guildhall is set to become the centre of a ‘community hub’ following an announcement in January by Oxfordshire County Council and the town council that the two authorities plan to work more closely to join up public services.