Yorkshire heritage under threat as treasures are stolen to order

The painting is View of Sheffield from the South East by William Cowen (1836) which was restored thanks to sponsorship from John Jackson of Wolf Safety Lamp Company after being flood damaged in 2007.
The painting is View of Sheffield from the South East by William Cowen (1836) which was restored thanks to sponsorship from John Jackson of Wolf Safety Lamp Company after being flood damaged in 2007.
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A TREASURE trove of antiques and artefacts worth hundreds of thousands of pounds has been stolen from or damaged in Yorkshire’s museums and stately homes in recent years, a Yorkshire Post investigation has found.

In addition to a spate of thefts from the region’s most famous stately homes, in which priceless furniture, porcelain figurines, mantle clocks and gold trophies have been stolen to order, many other items which make up the county’s heritage has been lost or accidentally damaged, Freedom of Information requests have revealed.

The Museum of South Yorkshire Life at Cusworth Hall, near Doncaster, had an 1812 Pontefract Race Cup worth £35,000, a silver tankard dating back to 1848 and other rare items stolen four-and-a-half years ago. They have never been recovered.

Newby Hall, near Ripon, was one of a number of halls in Yorkshire targeted by thieves over the last few years, with an irreplaceable rosewood Chippendale table of “worldwide significance” from the time of George III taken in June 2007. This unique item, worth £500,000, was only recovered last year.

Brodsworth Hall, Sledmere House, Thorpe Hall, Burton Agnes Hall and Sutton Park are other properties open to the public which have seen valuable antiques stolen.

They include a French gilt bronze mantle clock worth £1,000, a Crown Derby tea service, a collection of 30 Meissen and Denby porcelain figurines, and a Meissen teapot in the shape of a monkey worth £20,000.

Thieves have been able to plan their crimes while posing as visitors to historic homes, leading some to question whether opening to the public is worth the risk.

Trevor Mitchell, Planning Director for Yorkshire and the Humber at English Heritage, said: “We take the rise in heritage crime very seriously and English Heritage is always very concerned to hear of any theft from and damage of historic properties.

“Following the thefts of the past few years, we have created the Alliance to Reduce Heritage Crime – known as the ARCH network – to help the police and other heritage bodies share information and, eventually, track offenders down.”

In September last year, the Yorkshire and Humber Regional Organised Crime Unit recovered 14 items of “significant cultural and historical value,” including the Newby Hall table, in a small warehouse in South Yorkshire.

Dozens of other paintings, sculptures and other museum exhibits telling the story of Yorkshire and the nation have been damaged by visitors, some beyond repair.

In Hull, a oil painting of the 1920s Leeds Conservative politician Charles Henry Wilson by artist John Bacon was damaged by a flip chart, while a work from the same decade by Richard Carline – Gathering on the Terrace – was vandalised with pencil marks.

At Normanby Hall coach house, the leather hood on a 19th century Landau carriage was ripped off, and at Hull’s Streetlife Museum, a window was smashed on an 1871 Ryde pier tram and the seats were vandalised in an electric tram.

However, not all damage and loss can be blamed on thieves and visitors.

In Sheffield, a number of objects from the city’s Social History collection were permanently damaged by flooding at the Kelham Island storage warehouse in 2007.

“The most seriously damaged items were household objects, historic product packaging and paper ephemera, some of which we were sadly unable to salvage,” said Kim Streets, the director of learning and knowledge at Museums Sheffield.

“Because paintings were able to receive emergency treatment from a small team of specialist conservators, none of them were irretrievably damaged.

“A particularly fitting silver lining is the fantastic restoration of William Cowen’s View of Sheffield which now looks as good as new.”