Appeal to find missing pieces of ‘famous’ Victorian gate in Rackheath

The gates at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park

The gates at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park - Credit: Archant

It was once regarded as an iron founders' most famous piece of work and featured in the first ever Great Exhibition of 1851.

The gates at Rackheath

The gates at Rackheath - Credit: Archant

But almost 170 years after the gate was forged, it today lies in a derelict state at the entrance to Rackheath Park, off Wroxham Road.

Much of its fragile ironwork is believed to have been lost, and all that remains are two gate piers and part of its detailed screening.

But now, in a bid to save the work, a London-based historical society is appealing for help to find any of the missing pieces.

It comes after a planning application was submitted in November last year to have the piers destroyed due to their crumbling state.

An extract from the Illustrated London News on the gates

An extract from the Illustrated London News on the gates - Credit: Archant


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But the proposals were later withdrawn and the Grade II listed structure, which is now supported by scaffolding, remains in place.

Alex Bowring, Victorian Society conservation adviser, said: 'It's a real shame that the remaining parts of these beautiful gates have become lost, and it would certainly be a wonderful thing if they could be tracked down, particularly given their historical significance as part of the Great Exhibition, the most famous international exhibition to have ever been held.'

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It is not known when the gate was installed at Rackheath Park, but it is understood it was not designed for that location.

On May 16, 1984, its historical significance was officially recognised when it received listed status - despite the main gates being missing.

A plaque at the base of one of the gate piers

A plaque at the base of one of the gate piers - Credit: Archant

Years later in the early 2000s, the Broadland Building Preservation Trust put parts of the gate piers into storage with DGT Structures, in Lenwade, for safekeeping.

But after the company went into administration, the pieces were lost.

The trust, which was formed in 2002 and folded in 2015, had also planned to restore the gate, but it failed to secure the £100,000 needed for the work.

Last November, an application was submitted to Broadland District Council seeking for the remains to be taken down due to them becoming 'unstable'.

Tiggy Moore, a partner of Home Farm Rackheath, said: 'We have worked with Broadland District Council and the Broadland preservation Trust over many years, in an attempt to preserve the gate piers.

'It was very disappointing to discover that having allowed pieces to be removed for 'safe-keeping' by the trust, that those pieces were lost.

'This entrance serves the farm and residents at Rackheath Hall, and recently, due to the deteriorating state of the remaining pieces, we were advised by the council to apply to have them removed but later advised by them, to withdraw the application.'

In its listing, Historic England said the gate piers and screen were made in cast and wrought iron. They are also said to feature 'scrollwork decoration' and cast iron moulded capping.

Michelle Goodson, 36, who lives nearby, hoped the gates could one day be brought back to their former glory.

She added:'Ever since we have been here it has had scaffolding there. But it would be fantastic if we could have them restored.'

Meanwhile, Mr Bowring, from the Victorian Society, added: 'We would be interested to know when the gates first appeared in this location. If they were acquired by the owner of Rackheath Park having visited the Great Exhibition, personally selecting them for his estate, then this is of great interest and moving them would need strong justification.'

A spokesman for Broadland District Council said anyone with information on the missing gate pieces should get in touch.

The Victorian Society also asked for people with information to contact media@victoriansociety.org.uk.

The gate's history

The gate piers and screens were made by one of the most renowned iron founders of their day, Cottam and Hallen, of London, in 1850.

A year later and they featured in arguably one of the most famous international exhibitions to have ever been held – the first Great Exhibition in 1951.

Mr Bowring said the gates appear in a well-known engraving of the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, where the exhibition was held.

A more detailed illustration also appeared in the Illustrated London News on May 3, 1851.

He said: 'Cottam & Hallen were among the best iron founders of their day, completing many important commissions.

'Their entry in 'A Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers in Great Britain and Ireland' refers to their most famous work as 'the gates for the South Transept of the Great Exhibition building'.

'If these are the same gates, they are very special indeed. Despite their diminished state, the gates therefore still hold considerable interest, much more detailed research about their provenance should be undertaken before considering whether they are no longer worthy of their designation.'

The Great Exhibition

The Great Exhibition in 1851 was the first international exhibition of manufactured products.

It was organised by Henry Cole and Prince Albert, and held in a purpose-built Crystal Palace in Hyde Park. Many of the objects in the Exhibition were used as the first collection for the South Kensington Museum which opened in 1857 and later became the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The exhibition aimed to expose British design to foreign competition, and was attended by an estimated six million people.

The average daily attendance was 42,831 with a peak attendance of 109,915 on October 7, and made a surplus of £186,000 (£18,370,000 in 2015).

A competition for a building to house the Great Exhibition produced 248 plans, but the winning design was by Joseph Paxton.

The Crystal Palace opened on May 1, 1851 and the event was presided by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

Made from cast-iron and plate-glass, it burnt down on November 30, 1936.

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