Norfolk’s most interesting gate: From the Great Exhibition to Rackheath Park
PUBLISHED: 06:00 16 February 2019 | UPDATED: 11:07 22 February 2019
They were known as the ‘golden gates’ and went on display more than 150 years ago at one of the greatest exhibitions in the world.
But today, the remains of the once famous iron structure sit in a derelict state at the entrance to Rackheath Park, off Wroxham Road.
Now, after years of neglect, plans are underway to bring them back to their former glory - a move that has been welcomed by those living nearby.
The Grade II listed cast iron gates were created by renowned iron founders Cottam and Hallen in 1850 and said to be one of their most famous pieces of work.
Originally painted gold, they featured in the 1851 Great Exhibition in London, and even appear in an engraving of Crystal Palace, where the event was held.
According to the Norfolk Heritage Explorer website, the gates were moved to their current location off Wroxham Road in 1886 when the lodges were built.
But since then much of the fragile ironwork is believed to have been lost. All that remains are two gate piers and some of the detailed screening.
Now, it is understood the landowners are proposing to repair the remaining piers and remove the supporting scaffolding.
Tiggy Moore, a partner at Home Farm Rackheath, said: “The owners of the gate piers have taken advice from Broadland District Council’s Historic Environment Officers as well as a heritage consultant and as a result are applying for listed building consent to repair the gate piers and carry out some minor changes.
“They will not be ‘restored’ as such, but the existing structure will be repaired and this will allow the modern brick piers and scaffolding to be removed. The panels will need to be removed from the site for the repairs to take place, before they are reinstated.”
It is understood a planning application could be submitted to Broadland District Council by the end of February.
Michelle Goodson, 38, who lives next door to the gates, said: “It would be lovely to retain them.
“Anything would be better than what we have there now.”
Previous attempts to restore the gates to their former glory have fallen flat in the past.
In the early 2000s the Broadland Building Preservation Trust put part 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 planned to restore the gate, but it failed to secure the £100,000 needed for the work.
The landowners have been contacted for comment.
19th century publicity
Alex Bowring, Victorian Society conservation adviser, 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.
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.
A spokesman for Historic England said: “The gates are highly important as they were a centrepiece of the Great Exhibition display before being re-erected at Rackheath.
“The gates are now in very poor condition, with sections missing and other parts badly damaged.
“As they are listed at Grade II the local planning authority (Broadland Council) has taken the lead on the case and has in the past held discussions with the owners.”