Sleigh ho! A thrill for Santa

Hidden away from all but mice for decades, a relic of winters in the 1800s has been brought back to life in a Cinderella-like conversion. And it was only because the barn in which Simon Gorton's antique sleigh was stored collapsed that it was finally rescued and restored.

Hidden away from all but mice for decades, a relic of winters in the 1800s has been brought back to life in a Cinderella-like conversion.

And it was only because the barn in which Simon Gorton's antique sleigh was stored collapsed that it was finally rescued and restored.

Once the luxury horse-drawn winter carriage of Mr Gorton's forefathers, it had been put away and forgotten about until he inherited Sloley Hall, near North Walsham, in 1994.

And now, back in full glory, it has been touring north Norfolk in the hands of Aylsham Rotary Club - but with a slight difference.

Instead of being horse-drawn on its runners, it has been mounted on a modern caravan chassis and is towed.

Mr Gorton, a member of the Rotary club and a police sergeant at Holt, said he was delighted to see it rebuilt.

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Although he has very little information about the sleigh, he thinks it was his great great grandfather, land owner James Sewell Neville, who had it built in the 1870s at the hall's very own smithy.

Mr Neville was born in 1827 and died in 1912.

"I knew it was there when I inherited the hall and saw it stuck at the back of the barn," Mr Gorton said. "It had probably been there since the barn was built.

"When the barn collapsed we discussed it at the Rotary and thought it would be a bit different to use as our Santa sleigh and so we had to lift the collapsed roof with a digger and pull it out.

"It appears it was made on the farm and the local smithy made the runners."

From documents found in the house when he inherited it, Mr Gorton learned there was a bad winter in 1830, which meant his ancestors at the house couldn't get to church just half a mile away, so a sleigh came in quite handy. It was restored faithfully by a group of Rotary members.

Dennis Hopkins, who has built from scratch a Santa's sleigh, spent many late nights working on the restoration.

Jill and Jack Sayes worked on the upholstery and welding.

"I was amazed when they took the thing to bits. Only one bolt of about 140 would not undo," said Mr Gorton.

The only change to how it was is that it has been painted red with gold lines instead of black with red lines.

And now, after its Christmas debut, there have been requests from other villages for it to visit their streets. "People want their photographs taken with it, they say it is magnificent and I think it is brilliant," said Mr Gorton.

It has been given to the Rotary club which is aiming to raise about £2,000 with it and Santa this year, and more next year.