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Keeping your eyes peeled gets your story on Inside Out

Chris Jackson | 17:55 UK time, Monday, 14 November 2011

Grade II* listed gates at Hartford Hall before their resoration

The gates before they were taken away

If you enjoy the lead story in tonight's programme (Monday, 14 November 2011 at 19:30hrs GMT BBC1) then don't thank me, thank John

It was a call he made several months ago that started me on a really interesting bit of detective work.

He used to pass the ornate entrance gates to Hartford on the bus. After admiring them each trip they suddenly vanished

When they didn't return he thought it was just the sort of thing that Inside Out could investigate. So I did.

Everyone's first thought was of course that metal thieves had targetted them. That is a rumour that I am happy to put to rest.

However as the programme makes clear, tracking them down doesn't mean they can just be put back, even though they are grade II* listed.

The mystery took me to a rather unimposing looking shed in North Yorkshire where they are now languishing because of a legal and financial wrangle that is stuck in deadlock.

In order to keep them safe I'm not revealing exactly where the gates are now. However they are in bits because it was midway through the restoration that it all went pear shaped.

Hartford Hall had fallen into rack and ruin, but a developer saw the opportunity to build new homes in the grounds of the large estate near Bedlington. That would release funds to restore the hall and the wonderful gates.

Unfortunately the scheme collapsed owing £10m and now it is in adminstration which means the authorities can't enforce heritage protection laws to have the gates put back.

The gates were made by the world leaders in ironwork, Coalbrookdale, and are Grade II* listed. It's the equivalent of Newcastle's Tyne bridge, Middlesbrough's transporter bridge or Carlisle and York railway stations vanishing overnight.

The gates in Hyde Park that were made by Coalbrookdale, Chris Jackson in the foreground

These gates in London's Hyde Park show the kind of craftsmanship that the Coalbrookdale company could achieve.

As it stands the gates are stuck in limbo. If the adminstrator can sell the Hartford Hall Estate, then the new owner will become liable for restoring and replacing the gates to their right place.

That along with outstanding planning requirements will cost a cool £1m

The Gates at the Vienne World Exhibition in Vienna in 1873

At the moment a new developer is interested but, like the previous owner, he wants to build more homes to help fund the scheme.

Those already living there want the gates back but don't want more houses so it will be up to Northumberland County Councillors to decide on the controversial planning application next month.

The future of the gates will be central to their deliberations

Without John and his regular bus trips thinking to give me a call, the gates might not have got such public attention. Who knows, John might single-handedly have helped to save a jewel of our heritage.

So now it's your turn

If there's a story you think we should cover just let me know.

Email me:

Also on the show this week, Charlie Charlton looked at the problems of sleep deprivation, and we uncovered some remarkable archive of the Stannington Children's Sanatorium which was started by Children North East in its earlier guise as the Poor Children's Holiday Association


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