Businessman Norman Routledge finds 249-year-old Adam fireplace in cellar at Kings Weston House, Bristol
THE owner of one of Bristol's most historic houses has stumbled across an unexpected treasure in the cellar of the building.
Businessman Norman Routledge bought the historic Kings Weston House and is planning to renovate and reopen the 300-year-old building.
The new owner of the Grade I listed building came across the marble fireplace in the cellar of the building which is on the outskirts of Bristol and overlooks Avonmouth and the Bristol Channel.
Mr Routledge mentioned he had discovered a collection of marble fragments in the cellar to the Kings Weston Action Group (KWAG).
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He gave the group permission to piece together the fragments to see what he had and the results have taken everyone by surprise.
The group has taken several weeks to piece together the historic jigsaw and have come up with a minor masterpiece.
The group has gradually assembled a complete 18th-century Adam-style marble fire surround; one that had been lost from the state rooms of the stately home since the Second World War.
The voluntary group used its archives of images from the house to identify the fireplace.
The fireplace was originally in the dining room of the house and has a remarkable history.
In 1938 all of the ornamental fixtures and fittings were removed and dismantled in preparation for turning the house into a school.
However when the war intervened, the project was halted and Kings Weston House slumped into decline.
By 1947, concerns were aired in the House of Lords at the rapid decay of the national treasure.
One speaker in the debate noted that the historic fireplaces had been safely stored away in the cellar and had received assurances that the owners "have every intention of replacing these fireplaces in their earlier positions in the house".
This never happened and most were gradually lost or stolen.
No one ever expected that one might still be there, still hiding after seventy-five years.
David Martyn of KWAG said: "Mr Routledge has an amazing find on his hands. We know a lot about this fireplace.
"It was designed by the architect Robert Mylne in 1764 as part of his refurbishment of the interiors for the then-owner, Bristol MP Edward Southwell.
"The design was executed by John Devall, one of the best craftsmen of the age who produced similar works for royalty.
"It would have been a very expensive commission and this one really is the 'Rolls-Royce' of fireplaces."
Mr Martyn added: "A real curiosity, one behind which must hang a story, is the inclusion of a pair of forget-me-nots amongst garlands otherwise formed entirely of roses.
"The little flowers are hidden in only one of the carved marble piers and could be easily overlooked.
"Is this the sculptor carving his own memorial or a personal signature?
"Is it a love token instructed for inclusion by his client Edward Southwell or a secret romantic message?"
Fortunately the previous staff at the house took good care of the pieces before Mr Routledge arrived.
Over the 75 years since the fireplaces were removed an ornamental plaque has sadly been lost from the centre of the fireplace but enough remains that it could be successfully reinstated in its original location.
The fireplace will be kept safely stored in an undisclosed location until it can be returned once more.