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Thief returns antique stolen from 17th century Fenton House

Exclusive: Less than 24 hours after being pinched from National Trust home, barometer is returned in bubble wrap

19 October, 2017 — By William McLennan

The barometer which disappeared – and then mysteriously returned

AN antique barometer was stolen from a National Trust home in Hampstead, before being mysteriously returned less than 24 hours later.

Staff at Fenton House, a 17th-century merchant’s house in Hampstead Grove, only discovered the theft when they found the mahogany instrument covered in bubblewrap on the doorstep the following day. It is believed the suspect, perhaps unable to find a buyer, had a change of heart. They left the 19th-century barometer outside the back door and rang the bell to alert staff before slipping away.

Megan Tanner, general manager of Fenton House, told the New Journal: “It was gone for less than 24 hours. It’s very strange.” She said: “The item that was temporarily stolen is not indigenous to the house. It actually came to the house in about the 1980s, from quite a large donation of various collection items. It’s a bow-fronted, stick barometer. It’s made of mahogany. It’s a mercury barometer and we believe it may be Regency. There’s a note here that says Stott of Dumfries.”

A similar barometer by the same manufacturer sold for £1,380 at auction house Bonhams in Edinburgh in 2009. Far from being the centrepiece of one of the collections on show at the house, it was “just on the wall by the door”, said Ms Tanner. “It’s been up at Fenton for well over 30 years now, so it just would have been part of a number of different items that came to the Trust. It’s not a barometer-focused collection.”

Ms Tanner said that Fenton House, which was built by master bricklayer William Eades in 1686, was “quite uncommon for a National Trust property” in that it was not built with intention of housing nobility.

She said: “It wasn’t built with a particular owner in mind, it was built as a speculative property, very much like the new-builds of today, he built it as an investment. It subsequently changed hands and has been lived in by, we think, 20 to 30 different families, occupants, businesses. We like to say that Fenton’s history is not necessarily that of landed gentry, but more of prosperous middle classes. It’s been lived in by a lot of merchants, a lot of people who made their money in the City and came out to Hampstead for clean air and the village lifestyle that it is still kind of known for today.”

She added: “As a Queen Anne-style house, it has influenced a lot of architecture in the area.” It was donated to the National Trust by Lady Katherine Binning in the early-1950s and contains 18 antique collections, including “a large collection of early keyboard instruments” dating as far back as the 15th century. Officers from the Metropolitan Police’s arts and antiques unit are investigating the theft, which took place on June 15. No arrests have been made.

A Met spokesman said: “An item was stolen and then returned in bubble wrap. No arrests [have been made]. Enquiries continue.”


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