The chimney piece in question is from the 17th century and is made of limestone. It is from Cobtree Manor, a house that features in Charles Dickens' Pickwick Papers.

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The owner of the chimney piece had left it in the garden and then for decades in a damp cellar, which caused much damage to the once beautiful carvings. However, in spite of this the piece still sold for an incredible £10 500, smashing it's pre-sale estimate. The piece was sold with a white marble fire surround and a rusty cast iron inset.

The winning bid came from an online bidder, a dealer who specialises in architectural salvage.

The condition report for the unique piece was as follows:

"There are two cracks which run vertically through the frieze to the left of centre. One break has been stapled, (a early means of repairing a break) although the lower wrought iron staple is missing. The crack nearest the centre, and running to the right of the supporter, is open. The surface of the stone is degraded in places and very soft. There is general wear to the stone throughout and some small elements have been made up with cement at some earlier stage".

It will need extensive restoration, but the links with Dickens make it a piece with incredible historical importance.

Dickens first came to Cobtree Manor whilst skating on a pond that he fell through into freezing water. He called upon the owner, William Spong, for aid and the pair became close companions.

The manor was inspiration for Manor Farm in Dingley Dell in Pickwick Papers and Spong was cast as Mr Wardle.

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Later owner Sir Garrard Tyrwhitt-Drake, Mayor of Maidstone, turned the estate into what was at the time the largest private zoo in Europe. In 1964, the year he passed, he left his state to charity in order to benefit the local community. The manor was maintained by the council and his wife Lady Edna continued to live at Cobtree.

In 1968 it was discovered parts of the manor had dry rot. Part of the original Elizabethan architecture was demolished. The chimney piece was recovered and handed to Lady Edna, who placed it in the garden. After Lady Edna passed in 1992, the manor was transformed into a health club and the enclosing estate became a country park.

The Canterbury Auctions next sale is on 14th-16th April. Check out the catalogue here.

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