The safekeeping of the city’s cast iron heritage is in question after photos revealed three 174-year-old grade II listed dolphins were left in a field where they remained for 25 years.
The dolphins, originally part of the Amon Henry Wilds’ grade II listed Victoria Fountain on the Old Steine, are believed to have been left uncovered and untended.
They were removed from display, on behalf of the council, in 1994, when the fountain was refurbished. They were deemed too weak to continue safely supporting the basin of water which sat on top of their tails.
The pictures, posted to social media earlier this year, show the dolphins in a corroded state.
Earlier this year, they were taken from council land at Stanmer Park to the Swan Foundry in Banbury for repair. They are being repurposed and will be displayed as part of a statue which will be on permanent show in Norfolk Square.
The storage of the dolphins raises questions regarding the whereabouts of other listed items which have been removed from public display including Victorian lamp posts and lanterns and six columns featuring decorative cherubs’ faces and ribbons which formed part of the interior of the recently renovated seafront Shelter Hall.
There is seemingly an absence of protocol when it comes to the removal and storage of listed cast iron items.
In a series of emails between Brighton and Hove News and Brighton and Hove City Council, a spokesperson said: “I’m not sure how much individuals know about items like this and where/how they’re kept.”
He added: “We don’t have a fixed definition of what constitutes ‘heritage items’ or ‘repurposed treasures’.”
Further questions, regarding the safekeeping of the dolphins were not responded to.
It remains unclear what the council’s legal obligations are once items are removed from public display.
Historic England said: “It is very unusual for historic items to be removed from listed buildings or structures unless they are beyond repair or, as it would appear in the case of the Victoria Fountain in Brighton, for safety reasons.
“In these unusual cases, listed building consent would normally be required for their removal and, if it is possible for them to be reused, then their safekeeping and storage would normally be controlled by a condition attached to the consent.”
Earlier this month, 20 listed street lamps and lanterns were removed from Madeira Drive and Marine Parade by council contractor Colas for safety reasons.
Concerns about their safekeeping have been raised after a set of the lanterns and a lamp post were listed for sale online by a private seller.
Brighton and Hove has a strong cast iron heritage and there are many examples on display across the city including the Birdcage Bandstand on the seafront to the heavily-corroded Madeira Drive arches. A fundraising campaign is currently under way to save the listed structure.
Artist Steve Geliot said there was a wider issue regarding the maintenance of the city’s cast iron.
He said: “It’s not a vote winner for politicians.
“The council doesn’t have enough money. Cuts have led to loss of architectural expertise and the problems are becoming visible.
“We have to work out what is the value of all the stuff and are we prepared to pay for the maintenance? Does it matter? I think people do care and you have got to have a plan.
He emphasised the importance of the cast iron pieces, particularly in it attracting tourists to the city.
“If we lose what makes our city beautiful it will cost us a lot of money and jobs.”