CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Stone thieves in overnight street raids

Historic area is left ‘crumbling’ after the theft of valuable slabs

17 November, 2017 — By Joe Cooper

Members of the Canonbury Society surveying damage caused by the theft of valuable Yorkstone in Canonbury Square. From left: Jack Lambert, Susan Millership, David Stanton and Rosemary Brown

DOZENS of slabs of precious Yorkstone worth thousands of pounds have been stolen from squares and pavements in a spate of overnight thefts.

Residents have warned that historic Canonbury is “crumbling” after Canonbury Square – once home to literary giants George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh – was targeted repeatedly over the past few weeks.

At least 40 slabs were removed from ­ornamental walls within both sides of the 19th-century square.

“We feel helpless,” said Rosemary Brown, a Canonbury Society committee member. “It looks like Canonbury is under siege from stone thieves.

“Neighbours there have requested that the gates of the square are locked at night, but the council says there is not enough resources.”

Gates to the square are left unlocked due to council budget cuts, allowing thieves to return night after night with impunity.

When the Tribune visited the square yesterday (Thursday), several of the heavy stones had been left loose, suggesting thieves would be returning to collect it.

Missing paving slabs in Willow Bridge Road

Laid more than a century ago, the slabs are highly sought after. Reclaimed Yorkstone costs around £100 per square metre, with good quality, large rectangular and undamaged stone with attractive signs of wear being particularly valuable.

Flags have also been taken from outside Canonbury House and from the bottom of Willow Bridge Road, close to the Marquess Tavern.

“The blatant theft of the stone on Willow Bridge shows how little protection we have,” Ms Brown, a freelance journalist, added.

“Theft of Yorkstone is going on throughout the country, so we’re not alone, but even so it’s a depressing sight to witness. It feels like my neighbourhood is crumbling around me.”

Yorkstone thefts around the country have been dubbed “heritage crimes”. In 2015, then policing minister Mike Penning said stone theft was reaching “epidemic” levels in parts of Britain and should be treated as a “serious organised crime”.

Gaps in the pavement have quickly been filled in with asphalt, as the council has a duty to make sure they are safe.

Canonbury Society members see the result of stone thefts in Canonbury Square

Canonbury Society member Susan Millership said the stone thefts were indicative of a wider problem – the general neglect of Canonbury Square.

“It used to be the focal point of the area but it does not look as good as it used to,” she said.

The Canonbury Society have recently been discussing the issue and have said the square, which was once described by novelist Waugh as “agreeably symmetrical and soothing to the eye”, looks “forlorn”.

Society members are looking at forming a new group to maintain the square as cuts to council budgets from central government mean it receives less care than it once did.

The square was developed in the early 19th century by Henry Jacob Leroux and Richard Laycock on land owned by the Marquess of Northampton. In 1888 the garden was given free of cost by the Marquess to Islington Borough Council “for the enjoyment of the public”.

An Italian statue of a young girl, presented to the council by a Mr Stokes of Essex Road in 1943, was stolen around 20 years ago and replaced with a large vase.

The Loire Valley Wines Legacy Gardens gave part of the square a makeover in 2006. A small vineyard and rose bed were planted as its centrepiece, reflecting the planting of the vineyards in the Loire Valley.

Cllr Claudia Webbe, Islington Council’s executive member for environment and transport, said: “We deplore this theft of stone, and ask anyone with information to contact police.

“Because of ongoing government cuts to council budgets, a number of parks across Islington are not locked overnight. The list of parks is kept under review. Thefts of this kind undermine our communities, at a time when there is less and less public money to go round, and we ask people to ring police if they witness similar crimes.”

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