Quirky collection of animal sculptures from Northumberland garden finds new home at Scottish castle
More than 200 concrete animal sculptures have been saved for posterity thanks to an auction battle to find them a new home.
The zoological garden menagerie made decades ago by a father for his disabled son in Branxton, near Wooler, has made the short journey across the border to Ayton Castle.
The collection includes everything from giraffes, rhinos, a panda and birds to Winston Churchill and Lawrence of Arabia.
They were snapped up for £20,000 at Hansons Auctioneers in Derbyshire.
Ayton Castle co-owner Brian Parsons said: “I found out about the sculptures two years ago from a carpenter on the castle’s estate.
"I visited the garden and thought it would be good to acquire them if the opportunity arose. We’re very excited and delighted the animals are coming to us.
“We will look after them and it will enhance our offering which includes a new narrow-gauge railway.
"Due to the work involved in repairing, refreshing and installing the statues in our woodland area, they won’t be available to view until sometime next year. The seller will be very welcome to visit us when they’re in place.”
The sale was a dream result for previous owner, Samantha Brattisani, 47.
Due to ill health, she put the sculptures up for auction in a bid to save them. The land – and animals – had to be cleared to make the garden accessible for her.
“I burst into tears at the end of the auction,” she admitted. “I watched the sale live online. It was an emotional moment for me because I never wanted to part with the animals but, due to health issues, I had no choice.
“I’m so pleased the sculptures are going to a good home. I’m happy they’ll be maintained and I’m happy they’ll bring pleasure to people for years to come.”
Rik Alexander, the auctioneer who managed the sale on behalf of Hansons, said: “I can’t think of a better place for the animal menagerie to go.”
The zoological garden was created in the 1930s and 40s by Samantha’s great uncle John Fairnington for his disabled son, Edwin.
She said: “My great uncle made the animals to get Edwin to go into the garden – and it worked. He loved it. I remember seeing it for the first time when I was three and being enthralled by it.
“Over the years, thousands of people have visited the garden. It became a popular tourist attraction.
"We’ve had busloads of school children, people who returned year after year, even Alan Titchmarsh.”
The project launched with a life-size panda. Eventually there were 75 large statues, each fashioned out of concrete on a base of rubbish-filled wire netting, and nearly 150 smaller sculptures.
Edwin explored his strangely fascinating garden until he died at the age of 36. John died in 1981 at the age of 98 content in the knowledge he’d done his best for Edwin.
Being a religious and charitable man, John left his house and garden to Oxfam.
However, Samantha’s grandad bought it back because it was so important to the family.