To Graham Geoffrey Harkin, the antique desks and early Victorian dining chairs of Cumbria’s stately homes were all in a day’s work. But he wasn’t a furniture restorer – he was a prolific thief. Finally incarcerated at Durham Jail, he almost escaped again, when the van transporting him to Carlisle Crown Court got stuck in heavy snow.
In Cumbria, Victorian dining chairs and antique desks are a fact of life. The home of notable historic luminaries like William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter, the county was important in the English Arts & Crafts furniture movement, as Cumbria’s Blackwell and John Ruskin House visitors will verify. There are a number of older stately homes in the area too – including Levens Hall. A magnificent Elizabethan mansion near Kendal, Cumbria, its antique chests, Jacobean tables, topiary gardens and antique clocks are a source of pleasure for thousands.
Graham Harkin decided one of those clocks was worth a second look. Worth over £200,000, it was one of several items he and an accomplice stole during an “Antiques Road Trip” of English properties last year. Arrested for the theft of the clock and a £50,000 sundial from Dalemain House, Penrith, he was finally remanded in custody to answer charges also relating to burglaries from Lanhydrock House, Bodmin; Longner Hall, Shrewsbury, and Firle Place in Sussex. The latter was a particularly audacious theft – the house is used by judges visiting Lewes Crown Court, one of whom was believed to be in residence when the modern-day “Raffles” committed the burglary.
Whether it’s antique clocks or antique desks, Cumbria antique dealers are keen to point out to buyers the importance of insuring their purchases. Harkin is also facing charges relating to 17 private properties.
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