THE shocking state of one of the region’s most historically significant buildings is today laid bare by The Northern Echo.

Windlestone Hall – the birthplace of 1950s Conservative Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden and a once grandiose Grade II* listed country mansion – is now a shell of its former state, having been wrecked by thieves and vandals.

Lead has been stripped from its roof and the stone balustrade at the top of the building damaged, leaving broken masonry strewn on the floor.

Many of its windows have been smashed, while thieves have taken fireplaces and ripped out a kitchen.

Inside the building, which at one time was owned by Durham County Council before it was sold for a cut price £241,000, it has been trashed and graffiti daubed on walls.

An Echo reporter was able to walk through an open door into the empty 30 bedroomed hall, near Rushyford, County Durham, unchallenged, and raised concerns about its parlous state with owner Barclays.

Twenty four hours later security was put in place and windows boarded up after agents for Barclays were allowed on site.

Barclays, which repossessed the hall after former owner William Davenport was jailed for six years for mortgage fraud last year, thanked the Echo for bringing the matter to its attention.

It had said the 19th Century hall was “landlocked” and it was being refused access, but the bank is facing questions as to why it didn’t act sooner.

Northumberland-based businessman Garry Moat, who claims to be advising a consortium bidding to buy the property, said Barclays had been given access to Windlestone Hall shortly after Davenport’s jailing last September to secure it.

Mr Moat, who has land on the estate which is now in the hands of an Official Receiver, said: “We haven’t stopped them [Barclays] from going on site.

“We also offered to pay for security 50/50 with them, but they did not want to know.

“They could have looked after it better, but really it is just a culmination of events and for whatever the reason the building has been neglected.”

He added: “These thieves are professionals. They pulled up there in a big truck and have taken a huge amount of lead off the roof.

“It’s a crying shame the damage that has been done. William [Davenport] kept it in a fairly good condition compared to what it is now.”

The Echo understands more than one bid has been made for the hall, which in February was advertised by estate agents Reeds Rains for a “competitively priced” £850,000.

In its previous incarnation it was a boarding school for pupils whose health conditions meant they were unable to regularly attend state schools and it was also a prisoner of war camp.

A Barclays spokeswoman said: “There is a security presence on site and any interested parties should contact our agents Reeds Rains for further information.

“We would like to thank The Northern Echo for bringing this matter to our attention.”

Sergeant Mike Sammut, of Durham Police, said: “There have been a number of recent incidents reported to us concerning Windlestone Hall.

“The site has been targeted by criminals who have broken into the building in the hope of finding items of value, lead has also been stolen from the roof.

“The area has been given extra police attention over the last two weeks.

“In the meantime, if anyone in the area sees any suspicious activity I would urge them to ring police straight away.”