IF you are fortunate enough to have tickets to this weekend’s Bowes Museum Christmas Fair, keep an eye open for the two grand and rather fearsome Gothic beasts which, high on the terrace, guard the entrance to the museum.

Historic England has them Grade I listed, which means they are of exceptional interest, and museum researcher Dorothy Blundell has recently been on the trail of their tale.

She has found that they began their life on the Manchester Assize Courts, which is regarded as one of Britain’s greatest lost buildings. When it was completed in 1864, it was Manchester’s tallest building.

The architect who designed it was Alfred Waterhouse who, in the same year, was leaving his mark on Darlington: he was building the Covered Market complex, complete with iconic clocktower, and the Barclays bank which is the centrepiece of High Row. For the same Backhouse family at the same time, Waterhouse designed Rockliffe Hall, at Hurworth, which is now a luxurious hotel next to Middlesbrough FC’s training ground.

On the assizes, Waterhouse, who is regarded as the greatest Gothic architect of the Victorian era, used sculptor Thomas Woolner and Irish stonemasons O’shoe and Whelan to add decorative touches. Dorothy has found old pictures which suggest that beasts of Bowes could once have been stationed high up on the corners of the court, adding to its imposing, Gothic nature.

During the Second World War, the court was bombed and it was demolished in 1957, although many of its curiosities were preserved. In the 1970s, Bowes’ curator Michael Kirkby, who came from Manchester, arranged for the beasts to move over and welcome visitors to the Barnard Castle museum.

“They could be heraldic antelopes, which represent peace, harmony and courage,” says Dorothy.

“In heraldic terms, they are ‘sejant erect’, which means they are seated on their haunches but with upright bodies and forepaws raised in the ‘rampant’ pose - in this case, they are holding shields with three diagonal stripes.

“These stripes are from the Mancunian coats of arms, and they symbolise the three rivers which run through the city centre: the Irwell, the Irk and the Medlock.”

They are quite splendid, and although the stalls this weekend will be centre of attention, make sure you look out for them.

“Up close, they also exude a friendly charm which entices many a passing visitor to a closer look and often a shared selfie,” says Dorothy.