VILLAGERS fighting to save an historic mill chimney have lost their battle after demolition contractors were given the go-ahead to move in.

The 150-year-old Wilford's Mill chimney at Brompton, near Northallerton, is to be taken down on safety grounds, despite a campaign by residents, who say it is one of the most important remnants of the area's linen industry.

The owner of the 160ft. high chimney, Felicity Bonaventura, wants it demolished, claiming that it is unsafe and insurance costs are too high.

Her agents, Strutt and Parker of Harrogate, say it will now be brought down piece by piece.

Christopher Orme of Strutt and Parker said: "It will be taken down brick by brick to a safe level, simply because we cannot find an alternative economical use for it." The decision has angered members of Brompton Heritage Group, who had called for the chimney to be retained. They say they were not told about the demolition until contractors arrived at the site.

Chairman of the group Erik Matthews said: "We have bent over backwards to work with Strutt and Parker and put forward viable ways of keeping the chimney in place. There is an overwhelming wish in the village that it should stay.

"It was only when the demolition contractors appeared in the village to size up the job that it became obvious that the owner and agent appear to have rejected our proposals.

"We had offered to pay £600 for a structural survey and had not ruled out helping to fund any repair costs. The strength of feeling was clear when over 80 people turned out to a public meeting to try to save the chimney and young people gathered 800 signatures on a petition against destroying it.

"I can only say that we feel badly let down."

The original demolition date was set for June 18, but an outcry by local people meant that the work was cancelled while emergency talks were held.

The campaign to save the chimney was originally spearheaded by the Brompton Village Design Statement Group, but after a public meeting, the heritage group was formed.

The demolition will take place later this month and is expected to last for about four days.