A RARE image of a celebrated event in North-East heritage is to remain in the region.

William C Irving's portrayal of a scene from the Blaydon Races has been saved for the North-East following a successful bid at auction in London yesterday.

Following full restoration it will find a permanent home at Gateshead's Shipley Art Gallery.

But it cost the Tyne and Wear Museums Service more than twice the estimated £60,000 to capture the prized painting at Sotheby's sporting sale at Olympia.

Competing with a telephone bidder and interest from the floor, rumoured to be from an exiled Geordie now living in the US, the Tyne and Wear Museums representative had to bid £110,000 before the hammer went down on lot 82.

With Sotheby's premium, VAT and the bidder's commission, the total is expected to reach £126,950, met from donations by individuals, trusts and support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The 99-year-old scene, featuring larger than life local characters soaking up the race day atmosphere, has been hung at Newcastle's Gosforth Park Hotel.

It was put up for sale by the hotel owner, the Marriott Group, triggering fears it could leave the region.

The campaign to keep it in the North-East was led by Frank Atkinson, the co-founder and now retired former director of Beamish Museum.

He described the painting as a "Geordie icon", possibly more important to people in the North-East than the Lindisfarne Gospels.