A STASH of valuable historic tiles worth up to £50k has been discovered during the demolition of a Victorian house in Southbourne.

The collection of 256 antique Dutch Delft tiles was secreted under a false wall behind a fireplace in the property in Foxholes Road, which was formerly the home of artist Arthur Bell and his author wife Nancy.

It was uncovered by demolition expert Stephen Malton of ProDem Demolition, who is making a habit of such discoveries after he uncovered tens of thousands of pounds worth of precious finds during the demolition of JRR Tolkien's former Poole home in 2008 - including postcards addressed to author found behind the fireplace.

Bournemouth Echo:

"We knew that there might be this lost collection of Delft tiles everyone was trying to find," said Stephen, who keeps possession of any materials or artefacts which come to light during a demolition.

"When the fireplace was removed there was nothing there - but there was a secret false wall built behind it. I almost fell over when we found them - another fireplace again. Lightning does strike in the same place twice!"

He told the Echo that a 14-tonne excavator had come within inches of demolishing the precious wall of tiles, some of which are worth up to £1,000 a piece, when it was spotted by the foreman who called work to a halt just in time.

Bournemouth Echo:

The remarkably well-preserved collection of hand-painted tiles includes some decorated with patterns, biblical scenes, sylvan settings, animals and colourful birds. It could be worth anything between £20k and £50k at auction.

Developer Andy Green of Caleb Development, said they uncovered clues about the existence of the collection during research into the history of the large Victorian villa, Rastgarth, and its first owners Arthur Bell and his wife Nancy.

According to the historic deeds the plot was purchased by the Bell family in 1891 from Dr Thomas Armetriding Compton, who bought 230 acres of land back in the 1870s and founded the resort of Southbourne-on-Sea. A stone carving of a bell taken from the property has been gifted to the Hengistbury Head Visitor Centre.

Bournemouth Echo:

Mr Green said the house had been purchased from three brothers who had had it in their possession for some 50 years. It will be razed to the ground to make way for a development of eight two-bedroomed flats which are due to be completed by this time next year.

Arthur George Bell (1849-1916) was a London based landscape artist who exhibited widely at the Royal Academy and the Royal Institute of Oil Painters. Several of his paintings are held locally at Poole Museum and Russell-Cotes Museum. His wife Nancy Meugens was a prolific author and translator. They had three children.