A carved stone statue of Queen Victoria missing from the Houses of Parliament for over 100 years was whisked away by former Prime Minister William Gladstone, a discovery suggests.
The 5ft 6in (1.67m) tall figure was spotted during a routine valuation by an auctioneer 156km from the Palace of Westminster in the shrubbery of a property in Hampshire - a home once owned by one of Gladstone's descendants.
The present-day owner of the home in Ringwood acquired the statue when he bought the land in 1971 - and it has remained in the back garden ever since.
It is thought to have been removed from the Houses of Parliament during restoration works to the facade in the late 19th or early 20th century.
Researchers began sourcing the Anston stone statue's history and came across a sketch of it by renowned sculptor John Thomas.
Prior to his death in 1862, Thomas worked as the Superintendent of Stone-Carving at the Houses of Parliament and, as such, was responsible for the supervision of the Gothic style statues of former kings and queens that existed for the exterior of the building.
It is understood members of parliament were given the right to "acquire" the statues, or other architectural elements, when they were removed or replaced due to weathering.
The home in which it was found all these years later previously belonged to the Keith Gladstone, a descendant of the four-time Prime Minister William. Originally a Conservative politician, he later helped form the Liberal Party in a political career spanning over 60 years.
He left parliament in 1895, and died three years later aged 88 having served as Britain's oldest Prime Minister to date.
Now the unique piece of parliamentary history will go on sale at Duke's Auction House in Dorchester, Dorset, on February 23, and is expected to fetch a sum of at least £10,000 ($17,450).
Guy Schwinge of Duke's said: "The sale of this statue provides an exceptional opportunity for someone to acquire a unique piece of British history.
"Although exposure to the elements has weathered the Anston stone, the statue has real presence and is certain to attract collectors from around the world.
"It is difficult to value something of this rarity and importance, but the statue could easily make £10,000 or more".
- Originally published in Telegraph UK