Metal thieves steal Hitchin historian’s ‘pride and joy’ from Arlesey shed

Derek Wheeler's pride and joy, his 1876 Victorian fire engine before the theft of irreplaceable part

Derek Wheeler's pride and joy, his 1876 Victorian fire engine before the theft of irreplaceable parts. - Credit: Archant

The victim of metal thieves who have marred his life’s work has spoken out in an desperate bid to retrieve the priceless items.

Derek Wheeler with his 1876 steam engine.

Derek Wheeler with his 1876 steam engine. - Credit: Archant

Prominent Hitchin historian and author Derek Wheeler had two irreplaceable copper pressure vessels, a copper exhaust, and a brass pump stolen during a burglary in Arlesey on Monday night.

Mr Wheeler, who also conducts Hitchin walking tours, told the Comet: “They were taken from my 1876 horse-drawn steam fire engine, which is the oldest working one in the world.

“They are quite distinctive and are stamped: ‘Shand Mason Fire Engineers, London’.

“I am appealing for anyone who has any information about these precious items to get in touch with the police. I am very upset, they are beautiful pieces.”

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Mr Wheeler’s son, BBC producer and presenter Tim Wheeler, explained: “Dad was a technical teacher in Letchworth, and he and his pupils worked on a project to help renovate the derelict engine he found in a field in Norfolk in 1979.

“It’s a well-known sight in Hitchin and used to feature in the Hitchin carnival every year.

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“It’s dad’s pride and joy. He’s very old school and very much a stiff upper lip gentleman – but I know just how much this burglary will affect him.

“He is absolutely distraught. I just hope someone has some information about this very distressing theft, and can help him locate the parts which are virtually impossible to replace.

“They are instantly recognisable – so if any scrap metal merchants are offered these parts I would hope they would realise they are from my father’s steam engine.”

Mr Wheeler’s daughter Helen Hollebon added: “It’s heartbreaking for dad. This is a real low. I’m 34, and he’s been lovingly working on this engine for longer than I’ve been alive.

“I really hope someone with a conscience can come forward to help re-unite these precious parts with his steam engine.”

A spokesman for Bedfordshire Police, which is investigating the burglary, said: “It is thought the parts may have been stolen for scrap metal.

“Officers would like to speak to anyone who may have seen anything suspicious in the area or has been approached to sell these parts.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact 101, text information to 07786 200011 or call Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555111.

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