AN appeal has been made by Noel Ponting for the return of a 95-year-old plaque dedicated to the career of his great grandfather, the first headmaster of Even Swindon School.

The plaque, which is believed to be made of stone quarried from Old Town Gardens in the early part of the 20th century, was attached to a wall inside the school which used to stand in Hughes Street.

The former school, which had stood vacant since February 2013 after being gutted by a major fire, was pulled down by Swindon Council in December, though not before thieves broke into the building and stole the plaque.

The memorial is not valuable, and holds only sentimental worth to Noel and his family, who said whoever broke in had the right tools for the job.

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Henry Day, Noel’s great-grandfather, above, was headmaster at Even between 1880 and 1919. It was in his final year that he was presented with the token which celebrated his time at the school.

Estimates from the council put the timeframe for the burglary between mid-November and early-December, although it was not reported to police until January of this year, which left Noel a little confused.

“It was an old school left empty for so long because of asbestos,” said Noel, 55. “They’re saying health and safety is very rigid in these instances. Whilst Swindon Council’s heart is in the right place, and I appreciate they have to play by the rules, you just wish they could’ve got on and done it.

“The council got in touch with the police, but only at my behest. The council does have questions to answer about the way they have acted here. I am loathe to be critical because they are a big organisation with limited resources, but if they could have just got it done and got it out we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

“We have got to wonder how a thief got in and was able to prise the plaque off the wall. One has concerns it may have been damaged in the process.”

Noel said there are various outlets for this type of artefact, including the architectural reclamation and antique trades.

He hopes publicity of the plaque’s theft will limit those the thief can shift the plaque on to.

The plaque reads: “Erected by old scholars on the retirement of Mr H. Day. The first head master of this school 1880 – 1919. As evidence of appreciation of his meritorious services.”

A Swindon Council spokesman said: “We were keen to recover the plaque for the family of Mr Day, but we were ultimately held up by the need to remove the asbestos from the building to enable the monumental mason to safely remove the stone.

“We were able to re-enter the building on December 2 following the removal of the asbestos and, unfortunately, discovered that the plaque had been stolen.”