VANDALISM at the former home of Richard Jefferies near Coate Water has seriously damaged restoration work.

The work had been funded by a project promoted by Sir John Betjeman, Spike Milligan and other well-known figures.

But last week vandals damaged 100 antique tiles on the roof of a pig sty that had been built by Jefferies' father and broke windows in the old farmhouse, which is now the Jefferies museum.

"This was real mindless vandalism," said conservationist and environmental campaigner Jean Saunders who discovered the damage last weekend.

It is believed the culprits struck between 5pm on Sunday April 16 and noon on Saturday April 22.

"We have got used to the fact that windows there get broken regularly. It happens as soon as the evenings get a bit lighter.

"In fact every single window in the property has been broken at some time or other and unfortunately the council has had to fit a kind of plastic screening over them to protect them. This on a Grade II listed building!"

But it won't be so easy to replace the smashed tiles, Mrs Saunders added.

"Years ago when the restoration was being done a great deal of care was taken to locate authentic tiles."

The work cost around £2,000.

"That might not sound much now," she said. "But at the time it was half the cost of buying a new house."

The former poet laureate Betjeman and the former Goon Milligan both admired the work of Jefferies, the Victorian writer and one-time Swindon journalist, and were behind a major nationwide appeal for money to restore parts of the farm where he was born to the state in which he would have known them.

Mrs Saunders said empty lager cans, cola bottles, cigarette packets and cigarette papers were found in the outbuilding whose roof was damaged.

"Someone has even ripped from the front wall the sign that tells what hours the museum is open. Unfortunately it seems nobody has respect for anything now."

Sheila Povey of Farleigh Crescent, Lawn, who is a member of the Jefferies family and has been a leading member of the Richard Jefferies Society, blamed the council, which owns the old farm, for allowing vandalism to occur there.

"It used to be tenanted and if they got another tenant for the old place it would deter the kind of people who have done this," she said. "They have let it become a white elephant."

A council spokesman said: "We are obviously very upset that this has happened. We have been holding regular talks with the Richard Jefferies Society on a variety of different issues including security surrounding the site."

Any with information can contact Swindon police on 0845 408 7000, or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.