Sir Walter Scott's stolen Waterloo Tree Quaich returned

IN AN audacious commando-style take on the historic Border Reivers, thieves broke into a stately home in the middle of the night before stealing priceless heirlooms collected by Sir Walter Scott.

• The Waterloo Tree Quaich returned to Abbotsford House after 16 years

But now, following a 16-year absence, a silver quaich, part of the stolen hoard, goes back on public display at Abbotsford House near Melrose tomorrow after being discovered by chance at a French flea market.

Known as the Waterloo Tree Quaich, the piece is made from silver gilt and elm wood cut from a tree at the Waterloo battlefield.

The Duke of Wellington directed his troops from a position under the tree in 1815 and it subsequently became a target for souvenir hunters.

Scott's Quaich dates from 1824 and was made by Joseph Angell of London. It is engraved with Scott's motto, "Watch Well".

Scott was among the first British civilians to view the battlefield at Waterloo and is known to have collected trophies from the site to add to his collection of historic relics. He met Wellington in person, and had a keen interest in Napoleon Bonaparte.

The quaich was among nearly 30 items stolen from Scott's Abbotsford home in April 1994 when it was owned by his descendants, Dame Jean and Mrs Patricia Maxwell-Scott.

It was believed the treasures were "stolen to order" by professional art thieves and a massive police operation, code named "Border Reiver" involving four police forces and Scotland Yard's specialist antiques squad, was launched.

Thieves struck five times in the same month at venues such as Floors Castle at Kelso, Roxburghshire, Hopetoun House near Edinburgh, and Scone Palace near Perth.

News of the quaich's reappearance reached Jacquie Wright, executive manager of The Abbotsford Trust, last November when she received what she thought was an inquiry from a member of the public on the Abbotsford webpage.

But the e-mail was from silver expert Wynyard Wilkinson, known in the trade as "the Wise Man of Portobello Road".

"It just looked like an everyday enquiry e-mail but when I began reading it I was absolutely thrilled," she said.

"Mr Wilkinson said he thought he'd come across the quaich and would like to speak to someone to check out certain details."

The quaich came home a few weeks ago, by special delivery, and was placed in the safe. But mystery still surrounds the whereabouts of the quaich in the intervening years.

"We have no idea where it has been all these years and if it was sold on. We're obviously delighted that such a historically important piece has been returned to Abbotsford and are hugely grateful to Mr Wilkinson for spotting the quaich, identifying its significance and making arrangements for its return."

Police recovered a number of other items taken from Abbotsford over the years, including three rings which contained locks of hair belonging to King Charles I; Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott.

The Abbotsford Trust is currently trying to raise around 10 million to secure Abbotsford's future and is awaiting a Heritage Lottery Fund decision about a grant application of more than 4m.