George II throne found in Cabinet Office

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The Independent Online
George II: throne home

A vast storehouse of state-owned art and antiques has been uncovered by Treasury sleuths putting together a new Domesday Book of the nation's assets.

Eleven thousand works of art have been found scattered around government buildings, many of them gathering dust in basement store-rooms long forgotten by the men from the ministry.

George II's gilt throne has turned up in the Cabinet Office in Whitehall, and the collection also contains works by Turner, Constable and Monet. Details of the cultural find of the century will be disclosed this week when Chancellor Gordon Brown publishes the first National Register of Assets since William I drew up his inventory of land, buildings, animals and people in 1086.

Treasury mandarins given the task of tracking down the nation's property found a pounds 2m Gainsborough in 11 Downing Street, and a Lowry painting of his "stick people" tucked away at the top of a flight of stairs next door in Number 10.

The Foreign Office alone admitted to having an art collection worth an estimated pounds 25m, much of it dispersed around the world in embassies.

Ministers have been busily choosing paintings for their offices, throwing out the choice of their predecessors. Mr Brown has rejected the grim landscapes in the Treasury in favour of modern Scottish paintings.

"We were amazed by what we found in our search," said a senior Treasury source. "Some of these works of art have not been seen for years."

Government assets were valued at pounds 125bn just after the war. The new 500- page Register will not try to put a book price on the nation's treasure trove, however.

Some assets that the Government scarcely knew it had, such as the car park at Ipswich Town FC, owned by the Inland Revenue, will be sold off to defray public spending in the run-up to the general election.

Not everyone will be happy at the prospect of a Sale of the Century. The Chancellor's detectives found the Ministry of Defence owns no fewer than 63 properties in St John's Wood, an affluent area of north London, for the use of senior officers who may have to move downmarket.

Domesday Book 2 will also dethrone the Church of England from its unofficial title as the nation's biggest property owner.

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