A PIECE of Devizes history has disappeared without trace following the recent renovations at the town's branch of the Cheltenham and Gloucester.

Its loss was first noticed by local historian and blacksmith John Girvan who gives regular guided tours of the town to tourists and locals alike.

He said: "Normally I stop off with my groups in St John's Street and ask them to look up at the chimney.

"There is, or was, the oldest ceramic telephone insulator in the country, dating from when the first Devizes telephone exchange was located in premises in the High Street at the end of the 19th century.

"I looked and pointed but was shocked to see it wasn't there. I went into the bank and asked about it, but no-one could tell me anything."

The Cheltenham and Gloucester is based in the Old Town Hall in Wine Street and boasts one of the town's most impressive facades. It was built in 1752 to replace the old Guildhall, demolished two years earlier.

The ground floor was originally open to the elements and used as a market place. The Cheltenham and Gloucester have been there since the early 1960s.

A spokesman for Wiltshire Heritage Museum confirmed they had in their collection one of the oldest telephones in the country, which was used in conjunction with the old exchange, but could give no information about the insulator.

A spokesman for the Cheltenham and Gloucester said the insulator had been removed because its metal support was badly rusted and damaging the fabric of the chimney.

She said: "It was all discussed with the conservation officer and it was agreed it should come down."

But she was unable to say where the insulator had ended up and it is thought it might have gone into a skip with the other detritus from the renovation.

Ian Lund, Kennet District Council's conservation officer, confirmed he had been in discussion with the firm undertaking the renovation, but the subject of the insulator had not come up.

He said: "We are very pleased when old buildings like this are renovated in such a sympathetic way. I cannot recall any discussion about the insulator, but as no-one knew anything about it until it had gone, it cannot be said to have been greatly valued by the community."

But Mr Girvan said. "It is part of our heritage and for it to be got rid of in this way it absolutely outrageous."