TWO historic lead ostriches, which suffered years of vandalism and abuse, have finally returned home after much-needed restoration work.

The life-sized birds, which are nearly 200 years old, once had pride of place on the roof of Gough House in the 18th Century. They were removed by Sir Henry Carrington-Bowles when he demolished the house in the 1890s and were intended to decorate another mansion on the site, but this ambition was never realised.

The 185-year-old pair, which were taken to Bulbeck Foundry in Burwell, Cambridgeshire, for restoration and returned last month, suffered damage over the years, including a broken neck on one and a partially collapsed spine on the other, while the legs on both rusted badly.

Bryan Hewitt, senior gardener at Myddleton House, which adjoins what is left of the Gough Park estate said: “The ostriches suffered damage when medical students from The Royal Free Hospital (which owned Myddelton House in the 1960s) pushed the birds into the New River, which flowed through the historic gardens at that time, for a prank.

"The well-meaning head groundsman didn't help matters by hauling them out of the river with chains towed by his tractor. This probably explains the broken neck on one of them, which had been patched with concrete, and a partially collapsed spine of the other ostrich."

The birds were commissioned for the estate’s founder, Captain Gough, in 1724 at a cost of £20, and were made at a workshop which stood on Hyde Park Corner in the 1720s, at a cost of £10 each.

They were eventually placed either side of a bridge crossing the New River in Myddleton House Garden, by the son of carrington-Bowles, E A Bowles, a gardening writer and enthusiast.

Brigadier Andrew Parker Bowles, Mr Bowles's great-great nephew, used to play with the ostriches as a child when he lived at Winterton in Turkey Street, and has commissioned a replica pair for his own estate.

Since 1993, Mr Parker Bowles has been president of the EA Bowles of Myddelton House Society, a group of volunteers formed to promote, research and perpetuate the work of EA Bowles.

The ostriches are now in storage and will go on display at the new Myddleton House Gardens visitor centre and museum, which will open in 2011 once the gardens have been fully restored.

The gardens also house other artefacts, including a piece of the original St Paul’s Cathedral, which burned down in 1087, and a piece of the medieval London Bridge.