A NATIONAL history group has urged Cornwall Council to give the nation the "best Christmas present" – by saving an iconic building in St Columb from ruin.
The Victorian Society has repeated a warning that the crumbling Old Rectory, also known as the Old Bishop's Palace, could be lost forever if it is not renovated soon.
Members are putting pressure on Cornwall Council to compulsorily purchase the "gothic gem" from its playboy owner, James Brown.
This paper reported in October that local historians had raised fresh fears over the future of the building after property tycoon Mr Brown was jailed for five years for cocaine possession.
Chris Costelloe, director of the Victorian Society, reckons permanent damage could be done to the 19th-century building if it is not protected this winter.
It is suffering the effects of severe water damage, dry rot and overgrown vegetation, and is also vulnerable to vandalism and even arson, he said. Some ceilings have already caved in.
Mr Costelloe said: "We know the council is concerned. They need to carry out works to ensure that the building is weather-tight over winter, as they move to compulsorily purchase it as soon as possible.
"It was clear before the owner was sent to prison that the building was deteriorating. Now we know just how fast. There's only so much damage a building can take from the elements, assuming vandals don't join in the destruction, which is an all too common occurrence. Saving the palace in time could be Cornwall's – and the nation's – best Christmas present to itself."
Designed in 1851 by renowned architect William White, the property was intended to be the home of Cornwall's bishop – before it was decided a cathedral would be built in Truro.
It was used as a base for the Women's Land Army during the war and as a Meadery restaurant and hotel in the Nineties.
Mr Costelloe added: "This is one of the nation's gothic gems from one of the 19th-century's greatest architects. Every part was designed with exceptional attention to detail, down to the furniture and the catches for the windows and doors.
"Up till the 1990s it was perfectly preserved, making the palace one of the nation's most picturesque and memorable houses. It is quite astonishing how quickly it has decayed."
A spokeswoman for Cornwall Council said: "The vulnerability and poor state of repair of the building is of great concern to the council.
"There has been a change in ownership but sadly negotiations have been unsuccessful in securing a way forward for the future of the building. The council is pursuing, using its statutory powers, to address the condition of the building through the enforced sale of the heritage asset."