A CACHE of old sketches turned out to be the most important discovery of Pre-Raphaelite drawings in decades, according to an Oxford gallery owner.

Aidan Meller, who runs art galleries in Broad Street and High Street, got a phone call before Christmas from an Abingdon resident who had found seven large cardboard boxes full of drawings in his loft.

The forgotten artwork turned out to be charcoal drawings and paintings, the designs for stained glass windows at some of the country’s best loved buildings including St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.

Mr Meller, who bought the collection for an undisclosed sum, did not know the value of the drawings, some of which date back to the 1860s, until he had researched them and discovered they had been created by the firms Heaton, Butler and Bayne and James Powell & Sons.

Some of the 117 drawings are now on sale for thousands of pounds, including one of a stained glass window at the library of Oxford University’s Harris Manchester College.

“You only get a few moments like this in your career and the discovery of these drawings was definitely one of them,” said Mr Meller.

“One of the drawings had the word ‘West’ in and we thought it could be for Westminster Abbey.

“Sure enough it was.”

He added: “This must be the most important discovery in decades for Pre-Raphaelite drawings – they have been kept in storage for 120 years or more.

“We have been contacting the buildings where the stained glass windows are and there is a lot of interest.

“Oxford itself has very strong connections with the Pre-Raphaelites – John Everett Millais lived in High Street.

“I’ve got a huge collection of books about the Pre-Raphaelites but a lot of these drawings won’t have been seen before – we have taken photos of them all.”

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of English painters, poets and critics founded in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

The group, which went on to have seven members, wanted to reform art by moving away from the approach of artists who followed Raphael and Michelangelo.