The last work by one of Britain’s best loved artists and sculptors, Rowland Emett, has been saved for the UK after being purchased for the Science Museum Group Collection.

Named ‘A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley’, the unique moving sculpture will initially go on display at Locomotion in Shildon, County Durham, before touring Science Museum Group sites across the UK.

The sculpture was acquired for a six-figure sum from a private seller, with the support of Art Fund, the Science Museum Foundation, the Friends of the National Railway Museum and private donors.

Constructed in 1984, A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley comprises eight separate machines that together tell the story of a journey aboard the imaginary ‘Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Railway’. The railway was based on one of his earlier cartoons – a life size model of which, complete with three locomotives, was created for the 1951 Festival of Britain.

At Locomotion, the artwork will come to life three times a day to treat visitors to a 15-minute, three-dimensional display. This will see automata wheels turn and colourful characters will go fishing, cycling and toast teacakes aboard a fantastical locomotive.

Born in London in 1906, Emett initially found fame producing whimsical cartoons for Punch magazine before creating a series of intricate mechanical sculptures based on his imaginative creations. As well as numerous artworks and cartoons, he is also well known for the inventions of ‘Caractacus Potts’ which starred in the 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

The sculpture is one of Rowland Emett’s largest pieces and was originally commissioned for a shopping centre before being exhibited at Spitalfields Market in London. In 1999 while being stored, it was stolen for scrap metal but later recovered.

‘A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley’ has since been refurbished and was exhibited at the Chelsea Flower Show, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and Compton Verney in Warwickshire.

The sculpture is now on display at the centre of Locomotion’s main building, alongside famous rail vehicles such as pioneering locomotive, Sans Pareil, which competed in the 1829 Rainhill Trials.

The acquisition will ensure the artwork remains in the UK and on show for the public.