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Behind the Scenes

Chatsworth Attic Sale

We had a very busy week but not so busy that I couldn’t be tempted to go to this momentous sale with our very good friend (our parents and grandparents were friends) Liza, who drove here from near Oundle on Monday, armed with her £30 Chatsworth Attic Sale catalogue, weighing 4lbs and looking like an extremely glossy telephone directory.

The sale was conducted by Sotheby’s and held over three days in a series of marquees down by the river in the Park. The Duke had stressed that it was an attic sale, essentially stuff they didn’t want or could no longer spare the space for, much of it coming from Devonshire House and other Devonshire family homes. On Monday we attended the preview, and along with scores of equally enthralled viewers ogling, dozens of dealers furtively measuring and noting, and any number of Americans talking excitedly into their mobile phones – such history, such breeding…

Indeed, such grandeur and such tat, all on such a big scale. It was wonderful. Adam marble fireplaces at least ten foot tall, dinner services for 90 but with many of the plates seriously chipped, cracked and riveted; indeed. The catalogue was extremely interesting and helpful, describing the context of each article, with relatively modest guide prices.

Liza and I felt we had to go for something, so left a bid for bathroom set which was coming up on the second or third day and which we could split into two – two china jugs and large bowls, soap dishes, two very glamorous potties and a large footbath. Our top bid was £400 (well over the guide price) but it went apparently for £1,300!

The next day, Tuesday, we managed to find seats on the front row, apparently five rows beyond Jerry Hall, but we didn’t know that until we heard it on the news later. Down one side of the marquee were about 12 to 15 people with computers, landlines and mobile phones taking Internet and telephone bids; the press was ranged along the other side. Just in case, I registered as a possible bidder and was given a ‘paddle’ numbered 5176 with which to bid if the unlikely opportunity arose.

Needless to say it didn’t. The prices were vast, as were most of the articles – an enormous length of George 11 chandelier chain (no chandelier) went for £22,000; a marble George 11 fireplace went for  £470,000 and a door (higher than most ceilings) £30,000, and so on.

What an experience! I wouldn’t have missed it for the world but sadly Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns will have no marble fireplaces or chandeliers chains installed – no cherished piece of the Devonshire family history for us to brag about.

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