There was a sense of history repeating itself on sale day at Chartley, with an auctioneer having last climbed onto his rostrum to sell the contents of the estate’s Tudor manor house in 1834. During the reign of William IV Earl Ferrers had given the auctioneers instructions, this time it was Jeremy and Sarah Allen who decided that it was time for a marquee to go up and to invite bidders from around the world to the property which they had lived in and run as a country bed and breakfast for many years.
Indeed, history hung thick in the air, with the ancient Staffordshire manor, first recorded before the Norman Conquest, once giving residence to Mary Queen of Scots at the now ruined castle in December 1585 during her fateful journey to Fotheringay. Grade II listed and boasting rare examples of joggled bracing, the present Manor house was built in the early 17th century by Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex and is shown on a map of 1661.
Never did the footsteps of the past echo louder than inside the timbered property, with its panelled walls, creaking staircase and warped and twisted floorboards providing the perfect setting for the collection of 16th, 17th and 18th century furniture, metal work and pottery which dominated the sale catalogue. Shining copper and brass lighted dark corners, equestrian pictures, landscapes and portraits hung beneath low ceilings and eager viewers were met at the front door by a full size taxidermy deer. Every corner of the house, marquee and outbuildings was filled at this traditional country house sale, giving the curious an increasingly rare opportunity to hunt for treasures and explore the rambling property at length, thus lending the event a nostalgic feel, looking back to an era when the auction of the contents of a great country house was an almost weekly event.
And the curious came in droves as the ‘country house effect’ showed itself, with lot after lot selling beyond its estimate as a mixture of professional and overseas interest, dedicated collectors, owners of other large country properties and local people eager to take away a memento of a place they might have known all their lives competed hard. Furniture prices led the field, vindication of Bamfords belief that the market is not as difficult as is sometimes suggested, but that auctioneers need simply to catalogue well, display to the best possible advantage, use all the latest marketing opportunities available and stop referring to important, attractive and useful antiques as ‘brown’. While the strongest interest was reserved for exceptional and unusual period pieces, with a George II walnut chest on chest making £4,400 against an estimate of £2,000/3,000 and a George III burr elm bureau at £1,800, saleroom staples were also doing well, with a George III oak dresser making £3,600 and a George III mahogany dining table going well beyond the estimate of £1,000/1,500 to sell for £3,300.
The sale also provided an opportunity for more ostentatious purchases with a section of silver and jewellery which provided some healthy results, not least a Victorian silver claret jug which sold for £700 and a diamond solitaire lady’s ring at £800. However, one of the stars of the show was a fine Edwardian diamond two-drop necklace, which, for £2,800 gave the buyer not only a piece of elegant jewellery to wear, but also a memory of a happy and eventful day in the Staffordshire countryside.";