Diamonds, Duchesses and decay, West Horsley Place has it all. Throw into the mix a TV icon and an unexpected inheritance and you have the makings of a movie plot. Unreal as it sounds, it’s all true. West Horsley Place was the country home of the Duchess of Roxburghe until she died, aged 99, last year leaving the house, contents and estate unexpectedly to her great nephew Bamber Gascoigne. So many repairs are needed to 500 year old house that Bamber has decided to call in Sotheby’s to sell the contents in order to fund the restoration. Barely a tenth of the 50 rooms has been used in recent decades, in some of them experts had to be called in to prise the shutters open. Many forgotten treasures have been found under dust sheets and mouldering in decaying annexes.
The most amazing find of all was the only known head study for Lord Leighton’s iconic painting Flaming June. The pencil and white chalk drawing was last seen reproduced in the Magazine of Art in 1985. Simon Toll, Sotheby’s Victorian art expert, saw the drawing hidden in a small dark windowless room, remembered reading the article many years ago and recognized it for what it is.
Elsewhere a decaying outhouse was discovered to contain boxes and boxes of monogrammed crystal and an enormous Minton dinner service adorned with the Crewe family crest. Cupboards were found to contain full sets of servants’ livery – all brocade and silver frogging (estimate £3–5,000). One door that had to be forced open was found to conceal an abandoned art deco bathroom currently home to the Duchesses coronation robes and coronet (estimate £4–6,000).
Red silk wall hangings, family portraits and a Bechstein piano were found lurking in a room with the original Tudor ceiling visible and some of the three miles of packed bookshelves that line much of the house.
Everything, except the books which have been left to Cambridge University, will go under the hammer at Sotheby’s mostly on May 27th. Flaming June is up for grabs on July 15 if you have a spare £40-60,000 or, if your pockets are deeper, the Duchess’ jewellery will be on sale on May 15 in Geneva. Most of the contents will be on display at Sotheby’s Bond street galleries at the end of May. An excellent café can be found on the ground floor in which to contemplate which lot to bid for.
34-35 New Bond Street, London W1A 2AA UK
Auction: Wednesday 27 May at 10:00am and 28 May 2015 at10:00am