Friday, 23 November 2012


In the days after the last war when old houses were being broken up into flats, shabby old family places were emptied of their contents and people moved into smaller more manageable houses.  There were lots of auctions run by the local auctioneers, some of whom were more used to selling farms and livestock than the domestic contents  They were held in old marquees with village hall chairs and roneo'd catalogues that were often incomplete and certainly did not give details of each item to be sold. You had to make up your own mind as to the quality, age and condition, so  view-day was essential if you wanted to know what you were buying.   Much had come out of store after being shut away during the war and there was a huge variety of Victorian furnishings, often shabby and damaged.  I was furnishing a big old house on a very low budget to accomodate my growing family and attended many sales in the Essex, Cambridge area with very good results.  Small items sold for a lot of money but the big old lumps were almost given away and I made the most of this.  I had a Volvo shooting brake and was able to transport everything myself, would search the pantries,  kitchen, servants rooms, stables for the bargains which had often been stored there for years as old fashioned and surplus and were often unlisted at the end of the sale under a heading  'contents of the....'. tool sheds, lamp sheds often had interesting bits waiting to be re-discovered!

     Some of the 'Executors' sales were the best,as they were badly advertised, at short notice, and no-one knew anything about the chattels to be sold.   One of the best was a villa where two maiden ladies, descendants of the great Warren Hastings, had lived with masses of family papers and belongings going back to Georgian times.   The few dealers who were there were interested in the historic papers with details of his Governorship of India, and I found the most delightful and charming momentoes, sewing tools, mini boxwood pill boxes, snuff boxes, etc.  I saw some linen tied up and stacked below the big dining table and had a peep without undoing it as I had seen there was a pretty Paisley shawl I wanted.   I was the only bidder and I think I paid £13 for the bundle.  In those days some of the dealers used to hide the more interesting lots under tables so that the ordinary 'punters' missed them. When I got home, I undid it and to my delight found this amazing lace table cloth, perfect and unused.  I have since found out that it is very rare to have anything so large made with this Bedfordshire lace;  strips of narrow lace are all stitched together to make the square and then the border is worked around the whole.  And I have been told that the wavy line running round the edges was inspired by the river Ouse which runs through the flat lands of Bedfordshire in big loops.  I would be so glad to know more if there are any readers with knowledge of Beds. lace and to know if this is fairly unique - I have seen collars and cuffs for dresses but never anything of this size.   Do Email me at   or put something in 'comments'  for the benefit of other readers.


  1. Often when I read your posts, I truly do feel transported to a distant magical kingdom...the past, and so wish that I had the key to enter that time.

    Alternatively, I wish that I did live on the other side of the broad Atlantic and could some day have tea with you and compare notes about beautiful fabrics, embroideries, textile techniques, and so much more.

    It is a treat to read your posts. I thank Gretel Parker for pointing me in your direction.

  2. It wasn't only the dealers who were up to no good. I remember finding some curtains in the seventies in the old Lots Road saleroom which would be perfect for my three Georgian windowed room. It was two blinds and two rather mean curtains. I could see that I could hang the outside windows with just blinds and the central window with all the curtains made into one.So I detached the lot number label. I just could not afford another bidder.
    The curtains are still up at the windows they were bought for
    but the blinds are in the attic but are rescue-able still.

  3. Artist.Melchiorre.com5 December 2012 at 18:07

    Glad to find you. Dyeing fabrics is what I'm doing daily. Check out my local fabric genius in Los Angeles,CA,
    Kaari Meng inspires me.
    Keeping in touch,
    M.Emerson Melchiorre

  4. Please can you tell us where the Rag Market is. I am afraid the link is not working for me.
    Very many thanks