In England, the terms country house, manor house and stately home are often used vaguely and interchangeably. Country houses and manor houses were designed intentionally not to be stately but to harmonise with the landscape, while the great houses – such as Ragley Hall and Compton Verney in Warwickshire – were built as power houses to dominate the landscape and were most certainly intended to be stately and impressive.
In the 1960s, 70s and 80s, auctioneers often had the privilege of selling the contents of country houses and manor houses and, occasionally, a stately home to realise Death Duties, the crippling tax that saw these houses disappear from same family ownership after hundreds of years. Today, these wonderful properties go out of family ownership as much because of the cost of their upkeep as to pay Inheritance Tax but their contents rarely come onto the open market. Many of these former homes are now owned by The National Trust and open to the public to marvel at the architecture, stroll in their landscaped gardens – and enjoy treasures collected and passed down through the generations. Everything from Old Masters to some of the finest examples of silverware, porcelain, glassware, clocks, wall hangings, furniture and statuary are on view. So, it is a rare privilege and pleasure for me, on behalf of Biddle and Webb, to be instructed by the family whom I’ve known for many years, to dispose of the entire contents of their magnificent Grade ll listed early Georgian Manor House set within large landscaped gardens. Nestling in the rolling countryside of the Clent Hills near Kidderminster the property, which has Queen Anne origins, belonged originally to the Lyttleton family then the Tangye family who were well-known Quakers and members of the Founding Fathers of Birmingham. The property was given to the National Trust but bought by our clients over half a century ago. Benefiting from several reception rooms and numerous bedrooms and outbuildings, the Manor House is and has revealed a fine collection of paintings, 18th and 19th century porcelain and glass, textiles, clocks, fine silver, good Georgian and later furniture, and an interesting collection of garden statuary and effects. These are just some of the items from this private collection that has never before been sold on the open market. Of the numerous items of considerable interest, now removed to our Birmingham Saleroom, for our sale in October, is the view of Dunster Castle – a large oil on canvas by Frederick Henry Henshaw 1807-1891. The painting, one of his finest examples, is expected to realise between £1,500 and £2,000. Henshaw produced landscapes of architectural subjects and figures. A pupil of Joseph Vincent Barber 1788-1838, he travelled widely throughout the United Kingdom and, like Constable, found his inspiration in the countryside. Henshaw became a member of the Birmingham Society of Arts at 19. Between 1829 and1864 he was a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy in London. The enormous task of listing, packing and removing the contents to Biddle and Webb’s Birmingham Saleroom took 7 days and, each day, more treasures were revealed. It was a daunting task – but one we all embraced with great excitement and enthusiasm not knowing what we were going to discover next. This is an exceptional opportunity that comes up only once or twice during one’s career. Our Saleroom is ideal because we have the space needed to catalogue, display and market this unique private collection to maximum effect.
At 10.00 am on Saturday 8th October, the contents that have remained in private hands for more than half a century, will finally be revealed and go under the hammer in our Birmingham Saleroom for the first time. This is a rare opportunity for the collector or investor – and one definitely not to be missed.