'Attic sale' at top British country house raises millions

8th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

The attic sale to end all attic sales at one of Britain's top country houses raised 6.5 million pounds (7.5 million euros, 10.3 million dollars) Friday from a dazzling collection of furniture, bric-a-brac and even fireplaces.

Chatsworth House in central England, seat of the dukes of Devonshire, has been home to some of Britain's most colourful aristocrats like the outrageous Mitford sisters and the 18th century beauty depicted in the eponymous film "The Duchess".

Sale highlights included a 1735 white marble chimneypiece which sold for 565,250 pounds, a Japanese lacquered table described as being "supported by three mangy stuffed monkeys" which fetched 22,500 pounds and a 1915 Humber touring car known as "the Yellow Peril" which sold for 42,500 pounds.

A rare Maori pendant, a ruby and diamond brooch belonging to the current duke's mother and a 1930s gramophone were among other items on sale.

The 20,000-lot auction -- which raised nearly three times more than expected -- was held by the current duke who wants to raise money for improvements to the estate, a major tourist attraction drawing some 600,000 visitors per year.

"We've been living here for about five years and we realised as soon as we moved here that there was no room for any of the things we'd brought with us," Peregrine Cavendish, the 12th Duke of Devonshire, told AFP.

"We need to make some space and all the attics and the store rooms were completely full, you could hardly open the door."

The sale featured lots from Chatsworth's attics, plus other Devonshire family properties around Britain.

Hundreds of people flocked to the rural estate, some arriving in helicopters, in the hope of snapping up a piece of history -- but many were priced out early as items sold for well over their estimates.

One bidder, Alison Dollimore, told AFP she was looking for a reminder of the house after growing up in the area.

"Chatsworth House is our favourite walk. I tried to buy porcelain, but I dropped out. It was more a memento. It belonged to the Mitford sisters, you see," she said.

Chatsworth was once described as "the most pleasant garden and the most beautiful palace in the world" by 17th century author Daniel Defoe.

But today it is perhaps best known as the location for blockbuster films like "Pride And Prejudice" and "The Duchess".

Some objects on sale dated back to the era of Georgiana, 5th duchess of Devonshire, subject of "The Duchess", who died in 1806.

A beautiful gambler and charmer, she was a close friend of French queen Marie Antoinette and known for her torrid personal life.

The auction also featured items from the collection of the mother of the current duke, Deborah Devonshire, the youngest of the Mitford sisters.

The six sisters -- Nancy, Diana, Unity, Pamela, Jessica and Deborah -- led extraordinary lives.

Diana secretly married British fascist leader Oswald Mosley in the presence of German Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, while Unity was also a fascist, Jessica was a communist and Nancy was a writer and wit.

Auctioneers Sotheby's billed the three-day sale as the biggest country house auction in Britain since 1977.

© 2010 AFP

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