12 May, 2009

Victoriana for sale

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

The recreation of a Victorian town on a Gloucestershire plot of land to be auctioned off after 20 years

If you have ever yearned to own a Victorian shopfront, an old tin chapel, or a box of glass eyes (assorted colours), then an auction in the Forest of Dean could be too tempting to pass over.

The entire collection of the Shambles, a museum of Victorian life recreated as a small town on an acre of land, has been split into 2,300 lots and is up for grabs. Collectors, other museums looking to add to their collections and lovers of curiosities are expected to descend on Newent, Gloucestershire, to bid for everything from boxes of Victorian soap to scary veterinary implements.

The Shambles was opened 20 years ago by Jim Chapman and his wife, Holly, both keen collectors of Victorian memorabilia. They laid out the museum as a town, complete with pub, police station, shops and workshops, and have been attracting 40,000 visitors a year.

Mr Chapman said the couple had decided to close the museum because they were fed up with working so hard on it and wanted to concentrate on other projects. So the museum shut its doors in November and auctioneers moved in to sort, catalogue and value the tens of thousands of exhibits.

Thomas Jenner-Fust, of auctioneers Simon Chorley, said he was amazed by the number of items in the collection – and at what was attracting most interest. “It seems there’s someone out there to collect just about anything,” he said.

From the taxidermist’s shop, a pair of stuffed guinea pigs (guide price £10-£15) has piqued the interest of collectors, and a very battered, stringless double bass that Jenner-Fust had wanted thrown away has attracted a surprising number of inquiries. Very collectible items that are bound to do well include a vast array of stoneware, enamel signs and metal tractor seats, which turn out to be surprisingly desirable.

Mr Chapman insisted he was not sad that the items he had collected over 40 years were being sold off. “It’s been hard work and we are looking forward to getting our weekends back,” he said. But if he is not sad, the town of Newent certainly is upset to be losing a major draw. “It has attracted a lot of people here for the last 20 years,” said Micky Brown, of the town’s tourist information office. “It’s a big blow for us.” However, Jenner-Fust is confident that most of the pieces will be seen again in other collections. And he also wonders if the resurgence of interest in country crafts could mean that certain items – such as the large collection of weaving and thatching tools – will be actually be put to use again. “It would be nice to see them coming out of a museum and being used,” he said. “That would be very positive.”

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