Showbusiness at Toovey’s!

Norman Wisdom receiving his ‘This is Your Life’ book in 1957 which is being sold at Toovey’s

Important costumes and collectors’ items belonging to Sir Norman Wisdom and Dame Vera Lynn are to be sold at Toovey’s Washington salerooms on Thursday 1st December 2022.

Norman Wisdom was famous as an actor, comedian, musician and singer. He was best known for a succession of comedy films produced between 1953 and 1966 featuring his hapless onscreen character, often called Norman Pitkin.

Amongst the items entered for sale are three suits, a dressing gown and other accessories from the movies as well as related collectors’ items.

These include the iconic Norman Wisdom ‘Gump Suit’ made by W. Snape & Son, Wolverhampton in June, 1956. The suit is complete with its original cap, shirt and tie. Norman Wisdom wore his ‘Gump Suit’ in his first five films for the Rank Organisation. It would have been worn during the making of ‘Up in the World’ (1956) and ‘Just my Luck’ (1957), and was also used during his many performances in the theatre from the 1950s through to the 1980s. It carries a pre-sale estimate of £3000-£5000.

Also included is his leather bound ‘This is Your Life’ book which was presented to him in 1957. It contains approximately thirty-nine mounted black and white photographs from the show and carries an estimate of £300-£500.

A number of Dame Vera Lynn’s costumes are also to be sold at Toovey’s in the same auction in aid of the Dame Vera Lynn Charitable Trust.

A Norman Wisdom ‘Gump Suit’, and a blue dress and gown worn by Dame Vera Lynn on television, which are being auctioned at Toovey’s

Amongst these is a blue dress and matching gown. Designed by Fortuny, the dress with its blue silk trim and beautiful beaded and sequin appliqué would have been worn by Dame Vera Lynn on television. It is estimated at £150-£250.

During the Second World War Dame Vera was known as the Forces Sweetheart, a singer of undoubtable talent she became an icon of hope in the face of the sometimes seemingly insurmountable challenges of the Second World War.

Speaking to Vera Lynn’s daughter, Ginny, about the sale she said “Mummy’s charitable work was very precious to her, so it is very fitting that the costumes we have entered for auction at Toovey’s will benefit the Dame Vera Lynn Charitable Trust.”

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Duncan Grant Painting to be Sold in Aid of Sussex Heritage Trust

Charleston House, Sussex

A still life oil painting by the famous Charleston and Bloomsbury artist Duncan Grant is to be sold at Toovey’s in aid of the Sussex Heritage Trust at 10am on Wednesday 30th November. It carries a pre-sale auction estimate of £6000-8000.

Through its work and awards the Sussex Heritage Trust promotes and encourages best practice in our county’s built environment and landscape.

The oil on canvas, titled Still Life with Bloomsbury Chair and Spring Flowers was donated to the Trust by Peter Carreras, a distinguished Sussex artist and printmaker, and his wife, Greta. It is believed that they purchased the painting in 1972 at The Ringmer Festival organised by the philanthropist Ian Askew.

Duncan Grant’s painting provides a very British voice to the influences of Post-Impressionism. It depicts a handmade jug, of the type made by both Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, filled with flowers upon a painted Bloomsbury chair. His handling of the paint and the joyous palette is reminiscent of Bloomsbury and although a later work it is a fine example. A very similar chair can be seen in Duncan Grant’s studio at Charleston House in Sussex and is thought to have been painted by Richard Shone in 1970.

Duncan Grant (1885-1978), Chair with Flowers. Still Life, oil on canvas

It was Vanessa Bell’s love for Duncan Grant and her sister Virginia Woolf which brought her to Sussex during the First World War. Vanessa was living with the artist Duncan Grant, and his lover David Garnett, at Wissett Lodge in Suffolk when her sister, the author, Virginia Woolf, wrote to her in the May of 1916. She extolled the virtues and potential of Charleston house near Firle in East Sussex. Virginia explained that not only did Charleston house need a tenant but that the neighbouring farmer was short of ‘hands’ to work on the land. Duncan Grant and David Garnett needed to be essentially employed on the land to avoid being called up to fight in the Great War or the prospect of gaol as conscientious objectors.

They covered the walls and furniture at Charleston with painted decoration. Duncan and Vanessa painted those who visited, the countryside around them and scenes from their home as can be seen in this still life.

The Sussex Heritage Trust’s work is important in promoting best practice in our county’s built environment and landscape whilst encouraging and supporting talented young people into careers in conservation, building and horticulture. I feel sure that the sale of this beautiful Duncan Grant Still Life will bless the Trust and its work.

A Postcard from Cley

Cley-next-the-Sea from the coastal path on the North Norfolk Coast

As I write this there’s a break in the weather and those huge skies which define the North Norfolk Coast are filled with scudding clouds against the brilliant blue above the important coastal village of Cley-next-the-Sea. My wife Teresa and I often come up to this beautiful part of the country.

From Saxon times Cley was an important port on the River Glaven, one of the busiest in England. Fish, spices, coal, barley and oats arrived and left our shores through Cley. Many of the houses in Cley are defined by their gently arched Flemish gables, a reminder of our trade with the Low Countries over the centuries.

As we arrived we were blessed with a beautiful sunset which framed the famous 18th century windmill, a favourite subject amongst artists.

St Margaret’s church dates predominately from the early 14th century, its grandeur speaks of the port’s trade and wealth.

From the 17th century land reclamation increasingly separated Cley from the sea, and although it is no longer next-the-sea it is surrounded by marshes which provide internationally important habitat for rare breeding and visiting birds. The Cley Marshes bird reserve has been in the care of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust which was founded in 1926. Amongst the resident breeding birds are bitterns, marsh harriers and spoonbills which are joined by winter visitors which include numerous wading birds and brent geese.

We love to go out to the shingle ridge where at this time of year it can be difficult to discern where the pale grey sea ends and the sky begins. The wind and rain coming in from the North Sea makes you feel really alive.

The 18th century Cley Windmill against the setting sun

Together with Teresa I’m adding new and precious memories to those of this place from my childhood and our children’s. I would often holiday with my grandparents on this bit of the coast. The adventure would begin with the journey from Sussex in our elderly pale blue Morris Travellers. The pilgrimage to Cley and Blakeney for family holidays has continued across the generations.

It’s fascinating how important place is to us as human creatures, it roots us in the procession of our lives and blesses us, as shared stories of joys and sorrows unite us.

In Sussex Steyning shares a similar story to Cley and was once an important port. The green opposite the town’s magnificent church is said to have been where the harbour was from Saxon times.

I love Sussex and the North Norfolk Coast. It remains to say – Wish you were here!

Gunpowder, Treason and Plot

A 1605 engraving by Crispijn van de Passe the Elder, depicting eight of the thirteen Gunpowder plot conspirators, including Guy Fawkes
A 1605 engraving by Crispijn van de Passe the Elder, depicting eight of the thirteen Gunpowder plot conspirators, including Guy Fawkes

I love bonfire night. The beauty of the flashing fireworks against the dark sky, the whizzes, pops and bangs, the mist of drifting smoke and the smell of gunpowder on a cold, still November night are, for me, truly evocative.

Bonfire night gatherings have become a celebration of the coming together of family and friends. It is an important marker in my year.

Amidst our excitement, though, it is easy to forget that fireworks on Bonfire Night commemorate a particularly bloody and turbulent time in our island’s history.

The 1603 engraving depicting Elizabeth I (1533-1603) by Isaac Oliver is remarkable. There had been much conflict and bloodshed after Henry VIII’s break with Rome as Roman Catholics and Protestants each sought to establish their authority and particular understandings of the Christian faith in England.

Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558. Her first aim was to return England to the Protestant faith. What she and her advisors created was a church which was, and remains, both Catholic and Reformed. Elizabeth famously declared that she did not wish to “make windows into men’s souls” on the basis that “there is only one Jesus Christ and all the rest is a dispute over trifles”.

A 1603 engraving of Elizabeth I by Isaac Oliver

Nevertheless this resulted in the The Gunpowder Plot of 1605. It was an attempt by provincial, English Roman Catholics to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament, in order to assassinate James I of England (VI of Scotland) and install his nine-year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth, on the throne as a Roman Catholic head of state. The plot, led by Robert Catesby, was revealed by means of an anonymous letter. Famously, Guy Fawkes was discovered with thirty-six barrels of gunpowder during a search of the House of Lords at midnight on 4th November 1605. He and his seven surviving accomplices were tortured, tried, convicted of high treason, and sentenced to death. He was hung, drawn and quartered.

The print shown here was published around 1605 by a leading Dutch printmaker, Crispijn van de Passe the Elder, and shows eight of the thirteen conspirators, including Guy Fawkes. It is an extraordinary depiction of some of those involved, giving life to this particular moment in history.

This passage in our history speaks loudly of the importance of democracy in our nation and the world. Although sometimes untidy democracy gives us the opportunity for hope and change in the face of violence.

Fieldsports Inspire Conservation and Objects

A George V silver gilt pheasant
A George V silver gilt pheasant

Over the centuries fieldsports have been important drivers of the rural economy and the thread which binds communities of all ages and backgrounds together. In more recent times they have been drivers for restoring the natural landscape and habitats providing valuable building blocks in the patchwork of conservation.

In 2002 the grey partridge faced immanent extinction in Sussex where numbers had been monitored since the 1960’s. The Duke of Norfolk responded by starting his Norfolk Estate recovery plan which kick started an increased biodiversity creating 15km beetle banks and hedge planting around a patchwork of sympathetic crop rotation and sheep breeding. It has taken time and a lot of work from the Peppering farm and keepering team. But the results have been remarkable creating a sustainable environment where a shootable surplus of greys can be harvested alongside viable farm crops. The iconic grey partridge is not the only one to benefit. Skylarks, corn buntings, lapwings, song thrushes, many of our red listed species are finding a haven on the estate. The Duke has been keen to emphasise “the undoubted links between shooting and conservation”.

A life-long conservationist The Duke is now turning his attention to saving the curlew with a new project to reintroduce the Eurasian curlew back to the South Downs as a breeding bird.

Fieldsports have not only been the catalysts for conservation but the inspiration for objects too. These examples were sold in Toovey’s specialist auctions.

The large, lifelike George V silver gilt model of a pheasant with its finely engraved plumage and naturalistic base was made by the Scottish silversmith John Alexander and hallmarked in Glasgow 1913. Despite its broken tail it sold for £4800. It is thought that pheasants were introduced to England in the 11th century by the Normans.

Three George V silver gilt novelty gun cartridge pepper castors
Three George V silver gilt novelty gun cartridge pepper castors

The gavel fell at £480 for the set of three George V Scottish novelty silver pepper castors modelled as cartridge cases. Hallmarked Edinburgh 1912 they were made by the Edinburgh jewellers Hamilton & Inches who for some 120 years have been Royal Warrant holders.

I have to confess that I neither shoot nor fish. In my youth my great friend Simon Clarke took me fishing on the beautiful Wharfe in the Yorkshire Dales where his parents had fishing rights. Despite our best efforts my casting was terrible. On the second day I was presented with watercolours and paper – I expect for everyone’s safety! Nevertheless it was wonderful to observe their skill and respect for the wild brown trout, and I celebrate the conservation work fieldsports and their communities inspire, fund and support.