Antiques Roadshow visits Surrey for Polesden Lacey filming
- Credit: Archant
Full of suspense and surprises, the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow is watched by millions. As presenter Fiona Bruce and the team return to Surrey for the first time in four years, Tinx Newton discovers that some of the show’s experts learned their trade here
Surrey residents have been busy turning out their cupboards, attics and garden sheds in a frenzy of treasure hunting since it was announced that the Antiques Roadshow would be returning to our county this month.
The BBC show’s last visit here was all the way back in 2009, when presenter Fiona Bruce and the AR’s team of experts filmed at Brooklands Museum in Weybridge. Roadshow favourite and local resident, Michael Aspel, also made an appearance. People came from miles around bringing everything from a vintage Barbie collection to paintings by famed Surrey artist GF Watts. A Paul Storr silver stirrup cup in the shape of a fox was revealed that day to be worth £25,000 to £30,000!
Now in its 36th series, this national treasure consistently contains all the elements of any successful television drama: suspense, intrigue, shock and humour. Followed by a devoted audience, the show’s live broadcasts attract thousands of people who queue patiently through all weathers clutching prized items in the vague hope that they might be revealed as a rare treasure.
“Exploring the human story behind every object is what makes the Antiques Roadshow so fascinating,” says the show’s long-term host Fiona Bruce. “And everyone loves the agony and ecstasy of the ‘what’s it worth? moment. It isn’t just about antiques – it’s history, beauty and drama all wrapped up in one.”
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With its rolling lawns and outstanding collection of antiques, Polesden Lacey near Dorking should prove to be the perfect destination for the show. Originally the home of Mrs Margaret Greville, an ambitious Edwardian hostess who loved entertaining and relaxing with friends, including King George VI and the Queen Mother, the property was left to the National Trust in 1942 and is now one of our county’s best-loved tourist attractions.
“Polesden Lacey has an amazing collection of antiques, everything from world-famous Dutch Old Masters to sparkling Fabergé objects,” says Vicky Nutt, house and collections manager. “Mrs Greville was a particularly keen collector of Renaissance-era maiolica (Italian tin-glazed earthenware). She paid as much as £483 for a single piece, a huge sum in the 1920s.”
No stranger to the property, Roadshow silverware expert, Alastair Dickenson, was born just down the road in Leatherhead. Having since spent over 35 years travelling the world in the antiques business, he fondly remembers his parents taking him to outdoor concerts at the great house.
“My parents were fantastic picnic makers, so the evenings were usually very memorable,” he says. “I have always found Polesden Lacey very accessible and I love to re-visit the silver collection. Some great houses have huge wine cisterns or silver chandeliers, which are more about opulence than collecting. Mrs Greville, however, seemed to be more like a modern collector and the excellent way the silver is displayed in the dining room helps to give a very personal insight into her life and how she entertained.”
He says that the collection is unusual, too, in having been formed by one person and remaining largely intact for so long.
“Most collections in grand houses were formed and added to by succeeding generations and were largely acquired for use around the house,” he says. “At Polesden Lacey, the remarkable Mrs Greville must have been very fashion conscious because she set about buying a large number of Charles II and early 18th century tankards and cups. Tankards have always been popular but Mrs Greville had a particular penchant for those 17th century examples decorated in the Chinese style – today the generic term for this style is ‘chinoiserie’.
“Curiously, in its original interpretation (it was revived in the 18th and 19th centuries in different guises), the fad only lasted about 10 years from 1680 to 1690 but the silver at Polesden Lacey has a rare abundance of this charming form of decoration and it is still highly collected today. Her penchant for drink related items probably stemmed from a family connection to the brewing trade.”
Home sweet home
Also wearing his expert’s hat in May’s filming of the Antiques Roadshow will be Mark Hill, a specialist in ceramics and glass who developed an interest in antiques as a schoolboy in Guildford where he attended the Royal Grammar School.
“It sounds a bit precocious,” he says. “But a school friend and I adored visiting National Trust properties and once we could drive, we would set off at weekends and explore. We were lucky to have three magnificent National Trust houses so nearby and these were the inspiration for my first interest in buying prints. There were some wonderful antique shops in Guildford back then, and I would scour them for interesting prints and antiques.”
Mark worked at Sotheby’s in his early career and developed a love for glass, which he describes as ‘the poor relation of ceramics’.
“I absolutely love glass and the fact that it changes colour throughout the day,” he says. “When I worked at Sotheby’s, I felt I must collect something and, with not much spare money, glass seemed a good thing to buy. It was less sought after then and although it’s more popular today, it’s still a very affordable thing to collect.”
Mark has always enjoyed the Surrey antiques scene and a favourite find was a Dunhill lighter he chanced upon at a Sandown Park fair many years ago. The price tag was £400 but Mark felt sure it was worth twice that. He went to his parents’ house nearby to borrow the cash to buy it, but on the way back had a rush of guilt and felt he should tell the stallholder its true worth.
“I convinced myself somehow that I was the devil incarnate in trying to rip her off so rather than buy it I suggested she bring it into Sotheby’s. She did, and it was worth £10,000. It just shows – honesty doesn’t always pay! However, she did give me a case of Champagne and I slept well that night.”
Dorking’s famous West Street continues to be one of Mark’s favourite haunts.
“There are still wonderful antiques to be found close to home if you can spend some time looking,” he says. “The Antiques Roadshow just proves that there are still good things to be found out there. I encourage people to buy old rather than new as good antiques do last. An old chair that’s been kicking around for 150 years will probably still have a lot of life in it.”
A certain romance
Hot on Mark’s heels at Polesden Lacey will be David Battie, now in his 70th year and still very much respected as a Roadshow ceramics expert. David, who appeared on the very first programme, also has happy memories of the property –but less picnics, more frolics!
“As a teenager I, for unexplained reasons, took dancing lessons in Byfleet; me who was banned from music at one of my schools and who was incapable of knowing what a beat was. However, there were more girls than boys and that was good. My aunt, who lived next door and was a wonderful woman, lent me her Mini (one of the first in production) and I rented her old house on the same plot. The mini took me and various girlfriends round Surrey for walks and visiting country houses such as Polesden Lacey.”
And doesn’t that just sum the show up? As much as the hopeful discovery of wonderfully rich and magical treasures, it’s the romance of the people and the stories they tell that continue to entice and excite audiences. Now, must get around to tidying up the attic; who knows what we might discover…
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