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A lucky couple who inherited a grand ancestral home discovered £1million of rare artifacts including a stocking worn by Queen Victoria, that had built up over 300 years.
Mark and Lucianne Warde-Norbury found the mass of family treasures and possessions when they inherited Hooton Pagnell Hall, in Doncaster, South Yorkshire.
Amongst the 2,000 goods discovered in the Downton Abbey style stately home, is a stocking work by Queen Victoria, 18th century cookbooks and a moving letter written by former estate manager Bernard Wilson to his younger brother Dr Edward Wilson, who died alongside Captain Scott on his doomed expedition to the South Pole in 1911.
Mr Warde-Norbury, 53, said: “When we inherited the estate we quickly discovered there were areas of the house that had not been looked at and sorted through for many years, decades.
“It was quite a daunting task and it’s taken us two years to get to where we are, and we’re still keeping an awful lot of stuff.
“Some of the rooms were over-furnished and needed decluttering. But there were so many things stuffed in drawers and boxes that we didn’t know about.”
In the library was a rare copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle, or Liber Chronicarum as it is known to Latin scholars, which is an illustrated biblical paraphrase and world history and was written by Hartmann Schedel in 1493. It has an estimated value of £30,000.
The sale includes many important paintings including a large watercolour of Windsor Castle by Paul Sandby painted in 1802 which was bought by the family in about 1890 for £1. It is now worth £60,000.
A pair of flintlock duelling pistols made by HW Mortimer, the King’s gunmaker, in about 1800, are expected to fetch £8,000 and a rare mid-18th century English wooden doll, which was found propped up on a chair in the nursery, could make up to £15,000.
On the floor of the safe the Warde-Norburys uncovered a valuable silver candlestick and cutlery that had been buried for years under four inches of dust.
Hooton Pagnell Hall in Yorkshire has been in the Warde family since 1681 when it became the home of Sir Patience Warde, a Whig politician and former Lord mayor of London who began restoring the grand property.
Mr Warde-Norbury said: “It’s been a very emotional experience to sift through everything.
“We basically put a list together of things we weren’t sure about and went through item by item.
“When we went through the silver safe it was so full we couldn’t get into it. We had to take everything out and clean it to see what there was.
“We found lots of interesting stuff in the archway room, a storeroom that took us a day and a half to go through.
“Victorian toys to a Middle Eastern water bottle to antique daggers – it was a real eclectic mix.
During the First World War it was used as an auxiliary military hospital for injured servicemen and the sale includes items from then. There is also a letter from nursing heroine Florence Nightingale.
The couple even let their children Isobel, 15, and William, 12, decide what should be kept or sold.
As well as Mr Wilson’s letter to his Antartic explorer brother, there was also a letter sent by Mr Warde-Norbury’s great-great-grandmother Julia Warde-Aldam to him.
The lady of the house wrote: “I do hope it won’t be very long now before you are back home again.”
The Florence Nightingale letter that informs ‘Madam’ of a successful operation is valued at £600 and there’s a warrant signed by the Duke of Wellington authorising a payment of £1,888 – a substantial amount of money in 1809 – to an army corps that is worth £300
Charlie Thomas from auctioneers Bonhams, said: “There hasn’t been a clearout at the house for over 300 years and the second floor, which were the old servants’ bedrooms, we couldn’t get into. They were so packed full of Grand Tour souvenirs all stacked up on top of each other.
“Everything had just been left untouched.
“The great thing about this sale is it’s a real English country house sale. There are great academic pieces, like the Paul Sandby painting, to quirky things like one of Queen Victoria’s stockings, which we found stuffed in the attic.
“As soon as I walked in the house I got a Downton Abbey feel about it. When we found these amazing handwritten cookery books from the 18th century I could imagine a Mrs Patmore type writing down all her recipes for things like rabbit pie.
“In there we found 18th century padlocks and a mantrap – which was used to catch poachers. In this day it’s just an incredible thing to find.
“What makes it so interesting is these items haven’t been seen on the market for up to 300 years and it’s all in original condition, which is hugely appealing to collectors.
“A country house sale like this is a rare beast, you don’t get them very often.”
The Hooton Pagnell Hall collection will be sold by Bonhams in Knightsbridge on December.