Common herd stampedes into the gentry's bargain basement: Malcolm Pithers reports on the unstately scene when county families put their historic lumber on sale

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The Independent Online
ABOUT 15,000 people turned up for Britain's most up-market car boot sale yesterday to compete for the cast-offs of the landed gentry.

Traffic jams stretched 10 miles in each direction outside Nostell Priory, near Wakefield, West Yorkshire, where the owners of about 60 country homes sold everything from silverware, paintings and fox furs to jams, jewellery and country house catalogues.

The vendors had paid pounds 30 a head to join the charity sale for the National Asthma Campaign. Further donations from proceeds were left to their discretion.

Buyers pushed and shoved to snap up bargains from the very best of basements.

Nostell Priory, now mostly owned by the National Trust but still the occasional residence of Lord and Lady St Oswald, had never seen anything like it. Lady St Oswald - who had organised the event along with the Countess of Mexborough and Sotheby's - seemed slightly perplexed by the rush.

When the tapes cordoning off the vehicles were dropped the crowd surged forward towards her car, where she was selling a mink coat for pounds 30. The men from Sotheby's had valued it at pounds 3,000. The buyer was Peter Cottrill, 57, a computer operator from Staffordshire, who had slept overnight in his car knowing that the coat would be on offer. John Matthews, from Lincolnshire, who described himself as a travelling person, said he had been pushed aside. He said: 'I got there first. He stole the coat. But he'll never have any luck with it. I've put a curse on it.'

From the boot of a gold-painted Rolls- Royce, David Dyson, from Huddersfield, was selling anything from a Military Cross to a silver snuff box for a mere pounds 70, a set of matching officer's pistols circa 1840 for pounds 1,000 and a bottle of madeira dated 1842 for only pounds 20.

But some sellers had second thoughts. After a quiet word with one of the Sotheby's valuers a rare camera was suddenly replaced in its box, and an 18th century spinning wheel was held back.

(Photograph omitted)