Nearly all the contents of the marquess's home in the east wing of Ickworth House, near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, had been marshalled into several hundred lots and more than 700 people had registered as potential bidders in one of the busiest country house sales Sotheby's, the auctioneers, had seen in some time.
"The whole thing is tragic really," said Stephen Griffiths, 31, a local farmer and businessman as he perused the marquess's 1964 Rolls-Royce complete with the Hervey family coat of arms and the number plate 888 NOB. "It's the end of the line."
Michael Hall, 54, a stud farmer, said that the prospect of buying something once owned by one of Britain's more flamboyant peers was pushing prices high. "They get carried away. I'm interested in the pictures, but they're going to make astronomical prices. Some of them will make five times the estimate, I'm sure."
James Miller, Sotheby's senior director in charge of the sale, said the Hervey family always had good quality. "It is an incredibly distinguished collection and it's an idyllic place to have a sale."
The 41-year-old marquess was not present although locals claimed he was renting a house nearby. But Mr Miller said the peer was already enjoying his new life in the Bahamas, his cocaine and heroin addiction behind him. With sales topping pounds 500,000 by lunchtime yesterday the marquess seemed set for the financial security which he claims has eluded him when he was paying pounds 350,000 house maintenance costs a year.
Although Ickworth was built by one of his ancestors, the house passed to the National Trust in 1956 in lieu of death duties and since then the marquess's family had lived in the east wing as tenants.
The National Trust is negotiating to take back the wing and was among the bidders yesterday. It inherited the cream of the Hervey collection in 1956 but was interested in a handful of lots in the sale with historical links to the family.
As the soulless eyes of plaster busts of the first Marquess of Bristol and of Lord Arthur Hervey, later Bishop of Bath and Wells, stared out across the marquee, the sale of Harvey heritage continued.
And as lucky buyers began the journey home, a cabbie in Bury St Edmunds recalled the days when he used to drive the marquess to London at pounds 70 a time. "So the Bristols have lost everything," he said. "It's a pity. He was a good old boy, really, despite what they say."Reuse content