Forgotten treasures in attic go under hammer: Victorian family heirlooms carefully packed away in 1941 have come to light. Oliver Gillie reports

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The Independent Online
THE CHATELAINE of Stokesay Court, a Victorian country house near Ludlow in Shropshire, packed up her precious possessions in 1941 when the house was requisitioned for the war effort, expecting that one day she would return to a life of luxury. But those days never returned for Cissy Allcroft and her family and so valuable pictures, china and furniture remained in their wrappings to be rediscovered 50 years later.

The cousins who inherited the estate found the valuables just as the servants left them in the attic and the cellar. Carefully packed to protect them from moth and light the fabrics, furnishings and pictures have retained a brilliance rarely seen today in artefacts of that period.

In the great hall at Stokesay Court settees and easy chairs upholstered in a pink plush material have turned a dirty black with age while chairs, once identical, have been found in the attic in virtually pristine condition. The chairs from the attic look as bright now as they must have done when Cissy's daughter, Jewell, held her coming out ball at the hall in the 1920s.

Watercolours, which also fade in time if exposed to light, have been found in the attics unsullied by the years. A picture of the Golden Gate to the Temple at Jerusalem, by Carl Haag, for example, still shows brilliant blue, which is the first tone to fade in watercolour work.

After the war Jewell, Lady Magnus Allcroft, and her husband, Sir Philip Magnus, biographer of Edward VII and Gladstone, went to live at Stokesay Court. But they only furnished the hall and two of the public rooms, living a relatively simple life. Most of the furniture and effects remained in the attics and cellars where nobody saw them. Jewell and her husband had no children and she became a recluse, denying anyone access to cellars and attics.

When finally the inheritors of Stokesay were able to investigate they found a wealth of Victorian academy painting in the attics. The paintings, by Thomas Sydney Cooper, Thomas Brooks, Walter Dendy Sadler, T M Joy and G D Leslie, were mostly bought direct from Royal Academy exhibitions by John Derby Allcroft, the wealthy glove manufacturer who built the house. These paintings and other effects will be sold by Sotheby's on 28 September in the largest country house sale for a decade.

Among the most splendid of the paintings is The Monarch of the Meadow, by Cooper, a picture of a bull standing guard over a cow and her calf. The picture was evidently Cooper's answer to Sir Edwin Landseer's Monarch of the Glen. Also likely to attract special interest is a painting by Brooks of Grace Darling, the Victorian lighthouse keeper's daughter who rescued sailors off the Northumberland coast. There are also several paintings by J F Dicksee, of interest today because of their unfettered sentimentality - a picture of Christ looking like a young Englishman and of a blonde girl with naked shoulders on a rock by the sea.

An extraordinary collection of tourist items from around the world were also found. They were collected by Herbert Allcroft, son of the man who built the house. Travelling in the 1890s he picked up a great deal of tourist tat - 50 palm leaf fans from the Philippines, still in their original packing case, a dozen shell spoons, lacquer and pottery from Kyoto and objects from a curio store in Mandalay. Robert Holden, an art agent who is acting for the family, said: 'He seemed to be unable to stop himself. He bought with the exuberance of youth.' Herbert Allcroft died before the First World War but his young wife, Cissy, lived on to become the chatelaine of Stokesay. And among the treasures she hid away are some from her own side of the family - a flag captured by her father, Sir William Russell, in the Indian Mutiny in 1857 and a campaign bed he used in the Crimean war. One of the most valuable of these is a puzzling item described as a Louis XIV Boulle 'commode'. In fact it is a chest of drawers inlaid with arabesque work fashioned from brass and stained horn.

(Photographs omitted)