Most of us would be happy to find a few bits and bobs for a car boot sale while clearing out our attics. Yesterday, the 12th Duke of Devonshire, owner of Chatsworth House, put such modest hopes into perspective when the first day of his spring-clean auction raised £4.4m, with two days still to go.
The Duke said he put the items – more than 20,000 of them – up for sale because his Derbyshire seat's many storerooms had become "absolutely choc-a-bloc". Given that the entire catalogue of antiques had been expected to fetch a total of £2.5m, the effort in sorting through them all – the job took 18 months – was time well spent.
Some of the items cluttering up Chatsworth's attics included a Georgian carved white marble fireplace, which fetched £565,250, and a mahogany dining table that went for £205,250. There was also a 19th-century bookcase, complete with a concealed door through which the Prince Regent, later George IV, would pass to visit his mistress. It sold for £145,250, further boosting the proceeds, which will go towards the upkeep of the house.
Other lots included personal items owned by some of the Duke's ancestors who included Georgiana, the inspiration for the film The Duchess, who died in 1806, and current family members, such as his mother, Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, the last of the Mitford sisters.
Many of the pieces had been in storage since the family's old London residence, Devonshire House in Piccadilly, was demolished in the 1920s. Others came from houses connected with the Devonshire family such as Bolton Abbey, Chiswick House and Lismore Castle. The sale is being held by Sotheby's in a 20,000sq ft marquee in the 1,000-acre grounds of Chatsworth, designed by Capability Brown.
Old furniture and knick-knacks are not the only things the Duke would be happy to dispense with. Earlier this year the 65-year-old, who is estimated to be worth £500m, declared he would have no problem with hereditary peerages being abolished altogether, saying: "The aristocracy is not dying. It's dead." He added that giving up his title would dispense with the "laughing and pointing at the Ryanair check-in desk".
The Duke, who is regularly placed in the top 100 of the Sunday Times Rich List and was educated at Eton and Oxford, inherited Chatsworth from his father, who died in 2004. He said: "I am delighted at how well the first day of the sale has gone. There has been a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for these wonderful items. It was all in store and we had nowhere to put it, so we thought it was time to give the pieces a new owner, a new life. So far it seems to be working very well."