For sale: 'antiques mansion' to the rich and famous

An aristocrat who turned her country mansion into a luxury antiques showroom frequented by the rich and famous is putting the house and its entire contents for up for auction.

Lady Pamela Pidgeon converted her 10-bedroom stately home into Britain's only "antiques mansion" which drew celebrities including the Hollywood actress, Ava Gardner, and opera singer, Pavarotti.

An international clientele grew so rapidly that she installed a helipad in the grounds, and bought a fleet of chauffeur-driven Rolls- Royces to ferry her customers from a nearby airport to her home.

But ill health forced Lady Pidgeon, 79, to retire and put Great Brampton House in Herefordshire up for sale. The auction on 1 October is billed as the "country house sale of the year".

More than 700 lots including fine furniture, Asian ceramics and paintings will go under the hammer for between £100 and £80,000 per item, while the mansion itself is expected to reach at least £2m.

Highlights of the sale include a painting of the Marchioness of Donegal, originally painted by Francis Coates and augmented 16 years later by Thomas Gainsborough. It hangs at the foot of the ornate double staircase in the Great Hall, and is expected to fetch up to £60,000.

The sale, at Bonhams in London, also includes a rare 1988 Rolls-Royce Silver Spur Saloon, and a 1997 Bentley Turbo RT sports saloon.

Harvey Cammell, director of Bonhams, said: "The sale should attract enormous interest not only from within Britain but also from Lady Pidgeon's customers from around the world."

He added that the key to Lady Pidgeon's success was recognising the importance of "creating the vision of English grandeur that her clients aspired to".

"Lady Pidgeon had a very strong eye for classic English furniture and French opulence, and there will be some exceptional pieces in the sale," he said.

Lady Pidgeon, a former fashion model at Harrods who was born in Somerset, developed an interest in antiques when she followed her first husband, Major Francis Howells, to Malaysia.

When the couple returned to England in the late 1960s, she sold antiques from the boot of her Morris Minor 1000 before buying Great Brampton House. News of her unique "antiques mansion" spread among collectors and celebrities, who flocked to Herefordshire.

Within a few years, she had built a flourishing and highly respected business.

Following Major Howell's death in 1987, Lady Pidgeon married the Australian businessman, Sir John Pidgeon, in 1993. She has divided her time between Australia and Herefordshire, but will move to Australia after the sale.

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