Hesketh family split over sale of Easton Neston heirlooms

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The sale of Lord Hesketh's 400-year-old fortune has caused friction among family members who fear the former Tory treasurer and chief whip sold off important heirlooms.

Some of the family were so concerned last week that they joined the ranks of public bidders gathered at the family seat of Easton Neston in Northamptonshire for the three-day sale of the 1,500 paintings, furniture and objets d'art.

Lord Hesketh's brother Johnny and two cousins are believed to have tried to keep the heirlooms in family hands by making anonymous bids. Toys and sports equipment are thought to have been bought by cousins who still treasure memories of playing with them between the wars.

But other items also found good homes. A 19th-century Sikh religious text, in ink and gouache, was sold for £12,000 to a group representing a Leamington Spa temple. And an opium pipe was bought by an American cartoonist working for The New Yorker, whose family had connections with the pipe's original owner, William Sheraton.

The close of the sale marks the end of a traumatic time for the family. The auction followed the announcement a year ago by Lord Hesketh that he could no longer afford the huge costs of the upkeep of his estate. He said that just to maintain 400 acres of woodlands he planted to improve the pheasant shooting took three foresters at £75,000 a year. The annual costs of the whole estate were estimated to be £1m.

Sotheby's said only the sale of the collection of Lord Leverhulme in 2001 which fetched £9.5m, raised more money. Lord Hesketh will keep around £5m.