Fourteen years after Robert Maxwell fell to his death off the side of his yacht in mysterious circumstances, the spirit of the disgraced publishing baron was evident at a giant garage sale yesterday in the shape of the uniform that the late tycoon wore as a captain in the North Staffordshire Regiment.
In a final financial ignominy, Kevin Maxwell, younger son of the former Mirror Group owner, was being forced to peddle his possessions as he and his family prepare to leave their Elizabethan mansion. But the uniform was one item that was not up for grabs. Kevin's wife, Pandora, 47, confided: "We haven't really sold it. My husband just put the sticker on to stop anyone buying it because he changed his mind about selling it. It is just too sentimental to sell."
There were other mementoes of a time when Cap'n Bob plundered the Mirror Group's pension fund before leaving his son the biggest British bankrupt in history. They included a glass globe with the inscription Maxwell Communications, and a small ink set from the directors of IPC Magazines on the occasion of his 60th birthday.
There was a time when Mrs Maxwell - "no nonsense Pandora" - would throw cold water over unwanted visitors to the 11-bedroom Moulsford Manor on the banks of the river Thames in Oxfordshire. But yesterday anyone with cash to flash was invited in to sample the wares, much of which was described by a visitor as "tat".
Kevin and his brother Ian may have been acquitted of criminal charges relating to allegations that they helped their father, but the younger brother's finances have not fared well. Having failed to pay off a £3m debt to the bridging loan company Lexi Holdings, the family managed to stave off the humiliation of eviction and bailiffs by selling the mansion. Mr Maxwell described the buyer - reported to be the Isle of Wight businessman Kerry Hamer - as an "acquaintance" before the county court. But yesterday Mrs Maxwell insisted the new occupant was no friend and "came via the estate agent".
Kevin Maxwell looked uncomfortable as he stood behind a table in the marquee while his wife took the money. Describing the goods on show as "an accumulation of things people dump on you when you have a large house", the 46-year-old self-employed property consultant added: "This is a good way of getting rid of as much as possible. Moving is always stressful and I will be happy when it is over."
Some of the goods were reminiscent of a time when the family were millionaires. A museum paid £750 for a kilt and sporran owned by the tycoon. An ornate early 19th-century wooden door, imported from Oman, was on sale for £1,200, alongside antique carved drawers, vases and a dagger. But much was simple household goods which will now find a home in a far less opulent setting.
One neighbour said she was searching for cheap furniture for her 20-year-old son's university digs. "I saw the sign in the village advertising the sale and I love bargains. I was looking at the boats in the garden, which include a kayak and rowing boat. My husband is desperate for a Canadian canoe," she explained.
Stone paving slabs from the seven-acre formal gardens leading to the banks of the river were sold at a knock-down price. Even their seven children were helping out, with 17-year-old Ella parting with her doll collection.
Mrs Maxwell added: "What you see on sale today is only 10 per cent of what we must dispose of. The rest we are going to auction. All we need is enough money to feed the children and keep them healthy and happy."
- More about:
- Robert Maxwell
- Sailing (yachting)