An amazing country house sale at Cowdray Park

Ruth Bloomfield has an exclusive preview of the Cowdray Park auction - billed as the most exciting heirlooms sale for a decade
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Rocking horse
Something with an equine connection from the home of polo, a rocking horse with a guide price of £500 to £900
The average person's idea of de-cluttering involves offloading a bin bag full of junk at the nearest charity shop. But the clear-out currently going on at Cowdray Park is very far from average - it's on a grand scale, with 1,200 lots up for grabs.

The 13-bedroom stately home in Midhurst, West Sussex, is itself on the market - for £25million - and owner Viscount Cowdray says he will have neither the room nor the inclination to take 102 years' worth of family heirlooms with him when he moves to a smaller house on his 16,500-acre estate.

He has therefore hired auctioneers Christie's to host a country house sale in order to divest himself of everything from gilded beds and suits of armour (doesn't everyone want one?) to antique prams and pretty mirrors. And for anyone short of an ancestor there are plenty of oils going. Prices start at £100.

An exclusive flick through the catalogue proves this will be quite the smartest jumble sale for a generation. The lots, which come from both Cowdray and Dunecht, the Aberdeenshire estate owned by Viscount Cowdray's younger brother, the Hon Charles Pearson, are expected to raise about £3.5 million to £5.5 million.

Four-poster bed
An extravagant Italian Rococo giltwood four-poster bed. Guide price: £8,000 to £12,000

'This is very much the best country house sale for 10 years'

Andrew Waters, head of the auction firm's country house sale department, is bracing himself for a wave of interest from the UK and beyond: Americans and newly wealthy Russian and Asian buyers will inevitably be keen to acquire a bit of serious country-estate chic.

"This is very much the best country house sale for 10 years," said Waters. "I would expect that there will be a huge amount of private interest, as well as from collectors who want a piece of history, and from museums. The thing with this sale is that it offers great diversity."

To be frank, the family portraits and plentiful quantities of huge, heavily embellished brown furniture might be more country house hotel than London home. But there are also some stunning, and less opulent pieces, which would look perfect in an ordinary Victorian semi, particularly the rugs, light fittings, silverware, vintage linens, Victorian kitchen furniture and lovely gilt mirrors.

Waters himself covets the collection of Elizabethan portraits by Edward Burne-Jones. "But I am not allowed to bid, and I don't have the house for them anyway," he said.

silver table
This heavily decorated silver centre table seeks a grand home with a guide price of £15,000 to £25,000
The Burne-Jones paintings have six-figure guide prices, but happily some of the more down-to-earth pieces - think downstairs rather than upstairs - have more realistic estimates. The most inexpensive items on sale are two pretty linen baskets with a guide price of £100 to £200, and there are plenty of finds for under £1,000.

See everything in its place before it leaves home

Nineteenth century Cowdray Park has been the seat of the Pearson family since 1909. It is home to the famous polo club (which is not included in the sale) and the auction will be an opportunity for visitors to see inside the 44,000sq ft private house, which has only rarely been open to the public.

Most of the lots will be displayed in situ from September 9 to 12, 2011. The sale itself runs from September 13 to 15.

Entry will be by sale catalogue, which costs £30 and allows admittance for two.

* For more information, visit or call 020 7930 6074.

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