Around 18 months ago I received a request to attend St George’s Church, Portsea to view a table and a few surplus chairs they were considering selling.
Though I’d driven past many times, I’d never been inside the church on the cobbled square opposite the railway viaduct by the entrance to Gunwharf Quays.
The table I went to see had been used as an altar table and had reputably been donated to the church after their original altar table had been destroyed in a wartime bombing raid.
On viewing the table I remember thinking that once upon a time this was a very nice table. But it was now quite dilapidated with numerous pieces of carving missing.
The table, made from mahogany, had decorative mouldings applied to the frieze on three sides, suggesting this was a piece designed to stand against a wall.
My guess was its original function was as a serving table for use in a dining room.
The piece was quite plain, with fluted square supports and applied carved ‘draped swags’ and ‘Paterae’ to the frieze, both decorative features associated with the Neo-Classical style of Robert Adam and the 1770s.
I’d almost forgotten about the table until a recent call to instruct our firm to auction it. I decided upon a very conservative estimate of £200-300.
But on sale day we had seven telephone lines reserved and proxy bids on the book. This was clearly something special. Could it be by William Vile and John Cobb, cabinet makers with a big reputation who held a Royal Warrant?
When the hammer finally fell at an amazing £34,500, the room erupted with applause and cheers. I rang St George’s to let them know the price and was met with disbelief .
‘My mother always said that God moves in mysterious ways,’ was all I could think of to say.
‘Yes he does,’ came the reply, ‘but he doesn’t always come up with the cash!’