John Foster looks for antiques to sell to raise funds to save a historic house which survived an attack by Oliver Cromwell but is now threatened by structural problems.
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Even in Britain's grandest houses,
belts are tightening as the deepest recession since the war bites.
Some are battling for survival as decay takes hold,
threatening their future and our very history.
Well, Morgan inherited the estate just as the credit crunch hit.
With heritage grants scarce, they are faced with a stark choice.
It would break my heart to see those go.
To preserve these precious places,
will they sell the family silver to save their stately?
I've no intention on my watch of seeing this building deteriorate.
This is John Foster. He's had 20 years as a fine arts and antiques specialist.
He's offering his expertise to try to throw these treasured properties a lifeline.
All done at £15,000? All done.
This week, John travels to Marston Hall, the centuries-old
seat of the Thorold family, who are trying desperately to hang on to it.
You feel you're letting the side down if you don't keep the thing going.
Weighed down by 700 years of history, can John Foster
persuade them to take the difficult decisions needed to save Marston?
I'm a guardian here. I'll be here for 25 years if I'm lucky and that's it.
With any luck, this building goes on, and it goes on with the history.
Marston in Lincolnshire is home to the Thorolds,
one of England's oldest families.
I'm just coming up to the village of Marston.
I've been really excited to meet this family and, I must say, a bit daunted.
They need to raise a lot of money to fund their project, and I just hope
that they've got the items and we can find the items to sell.
Tracing their line to William the Conqueror,
the Thorolds were once a powerful and influential family who
owned a number of grand houses in Lincolnshire.
But Marston Hall is their last link with this illustrious past.
It has been home to the family since the 1300s.
If you were to have a row of people behind me, stretching to that door
it would represent roughly every Thorold that's lived here.
The burden of all this history is borne by John Thorold,
a surveyor from London who inherited the house when his cousin, Henry Thorold, died.
When I actually took over, and the building had been empty for a little while,
everything was covered in that mould white bloom that you get on a bad grape.
It's been a labour of love for John, his wife Liz
and their twins Ali and Guy.
This is not following the rules, Mrs Thorold.
The very first time we ever came here when we knew that the house
was ours it was a pitch dark Saturday morning, pouring rain.
I flicked the light switch and immediately fused the whole house.
And I thought - is this a good idea?
When we first inherited it we were both nine, because we're twins and...
-There was water running down the floor...
..in the kitchen when we first got here.
-It wasn't what we excepted.
John is a chartered surveyor.
But this house still throws plenty of nasty surprises his way.
The wet on the floor, and it's permanently wet here, has soaked
up into some of the wood, and it's, as you can see, perfectly rotten.
What I don't know at this point is if it's just an area local to here,
or whether it's spread back into the room as a whole.
I dread that, frankly, because if we've just got a square here
that will be a few days' work and that's fine.
If it's spread to the whole area here, for whatever reason,
we've got another big job on our hands.
This damp is the latest in a long line of problems at Marston.
But John also now faces a new crisis,
that threatens the entire structure.
The south-east corner of this house is moving.
This part of the wall is moving outwards.
There will come a day when the thing will collapse,
and this very definitely needs money now.
The costs of repairs to this 700-year-old house
are crippling the Thorolds, but John can't walk away.
People often ask me why I bother with this, I could have a house
twice as comfortable, half the size, much easier to look after,
and without much meaning to me.
It's a cliche to say these things are in your blood, but actually they are.
They've called in antiques expert John Foster to see
if family heirlooms could be sold to raise the money
they urgently need to fix the wall and roof before winter strikes.
-John Foster, nice to meet you.
-Welcome to Marston. This is my wife, Liz.
-Hello, Liz Thorold.
Wow, it's lovely.
So how long has the Thorold family lived here?
We've been here about 700 years.
Many ancestors who you can see gazing down at you...
..including Sir John.
He looks down at me when I'm working there which reminds me of how to behave.
I've no intention on my watch of seeing this building deteriorate.
I want to keep it in the family and going forward.
So it must be quite a hard decision to actually have to sell some things.
Well, one doesn't want to have to do that but really we have no option at this stage.
-So pressure on you, and then pressure on me.
-You're the short-term saviour, I think.
Marston Hall now houses the relics of this once powerful
and wealthy family of politicians, playboys and royal confidants.
The Thorolds are eager to show John one picture in particular.
I mean Rubens, big name. And so what do you know about it?
-It's down in a family record as being by Rubens.
There was a probate valuation before I came here that has it
as Circle of Rubens, and obviously there's a difference there.
Absolutely there's a difference,
that's not saying one's right and one's wrong,
new attributions are happening all the time,
but it is a big ask for it to be by Rubens,
we do need to do quite a bit of checking.
-Let's not put all our eggs in one basket is the key.
I mean, I know there are other things to look at.
-Why don't you have a look around?
-Perfect. Thank you.
Well, if it is by Rubens then that's really good news.
A painting by the 17th century Flemish painter,
Peter Paul Rubens could make millions for Marston Hall.
If it is an original.
Just 10 years ago the newly discovered
Massacre Of The Innocents made a record price of 49 million pounds.
Even copies by known students and followers of Rubens
can reach hundreds of thousands of pounds at auction.
But separating a good copy from a poor imitation is a specialist skill.
The trouble is, artists like Rubens had so many followers after them because the style was so popular.
People would copy and copy and copy.
I really hope they're not pinning everything on this picture because...
it may be, but it's almost certainly not.
John wants to find other items that have a more reliable price tag.
This really is an unbelievable chest of drawers. It would date from 1760.
This serpentine front here, with the brushing slide
which you pull out and the man of the house would have prepared
his clothes on here for that final brush-off to make them perfect.
And not only have you got one,
you've also got its pair over there, which makes a massive difference.
If the chests are an exact pair, John Foster believes
they could be worth up to £25,000.
This is another lovely room, you can really see that they've worked hard.
I mean it looks so homely in here.
These actually are a really handsome set of chairs,
almost certainly by Gillows.
I mean, Gillows being arguably one of the top furniture makers of the 18th century.
What's really nice is you've got a child's high chair.
Again by Gillows, it's nice you've still got the original footboard,
a lot of the time these were lost, and it just shows
that this family included the whole family in dinners.
This stereotypical view we have of the Victorians, of having
children seen and not heard, I don't think applies in this case.
The family collected the highest quality furniture
and liked to show it off.
That's a cellaret made by Gillows.
A cellaret would have been where you'd have stored
all your bottles and this would have had a lined section.
And to impress your friends with a cold glass of wine
at the grandest parties.
It seems that when the Thorolds inherited Marston it wasn't
only the house that needed some TLC.
Many of the antiques were in a pitiful state, too,
particularly the paintings.
Clearly, with the amount of stuff piled into here, I mean
there are pictures, paintings, badly stacked all over the place,
it's obvious they're finding it quite difficult to cope with it all.
And so badly looked after, really.
Now for the hard bit. What will the Thorolds be prepared to part with?
-So, tell me what you've found out.
-Oh, well, it's been fascinating.
I love this set of chairs, there are six, or is it just five?
-No, there are more of those, a set of 12.
Some of which aren't here.
Now, I've found quite a few sort of interesting pieces,
and one of the first ones in here is this cellaret.
It's missing its liner which will hurt it,
so I mean something like that I would estimate at £2-3,000.
Did you see anything else that caught your eye?
Well, there's that pair of chest of drawers which I'd like to do
a bit more checking on, would you consider letting those go, I know it's...
Yes, we'd certainly look and consider these things
because quite clearly we have to get to our total.
We do need to get some of those big numbers,
they would bump up the figures.
-It's nice to have a pair.
-Exactly, it's nice to have a pair.
Then we go on to paintings, really, the Rubens.
I have worries about it, it does look a little bit flat to me,
but I would like to just get another opinion on that.
But that's not all. There's also the storeroom of paintings to consider.
There are so many interesting paintings here.
I'm curious to know where they all come from.
Well, here, really. This is Syston Park, it's a house that was
built on the estate in 1760, very much grander than here.
The family came into money then.
-It had a wonderful library, a sensational one.
The family gave up on it in about 1925 when it was pulled down.
-It was demolished?
People did that, you know, there were a whole string of reasons,
and they felt they didn't want to live there anymore.
The contents on the other hand, quite a lot of it came here.
-Hence the paintings.
-The Gutenberg rival sadly went elsewhere.
Right, I think because of the interesting paintings
that you've got here I think the best way forward really is to get
a picture specialist here, we'll get him to go through all of the paintings.
I think that's an excellent idea.
To help John Foster understand their urgent need for funds,
John and Liz want to show him
the leaning wall that threatens the future of Marston Hall.
You can see it bulging out.
You can really see that line there, can't you?
You can, if you look at that gutter, that's vertical.
So that sounds expensive.
It is, this building should cost about £40,000 a year to run,
normally, and this wall and the roof above it will be another £50,000 or so.
-£50,000 on top of the £40,000 annual upkeep?
-Yes. You heard that correctly.
-Hideous, isn't it?
-That is a hell of a lot.
The mixture of Elizabethan, Georgian
and mediaeval architecture here requires constant work.
To finance it in the future the Thorolds need a reliable income stream.
So what's your plans then?
Well, our plan really is to be able to do weddings here,
that's what we'd like to do, because...
It sounds perfect for weddings.
It would be but my application has been refused,
there's a long story to it.
-We will apply again, and I mean to get it.
I put in this detail, I modified that detail,
I've tried to please in a great many ways,
but so far no good.
John Foster wants to move quickly with research into the chests and the Gillow cellaret.
But he also wants to go into the village to see why the Thorolds'
application to hold weddings at the house has been refused.
You've got Marston Hall right behind me
and it's bang, smack in the middle of a really pretty village.
You've got residential areas, and a really beautiful church.
Then there's this Victorian school which, incidentally,
is called the Marston Thorold's School.
Conveniently, you've got the pub across the road, the Thorold Arms.
It just shows how important this family was to the area.
I've looked at John and Liz's planning application
which has been refused by the council's planning inspectorate
on the grounds of, apparently, objections raised by local residents.
The main problems really seem to be that marquees will be unsightly,
noise late at night and also problems with parking.
This is a really tough situation for John and Liz
and I just hope that they can come to some sort of compromise with the council,
but until they do we really need to raise some money for them.
You make such a mess. I spend my entire life either clearing up...
Move the thing this way and it will catch it, come on.
...clearing up either house or garden.
The running costs here mean that Liz and John must commute to jobs
in London, leaving caretakers at the house.
This has made it difficult for them to win local support for their business plan.
They see somebody like me as an outsider or a Londoner.
Actually, our family have been here for a while now.
I think they're frightened of the unknown, they think that
if they say yes to something, it isn't that they object to something
happening twice a year or four times a year, but they panic
that it will then happen twice a weekend
and then of course nobody's going to want to, and that isn't what
will happen anyway, it's not what we're looking for.
But not to be able to anything at all, ever, actually,
makes life pretty difficult.
I was brought up in a village, and I know there's always village politics,
but I like the whole business of being part of a community,
everybody helping everybody else, that sort of thing.
But you've got to feel welcome to want to do it.
Until we can be here all the time it's difficult to spread oneself across everything,
trying to run a house in London, work in London, run the house here,
it's difficult to get everything done.
There you are. All the rest will blow away.
-Well, not out here.
-No, I don't think that's a good idea.
As they prepare to submit another planning application,
the urgent need to fix the wall and the roof remains.
John's called in pictures expert, Rupert Maas,
to see if the paintings can help.
-Rupert, hello. Good morning.
-Hello, I'm Rupert.
-Welcome to Marston.
-Liz, my wife.
-How do you do?
The Thorolds have high hopes for the Rubens from Syston Park,
and they want Rupert's view on that straight away.
OK, so, we're looking at a picture that purports to be a Rubens,
and we've got to decide whether it's right or not.
Is it by Rubens? Erm...
..you see, I'm afraid I don't think so.
-Do you think it's of the period?
I don't think that's even Circle of Rubens,
because if you say Circle then you're implying that Rubens knew the guy,
that they went to the pub together or something.
Well, that just isn't the case.
It's, I think, a copy.
In fact I think it's a straight copy of a known picture.
-I recognise it.
-How can you tell, that, Rupert?
I think the first thing to say is that we've got some clunky figures.
They are slightly clunky, all of them.
It seems to me they're not lively, and naturalistic enough.
I'm so sorry if that's rather disappointing.
Well, one can always hope that things are better than they are,
but life doesn't necessarily turn out that way.
But Rupert isn't finished.
The study, piled with paintings, may yet produce a real old master.
If Rupert can find them, beneath the Christmas decorations.
-Are you happy if I just rustle through?
-Yes, look at anything.
Rupert's eye is immediately drawn to one painting.
So I think this picture is meant to be a Rembrandt.
What we've got to decide is how close to Rembrandt it is, in fact.
It goes something like this, it's either by Rembrandt or it's
Studio of Rembrandt or Circle of Rembrandt or it's Manner of Rembrandt.
Manner of Rembrandt can be 100 years later,
or 200 or 300 years later even, and nowhere near the real thing.
So, where are we with this?
Always go to hands. Artists find hands difficult.
In this case I think you might agree that the hands are just
like chipolatas that have been defrosted rather too quickly.
That's definitely Manner of Rembrandt, then.
These are meant to be by Teniers.
It's rather interesting because the name is spelt slightly wrong,
that should be I before E, and it isn't, it's Teneirs.
This room is full of slightly familiar pictures,
but in families like the Thorolds that's normal.
Often you'd go on the Grand Tour
and you wanted to decorate your house back in England
and you quite consciously bought copies, not the real thing.
You'd do this simply on grounds of budget, you couldn't afford the real thing.
There was no fakery going on.
This is meant to be Annibale Carracci,
it's actually not very good, I'm afraid.
Practically speaking, coming to sell them now,
people buy them for the same reasons, they want to decorate their houses.
We're talking about one, two, three thousand pounds
every time you're looking at one of them, something like that.
Will there be anything of enough value in here to really boost the funds?
I've slightly saved this up till the end
because I've had my eye on it since I came in the room.
The thing is, it's good.
In the other room there are some quite interesting things,
I don't think there's anything particularly special, but there was this.
I just picked this out because, apart from the fact that,
if you don't mind me saying, it's actually falling off,
-the condition is really quite parlous.
Country house condition, well put.
Having said all that, I thought I saw some quality in this picture.
What do you know about it?
Other than it's a family member actually not a great deal.
Well, it does look like a Raeburn, I can't get away from it,
it's well painted enough.
Raeburn was a very fashionable and an extremely good portrait painter,
of all the famous Scots at the time.
I mean that would be good news in monetary terms, wouldn't it,
if it was a Raeburn?
Yes. Put it this way...
put it this way, it's just possible it could prop the house up on its own.
-That's very pleasing.
-That would be seriously pleasing, actually.
-Yes, it would.
But Rupert sounds a note of caution.
I think that that date of 1824 is very late for it to be Raeburn.
I'm not even sure if that isn't after he died.
Where do we go from here?
Well, we've got to show it to a Raeburn specialist.
That's got to be done. If he gives it the thumbs up it's all systems go.
This could be exciting news for the Thorolds.
Sir Henry Raeburn was the most prominent portrait painter of the late 18th and early 19th century.
A member of the Royal Academy, his paintings range hugely in value,
depending on the sitter and the style.
Today a Raeburn can be worth anything from a couple
of thousand, to over a million pounds.
Raeburn died in 1823. The painting is dated 1824.
But it's just possible that it could be authentic.
A Raeburn specialist is needed to be certain.
The damp issues in the dining room have got worse.
John has called in his builder, Glynn.
What we've done now is we've pulled a lot of this loose stuff away
back to the bare floor, as much as we can.
You're looking at the best part of £1,500.
-It's lucky it hasn't spread...
-Yes, I dreaded the thought of that.
..otherwise it could be quadruple that.
Even though it's Glynn's 40th birthday today,
he's left the celebrations at home to fix the floor at Marsden.
Is this good enough and the answer is certainly no,
but I don't really know what to do about it.
It's a constant battle at this house, I've been coming here doing
maintenance now on and off for the last 15 years.
I've known John and his family for quite a bit longer than that,
I used to work for his mother,
but here we have ever-increasing damp problems for a really old house, which is what it is,
starting from the roof downwards, to be honest with you.
And now we've got the floor problems. It must be hard for him.
It's just a constant drain for him to try and find, obviously the money.
We will go and spring this on Glynn.
-Right, Glynn, can I interrupt you for a few moments?
Erm, you've been working, I've calculated,
for something like 23 years between my mother and myself.
-Yes, it probably is now, yeah.
-Welcome to being 40.
A small amount of drink.
And that will get you two Premiership football tickets.
You'll have to arrange it.
-Thank you very much, John.
-Not at all.
-Thank you very much.
No, we deeply appreciate what you've done.
-Thank you very much.
-That's all right, I'll see you next week.
So the floor's fixed, but at a cost.
The Thorolds are hoping that the solution to the leaning wall
and the roof may lie with the Raeburn painting.
John's consulting a world authority, Dr Duncan Thomson.
Will he be able to solve the mystery of the date?
The painting is signed 1824, but Sir Henry Raeburn died in 1823.
Dr Thomson, this is John and Liz.
-Hello, how do you do?
-How do you do?
-What do you think?
It looks wonderful in this light, actually.
It's a charming picture.
We've swung it towards the daylight and it really benefits from being seen in daylight.
The condition is not perfect, this sort of verve
but delicacy in the young child.
-I don't doubt whatsoever that it's by Raeburn.
No doubts, whatsoever.
I see Raeburn's typical handwriting which is very delicate, fragile.
-You see the way he lets the background...
-..show through the muslin, there.
-And the face is so sensitive.
And what about the date?
Well, I should think the date represents the time the family got the picture.
It came via the Raeburn Studio after Raeburn had died.
And how do you think this painting ranks,
I mean you've obviously seen a lot of Raeburns in your time?
I think it ranks highly,
certainly among the fairly large number of paintings he did of children.
The only problem obviously is the condition, you know if there was
a sudden minor earthquake bits of that would fall off.
And how is the market for paintings by Raeburn at the moment?
It varies tremendously, actually,
perhaps more than for most artists of this period,
in that some Raeburns go at auction for just £2-3000,
but I know of other Raeburns being valued at over one million pounds.
Why is there such a vast range in prices?
I think there was a feeling that Raeburn was careless, he was over-productive.
When you say he was over-productive, did he get sloppy in his work, is that why some...
Well, I think that's where the carelessness notion comes from,
he was painting too many portraits and an element of carelessness crept in.
So the ones he really took his time on are worth loads...
There's this tremendous range of prices,
I think this fits in the middle somewhere.
-That's quite encouraging.
-You mean half a million? Right.
Well, between the £2-3,000 and the half million.
It's encouraging that the painting is authentic.
But more work will be needed to establish where best to sell it,
and how to price it.
Marston Hall needs a cash injection just to keep it standing.
But it also needs a sustainable business plan
which Liz and John are keen to develop.
Well the idea of having weddings here would be that we have a marquee
at the back of the house and this garden actually lends itself
very well, cos it's a good size lawn to have a certain number of people on.
This garden actually is quite pretty as it's quite enclosed,
so if it's windy they won't lose their hats.
And actually, funnily enough,
the house is such a block of stone that we discovered that
virtually no noise can be heard the other side of it.
We basically created a new garden here because it was
so different when we came, with very high hedges which I didn't like because I like to see the view,
because it's lovely, so we've opened the whole
thing out so we completely planted a new lawn and put in these new flower
beds and all that sort of thing, so all this is still relatively new.
Also, with the garden, it needs a lot of work done to it,
and at the moment it's just us,
really struggling with a gardener once a week for a couple of hours.
The wedding business is on hold.
But John Foster is keen to get the 18th century chests valued.
He's invited leading furniture historian, Dr Adam Bowett,
to help decide their worth.
If they are a genuine pair they could make up to £25,000.
How are you getting on? I see you've had a bit of a move around.
Indeed. Well, we thought it would be best to get them side-by-side so we could see
-whether they were a genuine pair.
In fact they're not, they're very close, but one is slightly smaller than the other.
Why would they do that?
It's likely one was supplied to the client
and then shortly after, perhaps a year later, the client asked
for another of the same model. My guess is these were made about 1770.
They are relatively plain.
There are no carved elements, there's no inlay.
Why would a family have ordered a plainer one rather
than have the carved styles and the big ormolu handles.
I mean does that say anything about the family that owned them?
Well, yes, it does. What that tells us is that here is a family
that is interested in quality. They're not interested in something that's flashy.
They want something that's good and they're prepared to pay for it.
I think that tells you a lot about your ancestors.
I'm very pleased to hear it, yes. You may be interested to know that the gentlemen
you see above my desk refused a peerage. Which was unusual.
He considered himself a Lincolnshire country gentleman,
despite high office.
That's a perfect description of a an old-school Tory
in the 18th century sense.
Absolutely perfect, yeah.
I must confound you on one small matter, he was a wig.
He was a wig, was he?
-What date are we talking about?
Absolutely perfect for these, yep.
It's a great thing to think that these chest of drawers
were owned by that man. You know?
And he may have been an MP
but he still needed somewhere to put his socks. And here they are.
The ninth baronet could afford plenty of socks and fine furniture.
He built Syston in the 1760s and was renowned as a straight-talking
and rebellious MP for Lincolnshire.
-With restoration of them, do we leave that?
-Do absolutely nothing.
For instance, feel this.
-Feel that slight roughness.
-That has never been touched.
The worst thing you can do is have that polished off and restored.
Selling them in their original state, can only really help them.
It can only really help them.
In fact, what the trade likes is goods that are fresh to the market.
And so these have not been sold, probably since the day they were bought by your family.
John Foster thinks that the chests could still generate
a lot of excitement at auction as a near-pair.
He's identified a fine furniture sale in Edinburgh.
But first, he must agree an estimate with John Thorold.
I would like to put them in at 12 to 15 or even £18,000 as an estimate.
That's extremely encouraging.
That's still a tempting estimate, which is the way I like to do things.
I think we can get them into that sale, we could be onto quite a good one.
-I think it's a very realistic contribution to the problems I have with the house.
John's pleased that Liz and John Thorold have also agreed
to sell both of the serpentine chests and the Gillows cellarette.
Together, they should go some way towards the restoration work
required at Marston.
It's been fascinating to discover that these chests
were commissioned by Sir John Thorold, ninth baronet.
Because he was the man largely responsible for building Syston Park.
This elegant Georgian mansion had 70 rooms,
so it's no wonder they needed new furniture.
Also, the Gillows furniture here would have been specifically
commissioned for Syston Park.
This was the grandest of all the Thorold Houses,
but sadly, it was demolished in the 1930s.
John wants to understand the scale and grandeur of Syston,
so he's going to Tatton Park in Cheshire.
Like the Thorolds, the Egerton family, who built Tatton,
could afford the very best.
And that meant one name in particular, Gillows of Lancaster,
who, in the 1700s, won commissions to craft bespoke pieces
for Britain's grandest houses.
The library at Tatton Park is a fabulous example.
This is the best place to see Gillows at its absolute finest.
Nearly all of the furniture was specifically designed
for this room, including these quite staggering bookcases.
Only the best craftsman were employed and the best materials used.
As impressive as this library is, it's actually smaller
than the library at Syston, which the tenth baronet, John Thorold,
filled with a magnificent collection of books,
including a rare Gutenberg Bible.
Sadly, the majority of the Syston collection
was sold at auction in the 1880s.
But by extraordinary coincidence,
John has found a remnant of that library here.
They've got the label there "For Syston Park"
and "John Hayford Thorold"
and lovely, as well, that they've got the Egerton family label in there.
And this just shows how important the library at Syston was.
Syston was furnished in exactly this style, offering the last word in luxury.
Pieces like this wine-cooler are the last relics
of those flamboyant times, when fine wine flowed
at glittering social gatherings.
Imagine that full of ice, champagne, wine bottles.
It would have just set the tone.
Whilst Tatton thrived, Syston grew gradually derelict
and was demolished in 1934.
Saving Marston from the same fate means tough choices.
The last remaining pieces of furniture
and paintings from Syston are now at Marston Hall.
And John Thorold is having to decide what he must let go.
He's hired a van to take both the ninth baronet's chests
and the Gillows cellarette to auction.
I'm a little sorry to see them go. But you know, we have to adapt.
That's how businesses survive and that's roughly how I'm going to survive.
If that's necessary, this is what we do.
Tomorrow, John Thorold will deliver the pieces to Edinburgh
to a specialist furniture sale that John Foster has recommended.
20-year-old twins, Ali and Guy,
are observing their parents cope with these dilemmas,
and are considering how they will manage Marston Hall
when it eventually passes to Guy.
So, what do you think about selling stuff for the house to keep it going?
I don't know, it's not something that's ideal.
-In terms of the short-term, I guess that's really our only option.
Till we really get business...
In the long-term, what do you feel about keeping it and running it?
I don't know. As sad as it is to say,
it is going to be one of those things,
if the planning doesn't go through, the chances are it will basically
be a burden on the family rather than what it should be,
which is a great house to have with your family name attached.
But the one thing I'd say is there's no point in keeping it,
because others before have kept it.
I'm not going to keep it
-because 750 years have passed whilst we've had it.
What do you think about it? Because obviously it's all very...
It's obviously a different situation for me
because I'm not the one that's going to inherit it in the end anyway.
It is ultimately in your name
and it's going to be your children who would get it.
So, it really depends how much I'm earning as to how much money
I'd want to put in.
Yeah. As a counter-argument to that, I guess you could say...
-You're like, "I want your money".
I want you money. No...
Marston needs money urgently,
and two serpentine chests and a cellaret from the house
should now be with an auction house in Edinburgh.
But letting go of three precious family pieces
proved too much for John Thorold.
It started in the course of the evening, it rather prayed on my mind.
And by about 11 o'clock that night I realised it was something I wasn't going to do.
And this one went all the way up there,
and I'm afraid it came all the way back down again.
Having thought about it, I'm quite pleased I did that.
In the end, the value of things is not the financial value.
That sounds rather romantic,
but it's how any object absorbs human influences around it.
You know, what's a house?
It's a pile of stones or brick, keeps the weather out,
that's all it is until a human comes to it and makes it into something better.
In a few moments time I'm going to have to meet John again,
who is coming to the Hall.
He gave me some very good advice.
And I haven't taken it. And we will see what he says.
-So, I hear things have changed a bit, John.
-Um, yes. They have, I'm afraid.
This was something I wasn't expecting to see.
No, I've gone straight against your advice, I'm afraid.
But in this case, actually,
it wasn't anything to do with the technical contents of what you said,
but I started looking at this piece,
which had been in my mother's house and...
I realised the emotional attachment to it was...
-It was really too strong,
I simply didn't want to get rid of it.
To be honest, I think it's crazy to split these chests of drawers up.
That's where the money is, is the fact that they're a near-pair.
You're right. But the whole romance of this house,
the meaning to me, the meaning to many other people,
is that it has a significance. It isn't just "What's it worth?"
John, you've got a wall which is falling out of the end of the house.
It's lovely to have all these things in the house looking pretty,
but if the end of the house is falling down,
ultimately, at the end of the day, you've got to raise the money, John.
No, you're right. But, where you're wrong, I'm afraid,
is that it's not here looking pretty.
By splitting these up, some way or another we've got to make that shortfall up,
because it's quite a big shortfall. How are we going to...?
I think we may have to look at other things.
John has reluctantly agreed to sell a single chest,
with a reserve of £5,000.
Even though selling both together could fetch 15-20,000.
In Edinburgh, just a few days later, the furniture sale is happening.
The Thorolds and John are anxious for the single chest
to make a reasonable sum with a reserve of £5,000.
2-1, 2-2, £2,300 I have. 2-4. 2-5 now. Nope. 3-6.
Will the provenance of Sir John Thorold's 18th century
serpentine fronted chest win bids?
Lot 11 19 A.
George III mahogany serpentine chest of drawers.
-£4,200 I have...
-JOHN: Blue stamp.
The bidding starts of £4,200.
And it doesn't budge.
-Then a few bids push the price slowly up.
Bidder in the room.
But only just above the reserve.
Are we sure? At £5,200, last chance at 5-2.
Bit disappointing, isn't it?
If it had been with a reserve at 3,000 and it had run up to 5-2,
then one would feel excited, but somehow, with a reserve of 5, to just get over.
So maybe just as well we've only sold one.
-We've still got one to go...
-John's not going to agree with that.
I still disagree. Nice try.
Still, it's too late for regrets now,
because about to take the stage is the other heirloom from the
Thorolds' Regency past. The rosewood cellarette by Gillows of Lancaster.
Nice looking piece, this. Let's get started at £800.
800. 800. 900...
-And this time, there's a bit of a fight.
-Bidder in the room.
It flies up to 1,600, but will it keep going?
Are you all done? Any advance on 1,600?
I will sell then to the lady at the back of the room, selling at £1,600.
Though it has sold for £600 more than its reserve of £1,000.
What do you think?
-It's not too bad.
-I think it's pretty good.
-And at least there was a bit of battle.
Makes it more exciting, anyway. Definitely.
Right, I think we're done, have we seen enough? Let's get out of here.
After commission, the Gillows cellarette made...
And the chest...
The total made is £6,120.
All hopes are now pinned on the paintings,
particularly, the Raeburn.
The mystery of the date solved and its authenticity proved,
its value is the next issue.
John has researched the market for Raeburn portraits of this kind
and has made a surprising discovery.
I've just found this portrait of children
painted by Raeburn, on the internet, and remarkably,
the children in this painting are William and Charles Thorold Wood,
and they're the brothers of the painting here,
Arthur and Willoughby.
Now, that's quite a breakthrough, but I've also found out how much
this painting sold for at auction in 1995 and that's not so good news.
So, I've now got to break this news to John.
I've had a bit of an interesting time with this one
and I've actually found, believe it or not, its twin.
-There was another painting.
-That's quite clever of you.
This one is the twin to it.
How do you know that?
This was sold at auction in 1995
and in the catalogue it talks about who's in the painting and the date.
This is actually a better painting, commercially.
This one, sold in 1995 for £8,000.
Being a prettier picture, it really is hard for me
to work out how we do this one.
What I would like to put this in at is 10,000 to 15,000.
My difficulty is that I know what the probate valuation was.
-What was the probate valuation?
-I think it was around 30.
You could put it in at 20,000 to 30,000 or even 30,000 to 40,000.
My gut feeling is it won't sell. What about if we put it in at 15 to 25?
If I am convinced it would sell between those two figures,
then I think, having asked my wife first,
that would make sense to me.
I'm a guardian, here.
I'll be here for 25 years if I'm lucky, and that's it.
With any luck this building goes on and it goes on with the history.
That's really the important bit. And that is really the dilemma.
So, if you can have a chat with Liz, then,
and see if we can put a reserve on it of 18,000.
-Yes, I think I would be quite happy with that.
There's other paintings, John, that Rupert's identified.
Which ones in here then would you be willing to let go?
There is no association,
so I don't have any reluctance in letting them go.
-So, what, this one?
-This one, yes, certainly.
The Giorgione up on the wall.
If we get those checked and then I'll give you a call and we can work out...?
-Yes, I think that would be the best way of doing it.
John Thorold has agreed to part with five Old Master copies,
which Rupert has valued at £1,000 to £2,000 each.
And he's agreed to set the Raeburn estimate at a high £15,000 to £20,000.
As the total needed at Marston is some way off, John is searching
for more items to boost funds for the wall and the roof.
Another relic from Syston Park has caught John's eye.
This really is an amazing clock.
It would date from about 1895, 1900-ish.
And the quality of it and the size of it, it's massive.
It will raise quite a bit towards our target.
The Thorolds really need to sell more antiques.
Can John persuade them to let go?
It is a handsome mirror.
It's in nice original condition, the lion cresting,
it's bang on period Regency 1820-ish.
And with these lovely branches, they're quite sought after things.
They're sort of sphinx, aren't they?
-Yeah, that whole Egyptian theme was really hot then.
What would you think about selling something like that?
I must admit, I think I'd like to look elsewhere in the house.
Well, there is still the longcase clock,
we've got to look at. I know there was some issue, before.
It's something on which I would very much like to involve my son.
Now John also has to contend with Guy,
the 20-year-old heir to Marston, who, like his father,
has developed an attachment to some of the pieces.
-You two are the deciders on the clock?
Why are you so attached to it?
I think it adds a lot to the house.
I think that, unlike some of the other things we're choosing to sell,
this really does capture the imagination of how people imagine a big house,
and it should have something like a grandfather clock in it.
-And do you think the same?
-Yeah. I agree with him,
I think it's a classic thing to have in a house like this.
And I think also you can have a variety of paintings
but you can only have one grandfather clock.
Yeah, I think that's a good point.
But, it's 3,000 to 4,000. That's quite a chunk of money.
So, are you dead against selling it, can we twist your arm?
-I think we're dead against it.
-Dead against it.
You're as bad as your dad!
John's only option now is to rely on the painting to fund repairs
to the wall and the roof before winter.
But John Foster is concerned
that the estimates on the Raeburn are too high.
He's meeting Allan Darwell, at Tennants Auction House,
who will sell the paintings.
He's been examining the damage on the Raeburn.
How bad is the condition? You can see it's pretty bad.
It can be sorted, but at quite a lot of money.
I mean, you know it's quite costly to reline these things,
and basically, stabilise all this loose paintwork.
I am dying to ask you what you think it'll make.
-My estimate, would be in the region of £7,000 to £9,000.
I was a bit more generous on it,
I thought around £10,000,
-so we're in the same ball park.
I think with something like this, it's so important that if you overestimate it,
it will kill it dead. No one will even come to see it.
Yes, it will. This has happened before with pictures.
This final verdict on the Raeburn has convinced John Thorold
to lower the estimate from £15,000 to £20,000, to £10,000 to £15,000.
Anxious that he might not be able to raise as much as he'd hoped
from the sale of antiques, John Thorold is reviewing
his planning application to hold weddings.
He hopes to address the objections from locals to marquees,
parking and traffic issues.
The difference that we've done with this application is that
the marquee, which was to take 150 people, 160 people,
we've deleted that.
It's not a permanent idea.
So, with this application are you then limited
to the number of people you are allowed?
We've said 60 because actually that really is the practical
upper limit of the number of people you can fit in the Great Hall.
This is the last throw of the dice for John and Liz,
who have been working on their planning application for three and a half years.
I just hope we can resolve the thing, really,
because it's just hung over us for too long.
Hopefully they will be able to see that we've got to do something
to keep the place going.
And it is different because it isn't a house that any of us
were brought up in so there isn't that sort of pull,
but it's still a responsibility that you feel you're letting
the side down if you don't keep the thing going.
But if you're not allowed to do anything it makes it
pretty well impossible.
I was talking to Guy about it.
Will he be able to afford to keep this place going?
He won't be able to run it.
But if he can't do that I can't imagine that he'll be able
to hang on to it anymore than, really, we'll be able to
if we can't ever do anything to make it pay for itself.
It's the day of the painting sale in Yorkshire.
There are six paintings here from Marston Hall.
Since John changed his mind about selling the chest at the last auction,
this is their last chance to raise enough money to save the wall.
Last time then...
-All right, Liz, hi John.
-Hi, John, how are you?
-Good to see you.
-How are you?
-How you feeling?
-Yes, again, apprehensive.
Though there's rather more to feel apprehensive about, isn't there?
-This is the biggy, isn't it?
There are quite a lot of things coming up.
-There's a good buzz, here. It's alive.
-It really is.
850, on the telephone, selling now!
First, there are the five Old Master copies up for sale.
John is hoping that together they could raise up to £10,000.
There's a real buzz in the room about these paintings.
The next five lots are all from this very good estate,
exceptional provenance for you,
it's 18th century of Saint Anthony,
-Well, there we are, got it.
-Can't believe it.
Selling at £1,500.
1,500. Pretty good.
AUCTIONEER: Last time then, selling at £850.
The last of the Old Master copies to go under the hammer is the Rubens.
Will it go above its reserve of £2,500?
2,000 to start me.
1,000 bid. £1,000 only bid.
1,200. 1,400. At £1,400...
It's off to a good start with two bidders competing.
At £2,000 only.
He's saying bid up.
The bids race up to £2,600.
But will it go higher?
Phones are out, in the room there,
last time, selling at £2,600.
The Rubens copy scrapes over its reserve, selling for £2,600.
The five Old Master copies after commission
sold for a total of...
Although everything sold and a couple things went over the estimate,
it still is peanuts in the pot compared to the Raeburn selling,
so it is quite tense in here.
I think John and Liz are feeling the pressure,
but all is now resting on the Raeburn.
AUCTIONEER: And I start the bidding at £5,000.
To save time, a 5,000 bid.
Again, bids come thick and fast and the price climbs to £8,000.
At 8,000. 8-5.
The last time then, selling at £10,000.
-It's not so good.
-It's not too good.
But it's still 10,000 towards the wall, isn't it?
One can only look at it that way. It's sad, but it's...
It is sad, but then...
It is a lesson to not let things get in such poor condition,
because it's mostly its poor condition that goes against it.
-It sat in a very damp place.
-It is a lesson to us.
The Raeburn reached its lower estimate,
and the Old Master copies have boosted funds.
After commission, the total raised from the picture sale is...
John is heading back to Marston for one last visit.
I don't know about you, but I found it quite a tense day at the auction.
What do you think, now that you've been able to come back
and think about it all?
I actually felt in the end we were very lucky.
Our pictures were not perhaps the highest of fashion,
the market's not good, and we got rid of them at, you know,
the prices that were suggested.
-So, that's good.
-And of course the condition was so bad.
Particularly the Raeburn, gosh.
It was a bit of a nightmare even getting it there, wasn't it?
Wondering if the paint was mostly going to be in the back of the car.
No, I think it was good, I think they did us jolly well.
I really do, I think it went well.
So, the target was £50,000 and we didn't quite make that,
we didn't get close, really.
After commissions were paid, we got to just shy of £22,000.
It's all a help, isn't it?
The real point for me, is the bit of wall that is actively dangerous,
I can cope with now.
I do need more because I need to progress through
that part of the building but I got enough to keep going.
What is more important is that other things have started to move forward.
The parish council would like to see me in a month's time,
and they've said they'll come and have a look at the problems here.
-So at least that's a start.
-That's a huge start.
And have you made progress on your plans to hold weddings here?
I'm putting in a new application,
it's slightly reduced from the original one I did.
If we can get a business generated from here,
which is what you must do with a house of this age.
You can't support it on a professional salary,
it just won't work.
I've thoroughly enjoyed my time here
and I'm dying to see...
You must keep me posted as to how you get on.
Well, thank you, you were terrific.
We are genuinely, extraordinarily grateful.
Owning an impressive house like Marston Hall
must seem like a dream to most of us,
but what I've come to learn,
is that with all of the splendour comes a huge amount of risk and responsibility,
and seeing the pictures of the demolished Syston Park really
act as a reminder of how important it is to save these treasured country houses.
It's amazing to think that the Thorold family have been here
for 700 years, and hopefully John and Liz have bought this place a bit more time
and I wish them all the best for their future here.
Subtitles By Red Bee Media Ltd
Marston Hall has survived an attack by Oliver Cromwell, but is now is under threat from structural problems. John Foster helps the Thorold family raise funds for its upkeep by finding valuable heirlooms they can sell.