Selling off the family bronze

I am so not one for reunions.

So when an old schoolfriend emailed me to ask if I was going to one last year, she received a polite ‘no’.

I’ve not heard from her since. But, most oddly I have heard from another one who attended. She actually stopped speaking to me in sixth form so I’m not entirely sure why she has suddenly started emailing me. Except she likes Gibraltar. Hmm.

Half a dozen or so old girls (and let’s face it, we are getting old) from my year attended the annual gathering and enjoyed it so much they have booked a table to sit together again this year. I just don’t get this. At all. If I want to stay in touch with people I do. But a reunion with people I haven’t seen or heard from in nearly 40 years?

Maybe it’s easier if you don’t move away. But as I’ve travelled and worked around the world, and lived in Australia, Gibraltar, Spain and the UK, I have no understanding of the mindset that stays close to home. Neither does my partner. He wanted to escape from those rainy valleys in South Wales as fast as possible. And looking at FB recently, he was stunned to see so many of his old friends still in the same place.

But onto my school which has changed radically. The head teacher smiles and wears informal but smart clothes. The girls go to Costa Rica for trips not the local rhubarb fields, or as a special treat, York and the Castle Museum. The girls, ‘My gels’ as my headmistress referred to us, all look sophisticated and beautiful beyond belief. Unlike in my day.

How times change
How times change

While I’m not interested in revisiting the past, I do get the emails and newsletters. Back when I left, it cost an astronomical £5 to join the Old Girls’ Association which meant one got a copy of the school magazine for ever. Unless someone notified school, they would probably have kept sending them after my death too.

Unfortunately, some beancounter decided this was not wise, and promptly introduced an annual charge for the mag. I didn’t sign up for that. I hate people changing T&Cs. It’s like the UK government continually reducing pension entitlements.

I’m not sure what else the OGA offered apart from a travel bursary, which to my amazement, I was awarded. It wasn’t much, but it helped towards my trip to Amsterdam and somewhere in southern France. One was a sort of heritage course with lectures, trips around Amsterdam and to nearby Dutch architectural gems (or not, depending on your opinion), and the other was working on rebuilding a medieval village not far from Pont du Gard. It can’t have been far away, because we were taken there on a day off.

There is something about going to visit an old headmistress, with whom I’d had a run-in before she became head, that even in your twenties, leaves you feeling inadequate and vulnerable. But regardless of our past history, I was granted the extravagant sum of £40. And in return I duly wrote about my experiences for the school mag. And, 30 years ago, that was my last actual involvement with school.

One of my good memories was our school library. I could sit there in free periods, read books, chat in low voices, compare and share homework, or even do some proper work. The library had warmth and ambience. Floor to ceiling books, wooden floors, tables and chairs, and deep windows letting in gentle sunlight.

When we walked into the library, run by Mrs Fricker (who I liked), we were met by Galliard. A bronze sculpture by our old girl Barbara Hepworth. We were taught to revere Galliard and all things Hepworth. And so I did. I loved the smooth flowing lines and the warm bronze. It fitted well in the library. I think later it was moved to outside the headmistress’s study. Which was a chill, austere, forbidding (although very elegant) waiting area.

Beautiful. Just beautiful
Beautiful. Just beautiful

At the end of April, we received an email telling us the governors had decided to sell Galliard. I was, I’ll be honest, gutted. I grew up seeing that beautiful sculpture every schoolday. Yes, it’s a privilege having works of art in your studying environment, but one that I wouldn’t take away from any girl. Art isn’t just to be valued in terms of £s. Or is it?

The insurance costs to keep Galliard on display at school have risen, as have the security costs.

Not only is the school flogging Galliard at Sotheby’s, it’s also selling Quiet Form, which is after my time, and looks very Henry Mooreish.

Um.
Um.

Galliard is expected to raise £250–300,000 while Quiet Form has a guide price of £500–700,000. Quiet Form is currently on display in New York and will return to London to be displayed before the June sale.

So we are looking at possible prices of £750,000 to £1m.

This is a school which charges nearly £12,000 a year, has around 750 pupils (senior school only, there is also a prep and junior school or whatever they are called now) bringing in an income of around £8m, depending on number of free and assisted places.

There are a lot of buildings and the playing fields which all need upkeep. There are around 80 teachers plus admin staff and governors’ staff. But still.

The idea is to fund more bursaries which is a good thing. Hell, I got a free place, why would I not agree with that? Why not sell Quiet Form to fund the costs for retaining Galliard? Growing up with classical art in any form is priceless. No one can take that away from me. The chance has been lost for future girls to do so at my school.

Galliard was bought for 200 guineas from a fund established by my first headmistress and a predecessor. Hepworth sold it to the school at a reduced price back in the early sixties. Quiet Form was a personal gift from her to my headmistress who later gave it to the school.

I wonder if Miss Knott, who was the main force behind these two sculptures, would have appreciated them being sold. Surely she could have done that herself if she wanted to donate money to the school, not artworks.

Miss Knott died in November 2014, aged 100. She was a great headmistress.

It’s interesting she’s not been dead for two years and these sculptures are suddenly put up for sale.

Not sure about the ones on the ends, but reading from left, we have maybe Mrs Wribster (actually Mrs Webster in Kindergarten), Mrs Wrigglesworth (Upper Transition), Mrs Shepherd (Lower Transition), Miss Collingwood, Junior School Headteacher, Miss Knott, overall supremo, Mrs Watson (third form, last year before senior school), Mrs Cottam (1 Lower), Miss Malham (Second Form), and maybe the last one was Miss Milligan, (1Upper?)
Not sure about the ones on the ends, but reading from left, we have maybe Mrs Wribster (actually Mrs Webster in Kindergarten), Mrs Wrigglesworth (Upper Transition), Mrs Shepherd (Lower Transition), Miss Collingwood, Junior School Headteacher, Miss Knott, overall supremo, Mrs Watson (third form, last year before senior school), Mrs Cottam (1 Lower), Miss Malham (Second Form), and maybe the last one was Miss Milligan, (1Upper?)

Art for art’s sake?

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72 comments on “Selling off the family bronze

  1. You lucky bleeder. What total privilege for all of you who grew up being able to live with something that wonderful. It must have been so cool to be able to touch it. Good sculpture cries out to be touched and I am always saddened by the irony of the fact that in order to preserve it for future generations, museums and galleries cannot allow that.

    It’s a pity the school can’t hang onto the sculptures, or maybe even self insure them but I suspect they probably cost several thousand a year to insure. So on the one hand the practicalities are a nightmare. On the other, people who grow up surrounded by beautiful things and who are taught to appreciate them, are able to appreciate the work that goes into all sorts of other stuff. Understand how much blood, sweat and tears goes into art and you see the rest of the world a new way. That’s my view, anyway.

    A great pity, although I can see why the school has done what it did.

    Cheers

    MTM

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Just dropped by to say hello.
    Buy the piece and donate it back to the school. They must be in a position to build a glass cage to keep that artwork.
    Greetings RS

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  3. Your feeling about the sculptures which, I agree, are magnificent, are a bit how I feel about the open space between my old school and the boarding house being filled up with a hall. The original one is too small. The number of girls has doubled since I was there.

    And, we’ve discussed my going to school reunions which I had shunned for reasons much similar to yours, so won’t go there. All complex and paradoxical, I do admit. That said, I’ve had at least one visit since we moved here, from someone who wouldn’t deign to give me the time of day at school. From another, local intel about where to eat, what to visit. Whether they’ve been to the village, I know not. Couldn’t care less and actually, if they’ve been and gone, I’m glad because then I’m spared the trauma of having to make conversation with someone doesn’t think it’s odd to suddenly call in on someone with whom they’ve never ever had a conversation!

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  4. Oh, what a tragic situation. Those were part of the school and as you say, if you are around great art, you gain a sense of the importance of it for life.
    One in charge now must be dull. Different priorities? Oh, that’s like “it’s for the children” phrase – covers up some real feeling/new idea with something that they think no one can possibly oppose or be though a bad person. Tradition being stolen. A gift, tossed aside. Once again the old art is a luxury not a necessity when the opposite is actually true.
    Sadly these sales happen. A reason why many objects in museums are “on loan” so the family who donates can maintain some assurance it won’t be sold because a new person comes in with a new vision of what should be.
    I know the insurance costs is a concern, but these have been there for some time. If they are well known and publicized, they are more protected as they would be difficult to sell. Perhaps if they had asked and explained the history donations might have come in to help pay for the costs. Where there’s a will there’s a way….and we can see what the decision maker willed in this case.

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    • Don’t know about the board of governors. Current head is molecular biology and string theory. Receptive to art I imagine?

      Not happy with this decision. At all. I am probably the only one complaining. No appreciation of art or people’s wishes :(

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting conundrum roughseas. Personally I would have tried harder to find a way to keep the art works – after all where else are young students going to be able to study and see such works daily ; have them in the environment? Perhaps they could have found a patron who would take on the expense of insurance and security in order to maintain the art. The school is treating the art as if it were an investment and it is not, as they got it very cheap. Instead, it is an appreciating asset – financial, artistic, cultural, etc. I know the school’s intention is to use the funds to further the students education but there are many ways to do that and each art work is unique. They are trading money for art – not an equitable trade for an educational institution. It would be like selling all the books in the school library to take the kids on a trip. Money is extrinsic and art is intrinsic – trading one for another is not desirable. Much as Judas was going to use the money he got from the Romans to feed the poor (an admirable use for it)- money earned by giving info on Jesus’ whereabouts. He traded money – extrinsic – for Jesus – intrinsic. Bad choice. For those who are Christians, a choice bad enough that Judas’ reputation is still tarnished after 2,000 years. That’s a long time. ha! Bet he wishes he had a do-over. :D

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  6. Never understood the reunion thing either. Most of those I went to school with I didn’t particularly like.
    The one or two who have remained friends I keep in contact with, and for this I am grateful for Facebook!

    I am such a Neanderthal when it comes to this sort of art, I am afraid. To me, Quiet Form looks like an upended bidet without the plumbing.
    Galliard I l quite like.

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  7. I personally dislike reunions, which is why I never intend to go to any of them. Where I live, education isn’t as much an institution as it is parents fighting like vultures over the fattest corpse. It seems like your old school has adopted a similar stance.

    They don’t seem to recognize that education just isn’t about sitting in a room listening to lectures. Art adds character to any place, and they’re getting rid of it. Such a shame.

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  8. Sorry, but when I see school uniforms I get uncomfortable. When on top of that I read parents pay huge fees for education, I get stroppy. I know it is English, but… After arrival in Australia from Holland back in 1956, and my mother discovered her children were being wacked by a cane on the knuckles on their hands, she saw red and thought that no one had the right to assault children, let alone adults doing that, let alone (un) Christian Brothers. She thought it would be a punishable crime. She was so wrong. It was totally excepted and encouraged.

    Interview after interview, ageing adults now come out with stories of the cruel school system that seems to have been inherited from England. If you want to understand the xenophobic attitude towards refugees in Australia, go no further than our strange education system based on privilege, money and above all ‘punishment.’

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    • There was no punishment at my school. Not corporal, or detention, or writing out lines. The nearest to punishment was a visit to the headmistress’s study and a five minute telling off.

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  9. About to comment and then the school photograph took me aback…i was out of my chair to check it against my old school photograph when I noticed the stripes and relaxed again…but those mistresses looked the spit of mine.

    Why don’t they raise a fund to insure these works…they were given for the enjoyment of the pupils and staff and not to raise funds for some dubious project or other.

    I wonder the old headmistress does not haunt their dreams…our Miss Dickie certainly would have done so armed with the more militant bits of the Old Testament.

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    • Schoolteachers looked like that back then didn’t they?

      What I don’t understand is that they are being sold to fund more bursaries. Does that mean more on top of the existing ones given out or is the bursary fund running out? If so, they should be honest.

      Of course, in my day, the school was direct grant and a lot of the non-payers were funded by council grants (scholarships). Mine actually came from the governors’ fund (so a free place rather than a council scholarship). The free place was odd. It came out of thin air really. Me and another girl were plonked in the headmistress’s study one day in the last year of junior school, and spent the morning doing tests. No reason given. Later mum and dad got a letter saying the governors had awarded me a free place for the senior school. And a bus pass. Could have had free school lunches too, but I think guilt kicked in with m and d at that point, so they paid for the lunches.

      I hope she does haunt their dreams. Or rather nightmares as she could be very stern.

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  10. The bronze sculpture is quite beautiful. It’s a shame it has/had to be sold but that is how things go in life. I have never gone to any school reunions and neither have my children, I am done with those folks and have nothing in common with any of them, as far as I know.

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  11. I wouldn’t go to a reunion either. The people from school I liked, l keep in touch with and see regularly, even after 40 odd years. The others? Well rid, with one or two regrettable exceptions but that’s life.
    How wonderful, to grow up surrounded by such fab art. Could teach the philistines at Columbia University a thing or two. They protested about a Henry Moore sculpture which had been bequeathed years ago, being put on display in front of their library. Said it was hideous. With a mindset like that, I’m doubtful if any of the protesting morons ever set foot in their library in the first place.
    For what it’s worth, of the two sculptures here, I prefer Quiet Form. And no way should your old school be selling them. Maybe the new head graduated from Columbia.

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    • I did see a couple from time to time as we went to the same university. But once I started work, and then went travelling … I kept in touch with another, we’d both started in Kindergarten aged 4 together, for quite some years on and off, but that’s fizzled out too.

      I do quite like Moore. Spent a wonderful morning wandering around the sculpture park at Bretton Hall. I’ve posted piccies of it before. QF is very Moore I think. Galliard was a much earlier work by Hepworth. I think growing up with art is how it should be used, not always in glass cases in galleries. That way it becomes part of life and not something elitist, even though it is.

      She graduated from Huddersfield (?). But I imagine the governors/trustees had the most say. Or basically whoever is the equivalent of the Director of Finance.

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  12. I don’t do the school reunion thingy either. It’s worse than Facebook. Bragging and upstaging. Hate that. Who wants to be reminded of school? Not me.

    Pity about that gorgeous art piece. I would feel the same as you did if I went to school there. Sounds like you have lovely memories.

    Lovely photos as always RS. Lots of hugs and kisses to you, Tosca and the boys. Have a fun day. ♥

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    • That’s difficult. School reunions or FB. Which is worse? Hmm. I’m sure there would be loads of bragging and upstaging. And judging by the photos from last year, it involved dressing up. Most were wearing flowery dresses, smart jackets and high heels. Don’t think my shorts and trainers would go down well.

      Mixed memories. It was ok most of the time. I couldn’t wait to leave though in the last year. I’d got bored with the whole thing. Probably didn’t help that I had a few months off that year for an ankle operation (ha!) so it was weird to go back.

      Photos are the ones sent out by the school I think. Galliard looks out of focus to me. I hope I would have done a better job. Unless it’s the reflection of the polished bronze. Thanks, you too, and your boys, darling.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t think there is competition there. LOL! Can’t handle the bragging and upstaging. Seems so childish.

        I found school boring and spend most of my time in the library.

        I am sure it was and of course you would have done a better job and I have no clue. Maybe it was.

        Thanks darling. :D ♥

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        • Seriously, I cringed when I saw the photos of these smug dressed-up women. Not all looked smug, but clearly a certain standard of dress was required. And it wasn’t mine. I’ll send it to you ;)

          We would have met in the library then :) I’d learned about the damage of cliques and became a bee, flitting from one flower or group of flowers to another. Never staying too long.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Ha! Cringing with you and not my standard of dress as well. I hate dresses.

            We sure would have and I hated cliques as well. Still do. :D

            Liked by 1 person

  13. 2 ( well 3) things,

    I could never go to a Re union as my old ‘Sec. Tech’. disappeared 2 years after I left, never to be heard of again

    ‘Art’ is another country to me. One that is far away and filled with strange people with more money than they know what to do with. I’d better stop there before I offend someone.

    Third Thing…. Our beloved Monty ( Moggy 1st Class, tortoiseshell, about 10 years old) had to be put to sleep last week after drinking Anti Freeze. Needless to say we are devastated. The house
    is unnaturally tidy and so quiet, We look at each other and sob our hearts out.
    He was ‘our boy’ ‘my mate’ and dominant male of the immediate neighbourhood.’s feline population. In all the six or so years since he came to us from the CPL, I never heard him spit, hiss, or growl, He rarely cried save for a cheerful ‘chirrup’ as he leapt onto the bed between us each morning
    I’ll restart my blog when we’re back from our holidays and post his picture therein.

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    • Aww Eddie I am so sorry. I know how it feels to say goodbye to furry ones. It never gets easier. The one down side of having them. Let me know when you post.

      That’s the thing about art. It shouldn’t be a strange country peopled by the rich. That’s why I think it would be better for the sculptures to stay in school.

      My partner’s school went too. Some secondary modern in a deprived part of Wales. Out of his year, only three of them got apprenticeships. The head called them in to congratulate them, which included telling Partner he was very surprised he’d got one. Encouraging huh?

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  14. oh, how sad – and at the same time what wonderful memories of school you have.
     
    we’ve actually talked about this before, but back in the day when i was in elementary school, there was a Miss Knott who was a very funky and brilliant art teacher. so while the school didn’t have any official pieces of art, she helped facilitate our sense of art, and even managed to find or trigger some arrangements with the Vancouver Art Gallery where a number of us were able to put some of our own work on display.
     
    i remember a friend and i creating a sculpture of some old doors – something about entrances that allowed you to walk through and around them, but that didn’t lead anywhere. there were only a few of them (about 4?) but they were full-sized doors, well-worn and salvaged from some demolitions or possibly some renos. can’t quite remember where they came from, but in any case it seemed all rather deep and philosophical at the time and i’d all but forgotten about it. but in hindsight, it was a great opportunity for us kids. and overall i must say that there are many things i learned to appreciate about art and the world i live in because of Miss Knott’s interest in her students.
     
    i actually bumped into her at an old choir reunion in my old high school a few years ago – i normally don’t do reunions either. she was really only about 10 years older than me, although she had seemed ever so much older when i was her pupil. it turns out that she had had sung in the same high school choir under the same conductor as i would end up doing a number of years later. odd to see her as a peer, but it was lovely to have an opportunity to thank for all her great work that i was able to enjoy as a student because of all her efforts in class so many years ago.
     
    and speaking of that high school, there has been some talk of selling some of the property on it, to make way for some real estate development. there was no art to sell, so the school itself seems like it could go under the auctioneer’s gavel, metaphorically speaking. always seems to be about the money, doesn’t it?

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    • She sounds a very lateral thinking art teacher. None of ours were like that. I think we mostly did drawing and painting. I think some sort of crafty type things went on but I don’t remember it. School was focused on the academic and art classes weren’t really treated as important when I was there. But as Hepworth was our most famous old girl, that was different. Until now.

      Perhaps Miss K’s influence created your artiness with photography?

      My school is in an old part of town so I think real estate dev would be unlikely there. They own most of the street too: the main school complex, which includes a Victorian/georgian (can’t remember which now) huge old house plus loads of add-ons, two old Victorian properties, the Georgian one in the photo above, and a sixties science block. They could have more for all I know. But yes, it always is. Sadly.

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  15. I used to love 10CC! Boy that concert I went to is a long time ago :) The bronze is a fabulous piece. The times they are a-changing…
    I do, and I don’t, understand people staying put. We all end up somewhere and I’m back home after all these years. It wasn’t part of the plan but you make the best of what you’ve got. You’ve stayed put on Gib now for how long? Funny you should mention the reunion. I was dragged along to one recently (61 years- how obscure!) I didn’t feel I had a lot in common with any of them (I can feel that anywhere so it’s nothing new :) ) but I went to support a friend who’s not having a great time and regarded it as a ‘night out’. :) Last week one of the ladies at my zumba class came over and said ‘I saw your photo at the reunion. I was in your class!’ We’ve been zumba-ing for several years. Life! :) Hope it’s treating you well.

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    • And I used to hate them. But with age comes … well, something. I still don’t like Donna. Such a whingey whiney moany record.

      I understand people staying there, I suppose, but it’s not for me. I’m too claustrophobic. Going back doesn’t do it for me either. Cut my ties and move on.

      Life, is as it is. Could always be better, could always be worse. Hope you are well. Sounds like. Poland, Algarve, where next? Nottingham? :)

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    • Thank you. It’s hard to capture 14 years in a post of 1000 words or so. As you will know! Because I went to the junior school, the mindset and ethos of the senior school and whole idea was just inculcated in me from day one. Not that I didn’t reassess later, but I think this sale denies the importance and influence of art. Especially on girls/young women who are in a crucial stage of learning. Anyway, I’ll stop before the rant :D

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Although I have never attended one, I believe reunions could be great fun. A parade of human nature and of development (or regression) of people one has known so long ago. So what if there is bragging and envy and renewal of ancient school feuds? The opposite side of that coin was a friend who attended one, and she and her constant rival and bitter enemy at school have got on swimmingly ever since – with totally revised opinions of one another.
    To me, the sales are yet another set of sad reflections on this day and age. Firstly, that the insurance has become so prohibitive shows that the risk is greater and therefore criminal activity has increased. Then there is the disregard for intentions of donors (who were generally passionate about the subjects of bequests) and the willingness to brush aside heritage and tradition. Then the eminently practical outlook – ‘consider the scholarships we can offer with that boodle’. In effect, though, this sort of philosophy offers a now-degraded experience to more people. Carried to extremes, it means that you can introduce thousands more students to a set of bare walls and no facilities.

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    • Not my idea of fun. Uh :(
      The only time I grudgingly changed my opinion of people they turn round and shag me in the arse. Not. Happening. Again.

      Your analysis of the sales is spot on. Add to it, that Hepworth’s sculptures have increased in price. Probably what gripes me, apart from the experience future girls will never have, is the disrespect for donors.

      ‘Yeah thanks, OK for a while, but you died recently, so we’ll flog it now. Your day, your heritage and everything else is over now. Bye bye.”

      Liked by 1 person

  17. You couldn’t pay me to go to a bloody reunion! Gloaters, gossips, pretenders, and snobs… No thanks, I got a real life. 😁

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  18. I don’t know how much teachers at your alma mater earn, but 750 students at £12,000 a year works out to £9,000,000 a year. I realize there’s upkeep, insurance, books, etc., but surely there was a better way to raise money, if money is needed, than selling off unique assets.

    And I’m with you on the timing. This never would have happened while those who were behind their acquisition were still around. They really didn’t waste much time moving in for the kill, so to speak, did they?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I took off a few thou for scholarships and assisted fees. Plus it’s nearly £12k and nearly 750. I gave them the nenefit of the doubt with the odd mill.

      The point is, they said they chose to do it because the insurance costs were too high. But, do they need they money? If so, they should say so. And raise the fees. If not :(

      I tell you, if I left something like that, for a specific purpose, I would make sure it was nailed down. No sale or, if you don’t want it, off to a museum. Grasping toerags. Admittedly Miss Knott was in a nursing home and approaching 101 so possibly not in the best position to check out her bequests. But still, it rankles of disrespect.

      Liked by 1 person

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