John Pye Auctions Weekly Story – ‘Four-poster Shocker’
When it comes to ‘making a good earner,’ I have found that some people will stoop to any depths to do so. My biggest shock in this respect came at a time when I had a lucrative contract through an American movie company to provide as many four- poster beds as I could find.
Up and down the country, I scoured everywhere for the beds and found 38 of them which were all bought by the Americans, who wanted even more. Keen to keep the trade going, I placed adverts nationally in the Antiques Trade Gazette, but also in my local paper, the Nottingham Evening Post.
Arriving home from work one evening, my telephone rang and a man’s voice on the other end said: ‘Do you still want four-poster beds?’ I recognized the Nottingham accent. The man said he had such a bed at a house in the city’s Huntingdon Street, near Maurice Barrow’s antique shop. I set off on a dark and misty evening and came across a man walking along Huntingdon Street, smoking a tab end, who identified himself as the seller.
Both of us entered one of the darkened terraced houses where the man struck a match on the wall and lit a gas light, with no mantle to shield the flame. I was surprised to see that the wall where he had struck the match looked like a pink Christmas tree, with countless stripes running up and down.
I asked the man how this had happened. He told me he had been coming to the house every night for 21 years, striking pink matches on the wall as he visited his father on his way home from work. At the top of the stairs, the pair halted as the man struck another match and lit another bare gas light, alongside another ‘pink Christmas tree’.
In the adjoining bedroom, I was shown a beautiful four-poster. The most important part of such a bed is the foot end where you find all the carving. So I went to the foot and told him it was William IV and a good one. The man said he knew that it was 400-years-old. But I didn’t bother correcting him. It would have dated from about 1830 – hardly 400 years old. I checked under the bed and it was rope-strung which thrilled me to death as that was a very sought after feature.
I was thinking how much I could get for it as it was a beauty, so I told him I was very interested. I walked round and touched the bobbles on the hanging bedclothes and there was dust pouring off them. I said it was very dirty and the man said he’d never cleaned it.
He asked for £50, which I agreed immediately, before throwing the bedclothes back from the grimy bed.
It was that movement that caused me a major fright. In the bed, I noticed an old man, lying still. I said: ‘Christ there’s a bloke in the bed.’ The fellow said: ‘I know, it’s me dad. He’s dead. But I thought I’d flog the four-poster before me brothers got here!’My hair raised up on end. I said: ‘Have you rung the undertakers?’ He said: ‘No. I thought I’d get the money first before me brothers came.’ He had rung the brothers from the phone box. One was coming from Keyworth and another from Sawley, but I was concerned he hadn’t made arrangements to have the body dealt with.
I went downstairs and told the man I was ringing an undertaker I knew from whom I had bought a horse-drawn hearse for a customer in America. The undertaker picked up the call and said: ‘I’ll send a man, so give him a hand John.’ I said I didn’t want to get involved, but he just put the phone down on me. I was left waiting for a hearse and was surprised to see an ordinary A70 black van turn up with one man in it.
I had already spotted one logistical problem. At the bottom of the narrow stairs was a cupboard, which would block the progress of a coffin, creating real problems for removing the body.
Luckily, in the kitchen we found a big clothes basket which we emptied and took upstairs. The old man in the bed was in a terrible state, but I wanted to help to get him sorted out, so we plonked him in the basket and the undertaker and I carried him down the stairs. On the way down, his legs started moving up and down, up and down, as we stepped forward. This gave me such a shock and I found myself shouting: ‘Hang on, he’s alive.’
So stunned was I that I almost let go of the basket before the undertaker said: ‘No, he’s not alive, he’s just swinging with our movements. He’s definitely dead.’
Anyway, we got him down and into the van, where the undertaker gave me a fiver for my efforts! I wouldn’t have gone through all that again for £100! What a shocker!
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