Auntie‘s writing desk
According to the valuation carried out by Sotheby’s for my mother in 1997, this is “a walnut bonheur-du-jour, Victorian, circa 1870”. According to family legend it may have been the work of noted Victorian architect and furniture designer Thomas E. Collcutt. However, the family legend may not be altogether reliable: we grew up believing Collcutt, architect of some of London’s grandest buildings including the Palace Theatre, Savoy Hotel and Wigmore Hall, to be our great great grandfather. This is what our Mum had always been told by her father, but when my sister-in-law traced the family tree after her death, there was no Collcutt connection to be found. It is more likely that he was involved with the Lane family in some way – perhaps in business (as our real great grandfather was in the building trade) and/or as a friend, and our Grandad Lane exaggerated this connection to impress people, which would have been typical of him. Perhaps he came to believe the story himself. There certainly was such a connection, as Auntie did own at least one piece of furniture designed by Collcutt, a lovely chess table now owned by Brother 2. She also owned this beautiful bureau, which Mum left to me in her will. I remember it in Auntie’s drawing room, and later my Mum writing all her letters at it in our sitting room. So it has probably been in our family since it was made, whether by Collcutt or not, and I plan to leave it to the next generation.
It is an exquisite piece of furniture, although it has been knocked about a bit in recent years. Mum had a story about it which she was fond of telling. In the 1970s, the quiet south-west London “village” of Barnes, where we lived, was starting to show signs of changing into the wealthy, up-market area it is today (but wasn’t when my parents settled there in the 1950s). Estate agents and pricey antique dealers were springing up where the corner shops had been. One day when Mum popped out to the shops, she was struck by the sight of a bureau identical to this one in the window of one of these new posh antique shops. Curious, she went in and asked the price. The lady in the shop looked down her nose at my Mum in her relatively scruffy clothes and quoted a large sum, in a tone which implied “Clearly well out of your league, dear”. Mum held her head high and said airily as she swept out of the shop, “I was just wondering, as I have one just like it at home”.
I am now the proud and grateful owner, and, Collcutt or not, it is definitely not for sale!