2020 is a very special year for Gildings as we celebrate a fantastic 40 years in the auctioneering business.
These days, our founder John Gilding is semi-retired, with sons Mark and Will Gilding now at the helm of what remains very much a family business rooted in the dynamic ethos that has enabled us to flourish through the many challenges and changes that four decades in the auctioneering business have presented.
Here, John Gilding takes a look back at an eventful four decades in the auction house that he set up in 1980…
40 successful years in business are testament to the fact that I was right to go into auctioneering rather than the Royal Navy, which I also considered. However, an extraordinary stroke of good luck also had a role to play at the beginning of my working life and luckily for me, being in the right place at the right time with the stars aligned has been a theme ever since.
My story begins one Wednesday in the summer of 1960 when I was 15 and in my last week at school. My friend Jerry suggested playing truant for the day in order to go to his Uncle Bob’s livestock auction at Boston Market.
After an entertaining day ringside watching cattle being sold, I returned home at the usual time. When my mother asked, ‘Where have you been?’, I replied ‘School’. When mother said she was going to ask me once again where I had been, I realised my attempt to pull the wool over her eyes had been unsuccessful.
Mother then told me in no uncertain terms how disappointed she was in me for skipping school and asked how I expected to get a job if I was willing to indulge in such bad behaviour.
Inspired by my enjoyable day at the market and keen to put a positive spin on the situation, I replied that I would like to work in auctioneering. However, I was at a loss for words when mother said, ‘And where do you expect to find a job doing something like that?’
Keen to emphasise the importance of developing a sensible attitude to finding employment, mother then sent me straight back out on my bicycle to cycle the mile back to the village, as it being a Wednesday it was the day the Lincolnshire Standard came out.
On my return it was with a rather a heavy heart that I sat down at the dining room table with mother at my shoulder as I opened the ‘Situations vacant’ page. Until, that was, I looked at the very first job advert on the page which read ‘Auctioneer’s assistant required.’
Armed with a sixpence, I headed to the neighbouring farm, whose owner, Mr Smith, had a telephone, in order to try to be the first to secure an interview with the Mr J A Killingworth who required an assistant. When quizzed by Mr Smith as to whom the urgent local phone call I needed to make was to, Mr Smith replied, ‘Well now, that’s a strange thing. I know Mr Killingworth – he’s my land agent.’
When Mr Killingworth enquired as to when I could attend an interview, I explained I didn’t finish school until Friday and would not be able to leave until 4pm on the final day as I had won all the prizes at speech day. In response, Mr Killingworth asked me to be at his office in Boston at 6pm on Friday.
So, on Friday I set off on the 7-mile bicycle ride to Boston, where I went up the stairs of J A Killingworth and came down 20 minutes later with a job starting on Monday. Needless to say, mother was delighted.
J A Killingworth was a busy general practice auctioneers dealing in property, land and furniture sales and I soon learned to become a part of it. Indeed, seven years later when the time came for Pat and I as newlyweds to move away for a new opportunity in Market Harborough, I was seen as the eventual takeover guy, so although we had no choice but to leave for a better paid job with a car, it was a very difficult thing to do.
My new job in Market Harborough was with land and property agents Berry Bros. & Bagshaw. From there I moved to Shakespeare, McTurk & Graham of New Walk, Leicester.
It was at Shakespeare, McTurk & Graham that I discovered my interest in art as the manager of the business’s Fine Art department. When the company made the decision to close the department, I was offered an alternative position as secretary to the partnership. On hearing this news, I went home and said to Pat ‘I think I’m going to start on my own,’ and she said, ‘I think you could.’ So, I went to work the next day with a letter of resignation rather than the acceptance of the alternative job my bosses had been expecting!
However, despite being startled at first, in recognition of my service to the company, the partners of Shakespeare, McTurk & Graham offered to assign me the lease of the Fine Art premises at 2 New Walk with the phone line, staff and typewriters I required and an extensive library for the cost of £500. Duly set up in business, I started getting ready for my very first sale as an independent auctioneer, which took place on March 4th, 1980 at Sibson Village Hall near Atherstone, Warwickshire.
Although the newly established Gildings Auctioneers had premises at 2 New Walk, the business did not have a permanent salesroom, so auctions took place on a nomadic basis between Newtown Linfield, Foxton, Lubenham and Market Harborough. Although the system worked well with set up on Mondays and Tuesdays, viewings on Wednesdays, sales on Thursdays and clear-up on Fridays, I found I was wasting a lot of time commuting from my home in Gumley to the office in Leicester. This, in combination with visiting clients around the county meant I was spending far too much time stuck in the car.
To solve this problem, I decided to build an office into the hillside at home in Gumley and work from there. This arrangement worked well and soon became a neighbourhood enterprise with the posts of secretary, accounts clerk and photographer being filled by neighbours.
However, by 1988 Gildings was outgrowing this arrangement so we moved to a much larger new premises at 64 Roman Way in Market Harborough town centre. However, as much money was needed to make the building fit for purpose as it cost to buy it. Although I can remember questioning why I’d bought such a large building, when it was finally finished, it wasn’t long before Gildings needed to rent warehouse space in Leicester in order to cope with demand.
In 2012, when the Leicester landlord gave notice of their intention to almost double the rent, it was time for Gildings to find new premises once again.
One day, when Mark brought up the subject of the need to find a new building, I suggested we go out for a drive in order to try and do just that. After driving here, there and everywhere, we saw a building at the bottom of Great Bowden Road, with a ‘To Let’ sign outside it, so we stopped the car and went to have a look.
Having established over the phone that the owner of the neglected Victorian building was inside, we ventured into the former agricultural suppliers to have a look, only to discover that the owner was a friend of mine who suggested that I buy the building rather than rent it. I replied that even if I could afford it, I couldn’t even consider it due to the lack of a car park. When my friend mentioned he also owned the bramble-filled area of land next to the building and offered a tempting price, the deal was all but done, and in due course Gildings moved to our current premises at the The Mill.
Over the past 40 years, there have been many changes in the world of auctioneering, but by far the most significant is the effect of the internet. At an average auction, we can expect to see 100 people in the room with a further 10 to 12 on the phone and up to 60 more people popping in with a written bid for a particular lot. However, the advent of online bidding means that it is now typical to have around 500 people registered to bid online through various websites like thesaleroom.com.
While online bidding has given our local business a truly global reach, it does not come without its challenges. With people bidding from all over the world and making their decisions on what to buy on the basis of condition reports and photographs, we have got to be clinical about looking at items through their eyes in order to avoid any problems post sale.
That said, the internet hasn’t affected the wonderful atmosphere in our saleroom and we still get plenty of people who enjoy coming along just to listen.
Tim Wonnacott’s first ever episode of Bargain Hunt was recorded with us in Roman Way, so it was quite the occasion and we got on like a house on fire! Tim was an absolute star and very knowledgeable; he could always walk into the saleroom and see straight away the star lots that would make the money. Working together on Bargain Hunt was a wonderful experience and it worked brilliantly. However, when the production staff changed and started asking for manufactured jolliness, we had to stop doing it as it was no longer authentic and fundamentally we are there to get the very best price for our clients, not to provide entertainment. However, while it lasted it was tremendous fun and they did us proud.
In the auctioneering business fashion really is the most powerful instrument. It comes and goes - and recently there has been a lot of going. Furniture is the obvious one as people no longer have the space for antique pieces or indeed the available cash to buy the homes to put them in.
When it comes to predicting what collectors are looking for, it’s an amazing cycle of watching, learning, seeing and trying to forecast what will be next to come up. For example, things like Doulton Figures and Toby Jugs were massive at one stage and would sell for hundreds of pounds each, but now you put 10 of them in a box to sell.
Teak 1960s Scandinavian furniture is another example. In the late 1980s and 1990s this style of furnishing was certainly considered old hat. If we had to remove it from a property it would usually end up being flatpacked to fit into a skip, rather than go through sale – such was the pitiful amounts it would make. I’m sure the odd one was even converted into rabbit hutches! But that period of furniture design has been re-evaluated and is now back in vogue, so even teak furniture can now make more than Georgian oak.
The other sector that has moved a lot in my time is pictures. Victorian landscapes and seascapes need to be very good in order to sell for a good price and generally this market is down and out. In general, the market is always vulnerable, and supply and demand is complicated and can work in a very niche way. Pieces by one artist can be sought after, but the minute there is seen to be too much available then value is lost.
In 2020 every business is learning that unfortunately, all our best laid plans can be turned upside down by factors beyond our control. We are all also reflecting on the importance of family and community, the two things our business is rooted in. As I look back over the good fortune I have enjoyed in business over the last four decades I can say that the support of my wife Pat and my family is the most significant example of this. After all, none of us can ever know what our children will want to do when they grow up, so the fact that two of my sons Mark and Will have followed this career path and are now in charge of Gildings’ future is the best example of all of everything working out and coming full circle.