Boulton, Robb & Johnson

had belonged to Matthew Boulton, an early industrialist, who had been the first manufacturer of James Watt's steam engines, and it was the many bits and bobs collected by his family which were to go under the hammer.

Since Tew Park had been built as a hunting box (the precise pseudo-aristocratic phrase to describe the place you went back to when you'd just killed something), the original furniture was fairly rough and ready. The last seventy years had not improved it. Indeed the village, the Park and its contents had seen a steady and debilitating decline.

In 1914, the last male heir of the Boulton line died, an early victim of trench warfare. Thereafter, public trustees had managed the estate for two unmarried ladies, relatives of the family.

The estate was acquired in 1962 by Major Eustace Robb, himself a distant relation. Until then, Major Robb's chief claim to fame was as one of the earliest of television producers, working on the BBC's pre-war experimental broadcasts from Broadcasting House. During the war he was in Intelligence - something very hush-hush.

He was aided in his stewardship by his partner and estate agent, James Johnson. It has been suggested that their relationship was rather more than professional (or rather less, depending on your point of view). In any case, Johnson was evidently the stronger personality of the two. The villagers certainly blame him for the neglect suffered over the next twenty-five years.

I visited the place in 1986, and it was in a shocking state. Beautifully proportioned Cotswold-stone cottages stood roof-less and derelict, disrepair affected everything, and an air of defeat hung over the wooded valley. Major Robb was no longer responsible; he had gone to his reward the previous year, leaving the estate to Johnson, much to the chagrin of several living relatives.

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