Past Perfect?

The Museum of Bath at Work is staging a display all about that amazingly creative organisation of yore, the Bath Arts Workshop.

One of the most enjoyable activities back then was the house clearing service offered by the hard working workshop members.

People were very generous with their donations of jumble and bric-a-brac to our colourful fund-raising shop at the top of Walcot Street.

Stuff that would probably go to a car boot sale or be offered on Shpock these days was sold at rock bottom prices, often to households less well off than those further ‘up the hill’. We could spot an antique dealer a mile off, and I was always ready with my trusty felt pen to adjust price labels in an upward direction when we saw someone closely eying our finer examples of brown furniture.

Jumble donations were all very well, but it was the full house clearances that got our pulses racing. When we got the call, often from a grieving relative who couldn’t face going through all great Aunt Ethel’s stuff at that juncture, we would drop what we were doing and dash off in the van. I do declare that clearing houses was much more fun than creating art!

With a totter’s eye we would suss out all the best items and stash them in the truck. We knew from experience that Ethel’s nephew or niece would sooner or later pull themselves together and arrive to declare ‘Actually, that Welsh dresser is mine’ or ‘I meant to take that Ming vase home with me’ and leaving us the dross. Not that we ever got any Ming vases…we were thrilled if we found a coronation mug or an unused electric carving knife still in its Argos box. Rest assured, Aunt Ethel very rarely had any art deco diamond earrings hidden away in a drawer. But give us an art deco plywood tea tray (50p) or a pokerwork Radio Times cover (£1) and we were over the moon!

After a lightning trawl through auntie’s treasures, we would set to, removing everything else that might raise a penny or five. I think I wrote before how we would stop off in a layby and affix price labels to everything saleable before we flung the van doors open in Walcot Street for the delectation of the general public who would circle like vultures if it was rumoured that our famous pink and green van, known fondly as King Kong Transport, was about to hove into view.

Our last load would be all the rubbish, broken chairs, old mattresses and rusty bikes destined for landfill, whilst old clothes and bedding could be sold in bulk to the rag man in Milk Street. We would then clean the kitchen, polish the bathroom and leave the house spick and span, the way Aunt Ethel would have liked.

It was a really useful service and an early example of recycling, all done for a good cause. Though secretly, I enjoyed doing it so much I called it ‘Greed by proxy’.  

First published in 2019 in Bath Chronicle to mark 50th Anniversary of the bonkers Bath Arts Workshop

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