Going, going, gone! Sidmouth auctioneer Michael retires

“The job chose me,” says granddad-of-six after 33 years

GOING, going, gone! Sidmouth auctioneer and valuer Michael Willey has hung up his hammer and retired after more than three decades and two million lots.

Michael, 66, yesterday called an end to a career with Potbury’s he began in 1977.

The granddad of six, of Livonia Road, now plans to cycle from John O’ Groats to Land’s End – but you won’t catch him tuning into Bargain Hunt or Cash in the Attic.

“I have mixed feelings about retirement, work has taken up a large amount of time in my life,” he said.

Michael was instrumental in introducing calculators at Potbury’s and has since seen the internet change the trade.

“This job found me. It’s been quite an eventful period of time – 33 years in the business,” said Michael, who started selling carpets and beds as an auctioneer’s clerk outside the former Mill Street auction rooms atop a step ladder.

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“You would see the whole strata of human society there,” he added.

“In those days, there were no calculators or photocopying. We had to write in huge, leather, Dickensian ledgers and had to work out commission and VAT in our heads.

“One day, I nipped across the road to Woolworths and got a calculator the size of a brick, as I’d forgotten how to do percentages.”

Michael recalls selling the contents of Tipton St John’s train station, and a house clearance at a property that belonged to Rudyard Kipling’s secretary, among memorable lots.

He’s put the hammer down on items ranging from the �31,000 sale of a 19th Century Chinese vase to old bibles and linen.

“I’ve sold around two million lots - and there could be 100 or 200 individual items in each one,” said Michael.

“With antiques we could sell 120 to 140 lots an hour.

“Anyone with a bit of panache and character can be an auctioneer. It’s a different ball game to be a valuer. You’ve got to be a specialist in things like jewellery, textiles and carpets.”

He added: “I remember rows when a husband was at one end of the auction room and his wife at the other - and they were unknowingly bidding against each other.

“There used to be a mystery about antiques. These days you can find out whatever you want on the internet.

“With the latest technology, people can sit in their own homes around the world and take part in the auction. It takes the dynamic out of the auction house. It used to be a social event.

“Television programmes like Bargain Hunt and Cash in the Attic are really for ratings. I can’t abide by them. There are a lot of armchair experts these days which is a curse.”