Wartime and the antiques trade

Geoffrey Hill, courtesy of the Hill family

Geoffrey Hill, courtesy of the Hill family

Working through the Kelly’s directories for Essex has revealed a small but rather stable group of dealers plying their trade in the county thus far but, having started work on the directory for 1914 this morning, I started to think about the more unusual links between the trade and the two world wars. Obviously many shops went out of business in this period both as a result of the huge numbers of casualties and the resulting loss of expertise and also the dire economic conditions that resulted from both periods of conflict. However the wartime periods also led to a number of determined young men and women returning from active service and wondering whether the antiques trade might offer them the chance to start afresh in what must have seemed like a brave new world.

Geoffrey Hill joined the RAF reserve forces in late 1938, becoming a full-time pilot in 1939 and serving in 65 squadron throughout the battle of Britain. Whilst flying a mission in February of 1941 he was shot down and forced to abandon his aircraft, leading to his capture by German forces. Mr Hill was sent to Stalag Luft 111. He promptly escaped from the prison camp on three occasions, leading to his imprisonment in Colditz for the rest of the war. Whilst in Colditz, Mr Hill made use of his German language skills and the availability of what was presumably a well-stocked prison library, reading all he could about antiques and antique furniture in particular.

When hostilities ended, Geoffrey Hill, now an MBE due to his bravery during the war, set up in business in London as Jeremy Ltd, soon moving to the Kings Road and, many years later, to Lowndes Street in Belgravia. His hours of study at Colditz had clearly been time well-spent as he soon built up a reputation as one of the world’s leading experts in English and continental furniture and objets d’art, helping to form many major collections in the process. Amongst his many achievements, he served as president of the British Antique Dealers Association and was a long time exhibitor and member of the vetting committees at the Grosvenor House fair. By the time of his death in 1997 his two sons Michael and John had taken over the running of the business and John Hill continues to run the business as a consultancy to this day. It is remarkable to think that, however indirectly, the horrors of the second world war led to the discovery and sale of some of the finest works of art from the 18th and 19th centuries.

For a fuller account of Geoffrey Hill’s wartime career, please see this link

If anyone has other stories about the activities of members of the trade during the wars then please get in touch.

 

Chris Coles

Volunteer project research assistant

 

 

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One Comment to “Wartime and the antiques trade”

  1. Fascinating blog post Chris!….thanks for keeping the blog ticking over!…Mark.

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