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Cottage reveals 'Aladdin's cave of treasures' collected over 80 years

Posted on 12/02/2020 in Press Coverage

An ‘Aladdin’s cave’ of hundreds of rare antiques gathered over 80 years by an artistic father and son is expected to sell for tens of thousands of pounds at auction in February.

The collection discovered at Eaton Cottage, Thames Ditton, Surrey, stunned experts who said nothing could have prepared them for the breath-taking array of objects in a home which resembled an art gallery or museum.

The rich array of treasures, now with Hansons, includes everything from old master paintings and ceramics to musical manuscripts and bronze figures. They were gathered by artist Alastair Stewart (1908-1979), a member of the Royal Academy of Arts, and his son Torquil Stewart, 81, now retired from the film industry.


However, the time has come for the family to leave Thames Ditton and their collection of art and ephemera – around 200 lots – is set to go under the hammer on February 22 at Hansons London, Teddington. It’s expected to sell for between £40,000-£50,000.

Chris Kirkham, associate director of Hansons London, said: “I couldn’t believe my eyes when I went into Eaton Cottage - nothing could have prepared me for the wealth of treasures within. It’s one of the most amazing private collections I’ve ever seen. Every wall and all the surfaces were covered with art, books, ceramics and more.

“The cottage itself, which dates back to 1840, provided the perfect period setting to house the objects they loved. It’s been the Stewarts’ family home for 80 years.


“There was so much to see I didn’t know what to stop and admire first. It was a time capsule of two lifetimes of collecting, a pure definition of the term Aladdin’s cave. Not only was it like entering a museum, many of the objects could well be worthy of a museum.

“I found everything from rare tobacconist advertising figures and bronze anatomical figures to old master paintings. But the multitude of items had one distinct thing in common – all were of great quality and chosen with an expert eye.”

Mrs Joan Stewart, Torquil’s wife, said: “Both Alastair and Torquil collected absolutely anything that interested them and both collections complemented each other. Torquil particularly liked ceramics and objects from the Far East.


“It’s tragic that we’ve had to leave but it’s for the sake of our family.We have three sons and didn’t want to leave the collections for them to have to sort out. We’ve moved to the seaside.”

According to the family, Alastair, the Chief of Art Restoration for the former Ministry of Works, had eclectic tastes. His major interests centred around works of art and artefacts from various historical periods. An avid collector, he would spend his leisure time browsing antique shops and markets as well as junk shops. His collection simply grew and grew. Torquil, a former mayor of Elmbridge Borough Council in Surrey, inherited his father’s love of collecting.

Mr Kirkham said: “It’s been an honour to handle and value this collection. People around the world will soon have a rare opportunity to battle at auction for hundreds of wonderful antiques, art and collectables chosen with two sets of very discerning eyes.”

The Eaton Cottage Collection will be sold on February 22 at Hansons London Auction Centre, Normansfield Theatre, 2A Langdon Park, Teddington. TW11 9PS. To find out more, email [email protected] or call 0207 018 9300.

Hansons London Auctions & Free Valuations

Hansons London holds bi-monthly auctions at the Normansfield Theatre in Teddington and offers free valuations at the venue every week. Large collections can also be assessed in the privacy of people's homes. The firm can undertake downsizing and house clearance. To find out more, please call 0207 018 9300.