Friday, 26 June 2020

Just About Fit

It befalls the castle restorer to source reclaimed items that bring back the period feel. Nothing can match the glorious patina of old wood. When an architectural antiques business is selling-up, the opportunity cannot be missed. I travelled to Robert Mills Ltd. in Bristol for one of their socially distanced viewing days for their closing down sell-off auction, just before lock down. 

I have to say it is one of the most astonishing and overwhelming emporia that I have even visited.  The range, quantity and quality of the architectural antiques blew my mind, and I baulked at the company's logistical nightmare of moving everything out of the premises.

The Robert Mills Emporium of Architectural Antiques

There was too much to deal with systematically e.g. photographing items of interest or even taking down lot numbers and I was reduced to walking around and taking photographs with my mind. I am so delighted I visited, as lots I had dismissed in the catalogue looked great in person and lots I had liked in the catalogue disappointed in the flesh. Photographs never do justice to scale and patina.

I walked passed some massive Edwardian shelving that was being used to hold vintage laboratory equipment. This would work wonderfully as storage in the castle's still room but would it even fit? I had my doubts, but thought it might just about squeeze in.

Edwardian Shelving at Robert Mills

At the online auction, prices were strong and I despaired of being able to afford anything. However, thanks to the size and rough quality of the shelving, I was the only bidder and got it for £50. The auctioneer had been dropping the price and was going to £30, when he noticed my bid. I did not begrudge the extra £20, as I knew the transportation cost would be more than the item itself. I had already bought some larger items, so had already committed to a Luton van.

The Luton van duly arrived this week. Gregor insisted the way I wanted the shelving installed was upside down. He convinced me he was right, but if so the shelving was upside-down at Robert Mills. 
The top of the unit (bottom at Robert Mills) seems to have disappeared between the auction catalogue and arrival at Balintore. I knew something did not look right, in any case, and asked Gregor to make a replacement unit top out of plywood. Gregor also patched up the front, both top and bottom, with new timber so that it looks smart. These will be stained dark. Originally, there had been shelving either side: the grooves can still be seen. So the original unit was at least three times the size of the one I bought!!!

Edwardian Shelving at Balintore Castle

The angled moulding at the front of the shelving is very interesting, as Gregor pointed out. It is angled down above head height, and angled up below head height - presumably for sticking labels on. And assuredly, there are paper labels of all vintages still adhering to the unit.

close-up of shelving showing old labels

The unit could not have fitted the space any better: going all the way from floor to ceiling and from the wall to just shy of the door frame, allowing the door to open just as fully as the door frame permits. So overall, I am delighted by the re-purposing of the shelving thanks to Gregor. This is the third life, at the very least, for the shelving. It had to be partially dismantled to even get through the still room door. 

If I had not seen this antique in the flesh, I simply would not have bid on it. So serendipity city. I wonder where it comes from?

An update! Many thanks to an employee of Robert Mills for supplying the following provenance.

Gregor was right we did store the item upside down, the base was incomplete and would not stand the right side up. The item came from a haberdashery shop in Newport, South Wales. Over the decades it became more of a hardware shop and then more of a fancy goods (cheap) shop. They just kept adding more shelves to the original units until all the walls were covered with shelves, over the doorways and right up to the ceiling. They then seemed to have knocked through to the next door shop and took over that one as well. Filling it with their own style of adding on bits of ad-hock shelving as they needed it until that shop was filled as well (not to mention the store rooms).


  1. It is so frustratingly true that photos never ever does real life justice. Just as well you were able to go in person and make this fabulous find.

  2. This is an amazing find and I can just picture it when it’s done
    Patty Vikestad

  3. I'm really enjoying all the still room updates!

  4. Excellent eye, Gregor! You made wonderful deals to antique items, David.