Croydon’s secret plan to flog £13m-worth of Riesco Collection

Going, going, gone... Two items from the Riesco Collection, a Zun-shaped flower vase decorated in enamels

Going, going, gone… Two items of antique Chinese ceramics, a Zun-shaped flower vase decorated in enamels

Maybe someone at Croydon Council does have a sense of irony, however twisted.

Because no sooner is a local antiques dealer installed as the borough’s Mayor, than it emerges that Croydon’s Conservative-run council is secretly trying to flog off two dozen items of priceless Ming china from the publicly owned Riesco Collection.

Cushty, as DelBoy might have said.

The sale will cause horror among historians, art lovers and museum curators nationally. The Riesco Gallery – where these pieces are supposed to be on display – was part-funded by grants from the National Lottery and the Arts Council. The British Museum has a special long-term loan arrangements with Croydon because of the Riesco Collection, which places our borough museum on a similar standing to other world-rated collections such as Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum.

“This is not the kind of disposal, the break-up of a well-known collection, that we would normally like to see or encourage,” a source at the British Museum said this morning. The Museum source confirmed that the BM had not been consulted about any planned sale by Croydon Council.

After being approached by Inside Croydon, the council hurried out an arse-covering press release today, claiming that the sale would generate £13 million, and that this would be some kind of cultural bonanza for the town.

The council statement claims that the sale is prompted because Croydon can no longer afford to insure or maintain this part of the collection, even though it is understood that the majority of the pieces to be flogged off have been kept in long-term storage in the basement of the Town Hall, and not on display as was intended when bequeathed to the borough in 1959 by local businessman Raymond Riesco “in trust for the people of Croydon”.

In secret and without any debate in the council chamber or public consultation, 24 items from the Riesco Collection have already been removed from the Town Hall to Sotheby’s, the international auction house, for valuation prior to sale.

In its statement today, Croydon Council claims that, “The proposals are due to be considered at the council’s corporate services committee on Wednesday July 24.”

The People’s Republic of China is undergoing a policy of reclaiming cultural artefacts, including ancient Ming dynasty ceramics, which on world markets is placing a premium on such items when put to auction.

The man behind this latest act of cultural vandalism in our borough is none other than the deputy leader of Croydon’s Tories, Councillor Dudley Mead.

Dudley Mead: wheedling an agreement from an old lady

Dudley Mead: wheedling an agreement from an old lady

Last month, Mead went out of his way to travel to the home of 98-year-old Jean Riesco, Raymond Riesco’s daughter. Mead’s mission appears to have been to wheedle from a frail old lady some form of consent for the sale of part of the Riesco Collection.

In its statement today, the council claimed, “The proposal has the backing of the Riesco family, providing the proceeds of the sale are used to support culture in the borough.”

It seems that Mead spun Jean Riesco some load of old flannel about paying for more comfortable seats in the Fairfield Halls. In return for the Riesco sale, Mead has promised the Riesco family that the Ashcroft Theatre – or the “Ashford Theatre”, according to the council’s press release – will in due course be re-named the Riesco Theatre, a crass move that is sure to alienate the borough’s many supporters of the late actress Dame Peggy Ashcroft.

The Meads – Dudley and his fellow councillor wife Margaret, who between them bank more than £90,000 a year in allowances from the council – were not available to answer questions when called this morning. Perhaps Dudley was caddying for Margaret on the golf course?

As the council’s cabinet member for “capital budget and asset management”, Dudley Mead has overseen the building of the council’s £140 million offices, and the spending of £3million more of public money to furnish those offices.

Mead, who is a board member of the Fairfield Halls, has also authorised £27 million of public money being paid towards the refurbishment of the Fairfield, although his plan for the council to take over the running of the Halls may now be subject to review by the Charity Commission.

And it would seem that in order to pay for his Fairfield Halls project, Mead has decided to flog off Croydon’s family silver, or at least its priceless collection of ceramics.

“If this comes to pass, it will be another sad day for our town,” said Timothy Godfrey, the opposition Labour group’s spokesman on culture and the arts.

“I’m really proud of Croydon, the sort of place where people come to, put down roots, bring up their family and come to love for its location, it’s transport links and the opportunities it gives.

“This has always been the story of Croydon, and was the story for Raymond Riesco. He left the people of Croydon his family home, the farm next door and the impressive Chinese ceramics collection,” Godfrey said.

“The Tories have ripped apart the Croydon Clocktower complex, closing the purpose-built gallery, and the purpose-built David Lean Cinema. They withdrew the grant to the Warehouse Theatre, forcing it to close.

“The Tories have committed act after act of cultural vandalism since being elected. This is a scorched earth policy towards culture in our borough, and it must be stopped.”

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16 Responses to Croydon’s secret plan to flog £13m-worth of Riesco Collection

  1. Croydon Labour Party was talking about seeking judicial review of this cowboy council. Has it done so? Or was that just party political hot air?

    It cannot be right that a local authority can take leave of its financial senses – spending money it doesn’t have on a grandiose headquarters it doesn’t need; contracting out its libraries to the lowest bidder; or selling off a publicly owned ceramic collection to prop-up an ailing arts complex.

    There must be an independent body to whom Croydon Council tax-payers can refer this bunch of Del Boys, a body that can instruct the council to act responsibly.

    I assume it would be a total waste of time to approach Big Eric Pickles?

    • The withdrawal of the grant for the Warehouse Theatre (midway through a specifically funded project), the handing of our public libraries to a profit-making company, the closure of the Clocktower and the loss of a £100,000 Arts Council grant…

      So many things that should have been reviewed judicially. However the law is only open to those with deep pockets, or who get their funding for legal advice and representation, like Croydon’s Tory-run council, from the Council Tax-payer.

      While the Labour party can show political leadership, it cannot fund judicial reviews.

      If we have a generous donor in Croydon, then now is the time to come out and stand up for our town.

  2. The really appalling waste of money in this business is that any funds cannot be matched funded from other sources because the council has too close control over the Fairfield Halls et al. So whatever you think of the Riesco Collection, or the Fairfield Halls, it is a real loss to the borough every which way.

    There is no arts strategy in Croydon, so we are all reaping the price of this incredibly amateur approach to borough management, with poor facilities compared to other boroughs, and wanton destruction of so much that was successful.

    Judicial Review is expensive. Surely we can get an online petition going to give people a chance to express lack of confidence in this council and call for some serious external review of the borough.

  3. Would it be worth more if the whole collection was sold as just one complete body of ceramics ?

  4. mraemiller says:

    I just cannot believe anyone would even think of doing this. I told several of my relatives – all Tories – and they couldn’t believe it either – they thought I was making it up!

    Talk about knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing… a collection like this that someone like Mr Riesco spent a LIFETIME building up may be valued at £13million but it represents collectively far more than that. As collective entity it is unique. Selling it would be wicked. You cant plug the gaps in funding for the performing arts by desecrating museums.

  5. Leaving aside the concerns as to whether it is even appropriate to sell, an interesting consideration is whether this is a good time to sell when looked at in cold financial terms.

    With QE and fiat money devaluation the norm globally, these art pieces may be about to jump in monetary price exponentially. The council is a forced seller which weakens its position of course.

    It is a sign of just how desperate Croydon Council’s finances now are and illustrative of the mismanagement by Croydon Tories of our hard-earned taxes that the family crockery is going under the hammer. I reckon it’s a poor trade to sell these artefacts in return for owning an expensive new council HQ in 25 years time in a Cost a Mint Walk.

    All this will put Croydon back into play in the national media regarding its attitude to culture and allegations of Croydon nihilism.

  6. Is it even legal for the council to sell these items?

    According to the council’s own website the collection was left to the borough on condition that it was not be split up.

  7. But even if the original agreement means the collection can’t be split, presumably the approval of Mrs Riesco on behalf of the family would open the door to this highly regrettable sale taking place. It’s important to know exactly which pieces could be going and how their loss would damage the collection overall. A pertinent question is why haven’t the items in storage been on display?

    • mraemiller says:

      The point is that when the council took on the collection, it made a promise. Breaking the promise is a breach of trust. Presumably you’d have to read Mr R’s will to find out how big a breach…

      There is also the deeper question of who’s going to be stupid enough to leave anything to the borough ever again knowing they’ll likely take it down the pawnbrokers when they’re a bit hard up.

  8. Hasn’t anyone heard of fund-raising in this town?

    How about philanthropy?

    Of course the insurance on this collection is expensive – so you try to raise money for it, you urge some art-loving philanthropist to fund it, you host a big swanky ball where people buy expensive tickets, you give someone a naming opportunity, you ask a big corporation to sponsor it.

    Of course money is tight but we can’t just give away the farm. We need some creative thinking regarding money.

    I agree with Charlotte – we need an arts strategy. To me, part of that means getting a really good professional arts fund-raiser.

    Lack of finances is not a good enough reason to get rid of this valuable collection when there are individuals and organisations out there who would be happy to help out. “Development” is what it’s called in the States – it’s about searching out those individuals and organisations giving them an opportunity to give much-needed funds. The Council needs to look at this important part of the arts. It needs to hire someone who is responsible for arts strategy and development.

    • Closure by the Tory Council of the borough’s secure gallery and their attempt to stop it ever being a gallery again by moving the archives service into that space are all signs of the council in panic mode, trying to patch over bad political and bad managerial decisions.

      The irony of saying the council can’t afford a £2 million insurance may indicate that the Riesco Collection has never actually been insured or, if it has, it has been massively under-insured.

  9. The arts in the borough need to be in a completely separate charity from the council.

    They need to have proper strategic planning to maximise the social welfare for everyone in the community.

    Selling off part of the Riesco Collection while the arts charities are so close to the council is like throwing money out of the window….

    * No external funder will match the contribution from the council to the Fairfield Halls, so Croydon community lose that funding (it is against the rules of most funding bodies to fund activities that are so closely managed by a Council, or have no proper strategic plan);

    * The town loses a valuable collection of international repute, so the town is less attractive to external visitors and loses money coming into the town;

    * With no collection of arts and heritage it is difficult in the future for Croydon to link together a portfolio of arts offerings to bid for further funds to develop arts in Croydon and so we spiral down, ever poorer …

    We are talking about millions of pounds of vandalism – it is like another riot, but this one is quiet and the mindless vandals are some of the middle-class who sit on the council.

  10. Sign the petition to save the collection. Mike Fisher gave a very weak response to the campaign on Croydon Radio last night. If we put on the pressure, we can get this decision reversed.

  11. Action this week, please!

    Steve Reed: a question in the House of Commons, maybe?

    Timothy Godfrey: an injunction (or at least the threat of one) preventing the sale of any part of this collection pending a public debate?

  12. Margaret Cox says:

    Hands off Mike Fisher and Croydon Council! You should not take it upon yourselves to sell the Riesco Collection which, as part of Croydon’s heritage, is a rare cultural asset. Everyone in their right mind knows that selling the ‘family silver’ is crass and a so-called short-term solution to the Council’s financial difficulties. We have few enough cultural assets to boast about in Croydon. For God’s sake leave us with some pride.

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