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.
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.”
- Council’s Mr & Mrs act that defies proper declarations
- Failing Fairfield Halls is limping along on borrowed time
- Croydon arts policy: no librarians, but £1.5m for Fairfield Halls
- Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source that is actually based in the heart of the borough – 267,670 page views Nov 2012-Apr 2013
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