Riesco family opposes “unethical” china collection sale

The influential Museums Association and members of the Riesco family have added their voices to the condemnations of Croydon Council’s proposal to flog off some of the most valuable items from the publicly owned and priceless Riesco Collection of ancient Ming china.

An antique Chinese tomb piece, part of the under-threat Riesco Collection

An antique Chinese tomb piece, part of the under-threat Riesco Collection

The Museums Association has described the Croydon proposal to sell 24 of the most valuable items from the Riesco Collection as “unethical”.

The collection, which dates from Neolithic times to the 19th century, includes Tang dynasty tomb models and Ming dynasty bowls. Croydon is looking to auction 24 items from the collection through Sotheby’s, probably in Hong Kong, where the strong Chinese market would ensure the highest sale prices.

But Jacqueline Wendleken has signed a petition opposing the sale of her great-grandfather, Raymond Riesco’s, bequest to the people of Croydon. “He spent a lifetime collecting this and donated it to the public. The sale should not be allowed to happen,” she said.

Wendleken’s opposition runs contrary to the council’s claim that, “The proposal has the backing of the Riesco family”.

It is believed that this council claim is based on one visit by Dudley Mead, the deputy leader of the Tory group on the council, to the Surrey home of Riesco’s daughter, Jean, in late April. The council has not been forthcoming about what the legal basis is for this visit, or any undertakings that may have been given.

Jean, now 98 years old, was an honoured guest at Heathfield House last Saturday during its ecology centre open day, visiting her former family home which was also left to the borough in her father’s will. It is understood that other senior members of her family share the reservations about the disposal as aired by Wendleken.

Mead, a retired accountant and the cabinet member for finance, has already committed the heavily indebted council to spending £27 million it hasn’t got on refurbishing the Fairfield Halls.

His scheme to raise £13 million from the Riesco sale is that this money would be used for “culture” in Croydon. Recent cultural attractions at the Fairfield Halls have included all-in wrestling, a Queen tribute act and a tattooists’ convention.

Mead is a long-standing member of the Fairfield Halls management board.

Dudley Mead, in his celebrated role as Roy "Chubby" Brown: one of the cultural attractions of the Fairfield Halls

Dudley Mead, in his celebrated role as Roy “Chubby” Brown: one of the cultural attractions of the Fairfield Halls

Mead and his Conservative council colleague Tim Pollard will be called before the Museum Association to try to explain Croydon’s latest act of Philistanism.

“The proposals do not meet the MA’s code of ethics,” said a report on the Museum Association’s website yesterday.

Nick Merriman, the convenor of the Museum Association’s ethics committee, said: “Croydon did not approach us, we heard about this case through the press… The council should follow the formal procedure according to the code of ethics. At the moment it is not clear to us that they are doing so.

“We would particularly like to know why the collection is not considered core as we understand it was part of the founding deposit at the museum.”

This was one of the points first raised last week on Inside Croydon by Hamida Ali, who suggested that any sale of the Riesco Collection would undermine the approved status of the Croydon Museum, with consequences possibly including the council having to make a refund of some of its multi-million pound Lottery and Arts Council grants.

Maurice Davies, the Museum Association’s head of policy and communications, said: “We are keen to have a dialogue so that we can help them understand what the code of ethics prohibits and what it allows in defining exceptional circumstances for financially motivated disposal.

“The code of ethics is very clear on these criteria.”

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4 Responses to Riesco family opposes “unethical” china collection sale

  1. britasjo says:

    Before explaining what the Museum Association’s Code of Ethics entails the Association should first explain the meaning of “Ethics” to Mead, Pollard and of course Fisher.

  2. mraemiller says:

    The whole Fairfield Halls thing is a red herring if you ask me.

    Once the ceramics are sold and turned into money they go from unique artifacts to fungible pound coins and notes. Saying the money is “for the Fairfield Halls” gives the illusion that the ceramics are being turned directly into cement, but it doesn’t work like that.

    What assurance is there that the money would be ring-fenced for the stated purpose? And what are those assurances worth, given that the Lottery money for the Museum was also meant to be ring-fenced?

    People who believe this money is to be ring-fenced for the Fairfield Halls probably also believe that their National Insurance is still ring-fenced entirely for the NHS. What guarantee of ring-fencing can the council offer …and what are their promises worth anyway…?

    I mean, has Cllr Pollard really only just realised that £13million pounds is missing out the council art budget (in which case he’s breathtakingly incompetent)? Or has the £13million Fairfield Halls deficit actually been politically manufactured as an excuse to flog the Riesco ceramics (in which case he’s Arthur Daley)?

    You don’t have to be too bright to figure out that the ultimate aim is simply to lower overall council debt and cut Council Taxes to please Tory voters … and that the philosophical meaning of such a policy is simply this: the Council don’t think that ordinary people should collectively own such items – on whatever terms.

    But will it really please Tory voters? I wonder.

  3. What is clear is that there is absolutely no strategic arts plan for Croydon. No commercial business would carry on in this way with multi-million pound investments without such a plan and proper investment appraisal. This is shockingly bad management and should be blocked by the Audit Office if no-one else on the grounds that it is not good management of public resources.

  4. davidcallam says:

    I suspect Anthony Miller is right.

    But I don’t know, and neither does anyone else outside a small group of Croydon councillors and senior officers who have access to the council’s books.

    Before we can make any meaningful plans, we need the figures.

    We need to know precisely:
    • how large a deficit we need to fund, whoever governs the borough;
    • what assets we have to sell as well as or maybe instead of the Riesco Collection;
    • whether councillors have been sufficiently reckless to justify a claim for surcharging.

    The time has come for some open government in Croydon; but I don’t think it will happen this side of next year’s council elections.

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