Many years ago I become involved in a house clearance, my first and the only one to date. It was a house clearance of epic proportions. My involvement was entirely by chance, we needed a piano stool and answered an advertisement for one. This led to a visit to the house to see the stool and quite honestly it was difficult to stay away. I have never seen so may things, objects and disparate objects crammed into one house. There had even been a car in the hall which was used as a living room (I hasten to clarify this did have french windows for car manoeuvrings).
The life remnants of sisters extraordinaire, having lived their lives together working to improve and maintain the moral education of the young women of Winchester. Both musically talented, they both played the organ, one was the church organist in St Lawrence's' Church, Winchester for many years. They lived in a house the like of which I don't think I will ever have the pleasure of seeing again. It had a sprung dance floor upstairs, several pianos, a full size grand piano downstairs, a Bechstein baby and pianola. annotated sheet music, annotated everything infact.
One of the most wonderful things was a very good friend of mine was a concert pianist and she sat and played Clair De Lune on the Bechstein. To hear the room filled with music was truly spine tingling.
One sister slept on the raised stage at one end of the upstairs next to a church organ, another bedroom full of vintage furs and clothing that had not seen the light for years. They were infamous for circulating antique fairs and auction rooms and their house was jammed packed full of more objects than I have ever seen in one place. During the house clearance many visiting removal services told stories of how they would be asked to transport furniture and various items to auction, only to return with it several months later.
Through inevitably sad circumstances the house had to be emptied and all of a sudden decades of history was uncovered and poured over by strange hands. It was truly one of the most interesting experiences I have ever had. I would have loved to have known the ladies. Most impressive was the huge collection of hand knitted garments. Dresses, skirts, coats and yes…swimwear. I even found a bag of knitting wool that matched jumpers and colours that had been used to repair or transform garments into another item of clothing where make do and mend seemed to be an extreme sport. Knitting patterns and sewing patterns were amended with improvements. The ladies never threw anything away. Anything.
I have written a fair bit in the past on how clothing, objects and belongings can imbue a very real essence of their former owners. This was incredibly tangible in this house. You could almost hear the piano music and dance steps as you sat quietly reflecting.
The ensuing house sale was also a spectacular experience. Disparate people came together, gave up their time to help clear the house of the belongings to help raise funds for the remaining sisters care.
This happened over a weekend, sofas were moved to new homes, clothes were recycled to live another life.
It has had a lasting effect on me. I felt like I had seen an intimate portrait of lives of two people laid out before me. It seemed a very personal thing to do and it was done, by all involved with great respect and a huge amount of gentle and affectionate humour. I made good and lasting friendships over the sale weekend. It really was a remarkable time. It was fun. It was moving. It had been a home.