Philip Blairman: some early memories, in his own words

Since 2013, Mark Westgarth, based at the University of Leeds, has been investigating ‘Antique Dealers: the British Antiques Trade in the 20th Century’.  This project grew out of his earlier work that culminated in A Biographical Dictionary of Nineteenth Century Antique and Curiosity Dealers, published by the Regional Furniture History Society in 2009.

My own modest involvement with the current project has led me to look through our archive and recall in more detail the earlier history of the firm.  Last night, I came across a manuscript typed up by one of Philip’s daughters, in 2007. This draft, for a very personal biography, is based on conversations that my aunt had with my grandfather in the late 1960s, and love letters between Philip and Celia, who married in 1921.  Below, transcribed verbatim, are extracts from the final chapter.

“After our motoring honeymoon, we spent a blissful week at our new flat in Cumberland Mansions.  After that we had to come down to earth – I was needed in Llandudno.

The season was in full swing so – just as my father had done thirty-six years ago – I brought my bride to Llandudno.

We owned the large corner site at 79 Mostyn Street [see photograph on this website under ‘About: History of Blairman’]. Instead of staying in dreary furnished rooms as my parents had been forced to do, Celia and I were able to live on the top floor of No. 79.  This had been turned into a comfortable flat.

The stock in the Llandudno shop was very varied.  We had good pictures by Peter De Wint, William Shayer, B.W. Leader and E. Wimperis.  We did well with the pictures of red-robed cardinals by artists such as [Francesco] Brunery, [Adolphe] Lesrel and [Georges] Croegaert.

At the other end of the scale, we sold inexpensive pictures by the pot-boiling type of artist. These were very popular with holiday-makers.

Our Llandudno customers had definite requirements.  If they spent a lot of money, they wanted a lot to show for it.  The higher the price, therefore, the larger they expected their purchase to be.

We sold enormous paintings of battles and also of highland cattle.  Over-sized vases went well – no-one wanted the delicate, decorative type of ornament that could stand on a mantelpiece or fit into a small shelf of a china cabinet that was so sought after by London customers [see a page from a (presumably London) sale book for 1924].

A large part of our business was done by auction.  In fact we always hoped for a wet summer so that people would come into the shop to shelter from the rain…and at the same time listen to my father as he entertained prospective customers with his repartee.

The auctions were held twice daily – from 10.30 to 12.30 in the morning and from 8pm onwards. The evening auctions sometimes went on till midnight…and afterwards we would go to Summers – a popular cafe nearby – for late night tea and cakes.

Sometimes we had exhibitions – usually of a single gigantic painting which would rest against black velvet curtains.  One such painting – ROAD TO CALVARY -attracted very little interest so we showed it again at a Gallery on Llandudno pier.  Here it was highly successful so after that we regularly sold goods on the Pier.

Now that all three of our shops [Harrogate, London and Llandudno] were firmly established, my mother no longer took an active part in the business. She and my father spent their time in London.

Celia was happy to take her place. She helped with book-keeping and general office-work – in fact whenever and wherever she was needed.

In so-doing, she enabled the wheel to turn full circle…with H. Blairman & Son now being run by the second generation.

And now to bring my story up to date…

Walter [one of Philip’s brothers, who was with him in business], sadly, died in 1936.

I managed to run our three shops – with excellent assistance, until the outbreak of World War II.

The Llandudno branch was closed in 1940.

Miriam [Summerfield, who had joined the firm in 1914, at ‘one pound a week’] continued to look after the Harrogate shop but when she retired in 1955, it too was closed.  [As a child, the present writer remembers Miriam making appearances on the Blairman stand at the Antique Dealers’ Fair].

From then on, I concentrated my activities on our London branch.

I served on the Council of the British Antique Dealers’ Association for many years and was its President in 1947.

After my retirement I founded and co-chaired a housing trust [the Newlon Housing Trust, founded 1968] which bought and furnished flats for the homeless.” (see above)

Philip died in 1972, and Celia in 1994.