Auction house steps in to help Abbey

Thursday, 18th March 2021

The ceiling of the lantern in Westminster Abbey, at the centre is a patterned panel

A major auction house is stepping in to help raise funds for the preservation of the Westminster Abbey, its collections, and its music foundation which are all at risk because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Covid-19 has posed the Abbey unprecedented financial challenges because over 90 per cent of its income comes from tourist visitors. The pandemic cut the number of paying visitors to just under 450,000 Abbey last year. The year before 1.3 million visitors passed through its doors.

After the lockdown in March, the Abbey initially opened to paying visitors in July for only two days each week, increasing to four by the end of the financial year end in September.

This meant that while visitors during the first half of the year reached 438,905, the lockdown in the second half, including the traditional busy summer months, reduced numbers to just 10,644.

As a result, visitor income fell by £11.8 million which was only partially mitigated by £2 million of furlough income from the Government’s Job Retention Scheme.

Now Olympia Auctions, based at Kensington Olympia in London, is inviting consignments of items for sale in the spring and early summer 2021 to sustain the Abbey’s heritage appeal. The sales are:

  • British and Continental Pictures and Prints on 28th April 2021
  • European and Asian Works of Art on 26th May 2021
  • Arms, Armour and Militaria on 30th June 2021

The vendor’s commission will be reduced to 10 per cent, and half will be given to the Abbey. Sellers are also being invited to give all - or a proportion - of the net proceeds of the sale to the Abbey. There are potential tax benefits for donations.

The Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle,said:

'Westminster Abbey is a living church with a unique heritage of national and international significance. It is our duty as the current stewards of the Abbey to sustain the excellence of its liturgy and music whilst preserving and developing its historic fabric and collections for generations to come, but the pandemic has had a catastrophic effect on our finances, and with no State or Church funding to fall back on we have had to take drastic action to minimise our expenditure. I urge those who value the work of the Abbey and wish to see its priceless heritage preserved for the future to engage with this new partnership and contribute in any way they can.'

Thomas Del Mar, Director of Olympia Auctions, said:

'It is a great pleasure to be assisting Westminster Abbey in this venture which will clearly benefit all participants. At this very early stage, we have already received some remarkable consignments including panels of 16th century stained glass, a silver-mounted shield, a highly decorated Indian sword and some early enamels. This is one of a number of such collaborations and we are delighted at the very positive early response.'

To consign items and for further details about the auctions, contact [email protected]

For any fundraising queries about the Abbey, including tax benefits, contact Valerie Humphrey on [email protected]