Belfast Telegraph

Tenacious Northern Ireland treasure hunters locate antiques of family who lost fortune in Wall Street crash

By Allan Preston

Lost antiques from one of Ulster's most wealthy industrial families have been found almost 90 years after they were sold.

Milford House in Co Armagh employed 1,000 people and was famed as a major linen producer in the 19th and early 20th century before the family owners lost their fortune after the 1929 Wall Street crash.

William McCrum, who invented the penalty kick in 1890, was forced to sell off the family's opulent possessions at auction in November 1930.

Fighting to preserve the history is museum curator Stephen McManus from the Milford Buildings Preservation Trust.

Having started the trust at the age of 15, last year he made a public appeal to track down the lost items.

With no records of the 1930 auction, his breakthrough came after trawling through old newspapers to find an advert listing the McCrums' items, from valuable oil paintings to luxury furniture of the day.

Now the trust has announced the return of items including an antique Buhl cabinet made in 1880, a pair of porcelain candelabras and a large Chinese ginger jar.

"It's been so exciting but also very much a challenge because 1930 was such a long time ago," Mr McManus said.

"I put an appeal in the paper and through word of mouth it just got about.

"We knew some of the family who were patrons and when they found out what we were trying to do they started giving us more items."

He explained the Buhl cabinet was inspired by King Louis XIV of France.

"Louis XIV had furniture of the highest quality made by Andre Boulle (1642-1732) which is still in the Palace of Versailles today," he said.

"The Victorians tried to emulate it on a cheaper scale. So it was very French, glittery and a sign of your wealth and that was the case with the McCrum family.

"They had gone from being simple farmers to one of the leading manufacturing families in Ulster.

"They were employing 1,000 people in Milford and often went off to Madrid and New York," he added.

"So furniture like this was something the ordinary person couldn't afford but it was extremely fashionable during that period."

William McCrum ended his days in poverty two years after the auction in a three-storey building in Victoria Street in Armagh.

Today it has been converted into a museum for Milford House.

"We get visitors from all over the world and people are fascinated to see these things and have no idea of what's behind the doors," Mr McManus added.

"But aside from the beautiful furniture and decorations, the story of Milford House and the McCrum family is so fascinating and appeals to everyone."

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