Thousands flock to Antiques Roadshow at Castle Ward with treasured heirlooms
Thousands of antique hunters clutching paintings, swords and a penny-farthing bicycle queued up for hours in the scorching hot sun of Castle Ward yesterday to meet the experts of the hit BBC series Antiques Roadshow.
It's estimated around 5,000 people attended the Co Down event in the National Trust grounds and producers say it's not unusual for up to 15,000 items to be valued by the roadshow team, with around 50-60 filmed for broadcast.
From treasured wartime family heirlooms to overly optimistic pottery owners, the enthusiasm on display was undeniable yesterday, and showed just why six million viewers tune in to the show every Sunday night.
Presenter Fiona Bruce told the Belfast Telegraph she was just as fascinated by the setting, which she called "a marital dispute in stone".
"It's the perfect summer's day and people have turned out in their thousands and brought some marvellous items," she said.
"There are so many new stories everywhere you go, not least about Castle Ward itself.
"Effectively, it's a marital dispute in stone. Because Bernard Ward (1st Viscount Bangor) who built it in the 1700s wanted a classical Palladian style.
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"His wife Lady Ann Bligh (Viscountess Bangor) favoured neo-Gothic with all the bells and whistles on. So the back of the house is Gothic with arabesque windows.
"It's a completely different style, so you can step from a Gothic room to a classic room as you walk through the house.
"It's just the most extraordinary thing and clearly they couldn't compromise."
Glass expert Andy McConnell, one of the programme's most popular fixtures, said a family connection to Ulster made it an emotional visit.
"According to family repute, my family was cleared out of the highlands in 1745 by the Duke of Cumberland, so they were booted out and came to Ulster.
"So, when I come back here I meet all these people who behave like me, are mouthy like me and look like me."
After assessing some "beautiful Irish glass", he said it was the deep family connection people often have to antiques that drives his passion.
"What is it that makes the Antiques Roadshow one of the most popular shows put out by the BBC? People can say, 'It's just a cup and saucer,' but they're really missing the point.
"The value isn't the important thing. You can tell people something's worth £50,000 and they often won't want to sell it, they'll say, 'No, it's all I have left of my mum.'
"That's a really potent feeling. All people get it, it's like electricity."
Antique expert John Foster agreed, saying a good story was more exciting than the price tag.
"There are some valuable items here, but really that doesn't bother me in the slightest. To me, it's about why they love it and why they're prepared to queue for two or three hours to meet an expert.
"The quality has been really good, including a Spanish reliquary (a container for religious relics) which I love, and a fantastic Irish wake table where you lay out the coffin.
"I think anything with a good story is what makes a good antique and we're seeing plenty of it."
Norman (53) and Denise Toombs (54), from Gilford in Armagh, brought a penny-farthing, passed down over three generations on Denise's side.
Norman said: "The poor thing has spent most of its life in the garage. I've never seen it in action. I hope the valuation doesn't put me off because I'd love to have a go.
"But when you read the history, a lot of people have lost their lives riding these things so it is unnerving.
Not wanting to spoil the surprise for viewers, he remained tight-lipped on the exact sum given by the experts yesterday.
He did reveal it dated back to 1890 and was given a "very favourable valuation".
"As it's in such good condition, they told us it would be at the high end of what collectors would pay for penny-farthings."
Despite the good news, he said it wouldn't be rolling into an auction house any time soon.
"There's too much family history there, it's a link for us to the past."