Back to site

Tapestries, 2015

Image of Tapestries, 2015


8in x12in mixed media on paper


"Embroideries 'worth millions' found during London house clearance"

The Guardian - Tuesday 11th June 2011

A house clearer brought in to remove "junk" from a messy flat discovered two beautiful embroideries believed to date back to medieval times and worth "millions of pounds".

Ian Spencer paid £5,000 for the right to clear a wealthy American woman's flat in Mayfair, London, after her lawyer believed everything of value had been sold.

The woman, Judy Keele, had not lived in the flat for some time and it was dirty and disorganised.

But in an Edwardian bedside cupboard Spencer came across a folded pink bedspread.

When he opened it, the two embroideries fell out. He put them to one side, not realising what they were, and continued to clear the room.

Spencer kept the embroideries on display at his warehouse in Bermondsey, south-east London and accepted £400 for them but, luckily for him, the sale did not go through.

He eventually took them to S Franses Ltd in London, experts in tapestries, textiles and carpets, and they were identified as something much more valuable.

The discovery was made in 1997 but the details have emerged during a high court case involving Spencer and S Franses Ltd over the work carried out to identify the pieces.

In her judgment on the case, Mrs Justice Thirlwall described them as "two beautiful embroideries".

She said: "They are probably medieval. If so, they are worth hundreds of thousands, if not millions of pounds. Simon Franses [of S Franses Ltd] has described them as potentially a national treasure."

The judge said Franses immediately realised they were "unique and exceptional". She added that "he had never seen anything like them".

The judge contrasted the way Spencer and Franses handled the embroideries when they were produced in court. Franses, she said, put on white gloves and held them "with reverence" while Spencer "treated them carelessly".

"It is quite plain that Mr Franses considers these embroideries of enormous cultural value, a part of our heritage," she said. "For Mr Spencer their value is in the money they will bring him."

The judge said Franses seemed "perplexed" at Spencer's attitude. "He cannot believe that Mr Spencer is in the position of custodian of a national treasure, having found them among the detritus of a house clearance."

Thirlwall ruled that Franses should be paid for the research he did on the embroideries. Spencer has declined to comment on his discovery or the case.

It is still not clear where the embroideries are from or what they depict.