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Ironically, it is the influence of Phillips that appears to have done the most so far to bring about this rejuvenation. Having bought up many smaller auction houses in the days of Christopher Weston to create a powerful provincial network of sales, the policy was reversed under current UK chief executive Chris Thomson, who wanted to realise the assets of the valuable freeholds and to cut the number of smaller, less profitable houses, consolidating provincial business in about half a dozen of the larger regional centres and a string of provincial offices, with high quality items being sent for sale in London.

This policy has inevitably led to buildings being vacated and staff being shed. Losing your job is not a pleasant experience, but many of those who either quit or were shed by Phillips have made the most of their lot by launching out on their own. Most notably, there was the Edinburgh team led by Nick Curnow, who left Phillips en masse and relaunched Lyon & Turnbull to increasing success. This week eight former Phillips staff re-open the doors of the former Phillips Exeter rooms under the banner of Hampton & Littlewood. The firm is led by Christopher Hampton, who started work at Phillips in 1981 as a cataloguer in the furniture department, before moving to take charge of the Exeter business in 1984 and becoming regional director in 1993. With him at the helm is Rachel Littlewood, who joined Phillips in 1993, managing the trusts and estates department in addition to her responsibilities in the field of books, textiles and collectors’ items.

Also among the team is Richard Lintern, who has worked at Phillips Exeter since 1994, heading the furniture department with responsibilities for the Powderham Castle Fine sales.

Following on from the closure of Vost’s and last week’s announcement of his plans by former managing director John Vost, senior staff, including the key specialists, at the defunct auction house have now launched their own enterprise.

Rowley Fine Art Auctioneers and Valuers Ltd, who will hold their first sale at Tattersalls on March 21, will be based at the Old Bishop’s Palace, Little Downham, Nr Ely (Tel: 01353 699 177). They have agreed with the directors of Tattersalls the exclusive right to hold fine art auctions at the Sale Ring at Newmarket, and this first sale includes a collection of paintings by John Piper and Albert Houthuesen, 18th and 19th century pottery, porcelain and glass, with items by Lalique, silver and jewellery, including works by Cartier, among others.

With all this activity in the provinces, it will be interesting to see the effect of the recently announced plans from Bonhams and Brooks that they will be closing their Manchester salerooms.