Alex Butcher of Lawrences.

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In a surprise departure, he leaves behind what is certainly the leading silver department of any regional saleroom in favour of a fresh challenge in Somerset.

Mr Butcher began his auctioneering career as a cataloguer and silver valuer at Phillips in London where he worked from 1987 to 1997. From there he was appointed head of Christie's silver department in South Kensington.

He joined Woolley & Wallis in 2000 to head up what was already a strong silver and jewellery department but has enhanced its reputation through a bevy of single-owner sales.

"If I could have chosen just one specialist to join our team it would be Alex," said Lawrences' managing director Helen Carless.