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Auctioneer John Cameron saw the table 18 months ago but only recently received the instruction to sell. Conservative hopes of around £1000 reflected its condition: the white marble top was deemed a later replacement, a number of the carved paterae and bell flower mouldings to the frieze were missing, while the unusual height implied some alterations to the fluted and chamfered supports.

It stood 5ft 3in wide by 2ft 9in (1.66m x 85cm). After pictures appeared on the internet, serious interest emerged from the London and Irish trade, prompting the auctioneers to undertake a little research and draw some comparisons between this table and others by Vile and Cobb.

Seven phone lines were booked for the auction on August 20 and bidding moved quickly above the nominal £200-300 estimate. The buyer at £34,500 was a London dealer.

When Mr Cameron called the church treasurer to tell them the news he was asked to repeat the winning bid several times. "They do say that God moves in mysterious ways," he said. "Yes he does - but he doesn't always come up with the cash," was the reply.

The buyer's premium was 19%.