How playing truant from school for the day led to 40 years as a local auctioneer in Harborough

An interview with John Gilding, the founder of Harborough-based Gildings Auctioneers

By News reporter
Friday, 15th May 2020, 11:29 am
Will, John and Mark Gilding
Will, John and Mark Gilding

This year, the Market Harborough-based Gildings Auctioneers celebrates 40 years in business. Founder John Gilding is now semi-retired, with sons Mark and Will Gilding having taken over running the family business.

Here, John Gilding takes a look back at four eventful decades.

How did you get started as an auctioneer?

First sale at Roman Way

With a stroke of luck! In my last week of school in 1960, I played truant when a friend asked me to go to his uncle’s livestock auction at Boston Market.

On finding out, my mother was furious, asking me how I expected to find a job if I behaved like that. When I said I’d decided I’d like to work in auctioneering she asked how I expected to find a job locally doing that and sent me to the village to get a paper.

When I opened the ‘Situations Vacant’ page, the first advert I saw said ‘Auctioneer’s Assistant Required.’ A few days later, my career started, aged 15, as the assistant to Mr J A Killingworth of Boston.

What brought you to Market Harborough?

First auction at Roman Way - preview event

After seven years at J A Killingworth I was offered a better-paid opportunity at Berry Bros. & Bagshaw in Market Harborough and as newlyweds it was a no brainer for my wife Pat and I.

From here I moved to Shakespeare, McTurk & Graham in Leicester, where I managed the Fine Art Department.

When the department closed, I was offered an alternative role that wasn’t very me. I went home and said to Pat, ‘I think I’m going to start on my own’, and the next day, rather than handing in a letter of acceptance for the new job, I resigned.

What happened next?

Foxton Monk Hall

More good luck! In recognition of my service, Shakespeare, McTurk and Graham assigned me the lease of the Fine Art premises at 2 New Walk in Leicester, along with a phone line, staff and typewriters. So I got to work preparing for Gildings Auctioneers’ first sale on March 4, 1980 at Sibston Village Hall, near Atherstone.

What were the early days like?

Because I didn’t have a salesroom, auctions were on a rota between Newtown Linfield, Foxton, Lubenham and Market Harborough village halls. We would set up on Mondays and Tuesdays, hold viewings on Wednesdays, have the auction on Thursdays and clear up on Fridays.

This worked well, but I was wasting a lot of time commuting, so I decided to build an office into the hillside at home in Gumley.

John Gilding at the Leicester salesroom

How did you find working from home?

Great, and it soon became a neighbourhood enterprise with the jobs of secretary, accounts clerk and photographer being taken by neighbours.

However, by 1988, it was clear that we were outgrowing this arrangement, so it was time to move on again.

Where did you move to?

64 Roman Way in Market Harborough. It was a massive project that cost as much to renovate as it did to buy, so we had to sell Gumley.

When it was finished, I remember standing in this vast space and saying to our staff member Michael Mays, ‘Why on earth have we bought a building this size? He looked at me, laughed

Market Harborough-based Gildings Auctioneers at its former base in Roman Way

and said, ‘I don’t know!’

“But actually, it wasn’t long before we needed even more room, so we opened an additional warehouse and auction room in Morris Road in Leicester.

How did you come to be at your current premises?

In 2012 when our Leicester landlord gave notice that our rent was to almost double, my son Mark and I got in the car to have a look round Market Harborough. Eventually we came

across a neglected building at the bottom of Great Bowden Road with a ‘To Let’ sign.

A phone call established the building’s owner was inside, so we went in to be greeted with the words, ‘Hello John, what are you doing here?’ – it turned out he was a friend of mine, who

suggested that rather than rent the disused building, we should buy it.

But with no car park, I had ruled it out. However, when my friend mentioned he also owned the adjacent bramble-covered land and named a very good price, my luck was in again and

Gildings moved to its current home at The Mill.

Gildings regularly appeared on Bargain Hunt. How was that as an experience?

Wonderful. Tim Wonnacott’s first ever episode was filmed with us at Roman Way in 2003.

Back then, the show was 100% genuine. However, as time went on it became less authentic and we had to pull out as we are there to get the best results for our clients, not to make

entertainment.

Do you have any standout memories of sales over the years?

The best one is the lady who, in 2001, decided to take a brooch she’d inherited from her mother to the Sunday market in Market Harborough but forgot it.

That evening, she was watching The Antiques Road Show when one of the Geoffrey Munn was asked what item he’d love to find. When images of jewellery by a designer called Burgess were shown, she thought, ‘That’s the same as my brooch!’

The next day she brought it to Gildings and Mark suggested taking it to Bonhams in London for a second opinion. They offered to sell it, estimating it between £8000 - £12000.

The lady stuck with us and appeared with Mark on The Antiques Roadshow. When the expert opened the box, he was physically shaking and valued it at £10 000 - £12 000. Unsurprisingly he also offered to sell it, but we eventually sold it for £31,000!

What’s next for Gildings?

Like all businesses, we are adapting to the pandemic and we are lucky that we can continue to hold auctions online. When I look back at my good fortune, the support of my family is the

key factor and now that two of my sons are at the helm, I know that we are well set up to flourish into the future.