After Jack and Audrey Newton from the English Midlands had both died, a local auction firm was called in. The team were duly tasked with valuing and selling the dead siblings’ belongings. But, eerily, when the evaluating experts entered the Newtons’ farmhouse in 2015, it was like stepping into another world.
Brother and sister Jack and Audrey had lived in Grange Farm outside the village of Ryton-on-Dunsmore in Warwickshire, England, for more than seven decades. They moved to the quaint farmhouse with their parents in the 1940s and helped them keep cattle and pigs and farm the 115 acres of land belonging to the property. The German Luftwaffe’s bombers almost leveled the nearby city of Coventry in World War II, but as we shall see, the Newtons’ farmhouse survived intact.
As a family, the Newtons rejected many of the comforts of modern life. Instead, they decided to live a simple existence that revolved around their quaint Queen Anne-style farmhouse, their land and the animals. So, in some ways, the Newtons’ lifestyle appeared to be pretty idyllic.
Yet that peace and quiet was shattered for Jack when he enlisted in the military to do his duty serving with the Royal Air Force during World War II. Meanwhile, alongside assisting her parents, Audrey kept occupied in other ways, developing a passion for music and the arts.
It was this interest in culture that led Audrey away from Ryton-on-Dunsmore with trips into the city. Specifically, she formed a connection with Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre. And as a result, Grange Farm hosted various actors down the years. The most famous thespian to cross the threshold there was English singer and actor Michael Crawford. The Phantom of the Opera star would, of course, go on to fame and fortune on Broadway.
After the War, having done his bit for king and country, Jack returned to Grange Farm. Then as the years rolled by, the senior Newtons passed away – although the devoted siblings continued with their modest lives. Neither of them ever married; and as well as rejecting spouses and children, they appear to have said no to almost all modern innovations. It seems that they preferred the house to remain the way that it was when they had moved in. And while Jack and Audrey sold the farm’s animals, they continued to work the land just as they always had done.
Sadly, however, in 2011 Audrey eventually passed away having reached her eighties; and four years later, in March 2015, Jack passed on at the ripe old age of 90. So, for the first time since the 1940s, Grange Farm was unoccupied. There were no close relatives of the Newtons to inherit the property. Yet while the contents of Jack and Audrey’s will remain confidential, the executors were about to do something radical.
In order to settle with the beneficiaries, the estate’s executors decided to sell Grange Farm and auction off its contents. And this is where things got interesting. Local property agents Howkins and Harrison stepped in to organize the sale of the real estate and everything in it. However, the experts can surely have had little idea of what they were getting themselves into.
Indeed, when the auction valuers from Howkins and Harrison entered Grange Farm, they found that it was like entering a time machine. At first glance, it seemed that the family had not altered one thing in the house since they had moved in 70 years before. Furniture and fittings, ornaments and everyday items – everything seemed to lend a fascinating insight into family life in the 1940s. What’s more, many of the Newtons’ former possessions were older still.
Antiques of all kinds were found throughout the substantial nine-bedroomed property. And although some of these items were decorative, others were purely functional. Indeed, the Newtons had left behind things that they had used right up to the end, including a traditional larder in place of a modern refrigerator, wrought iron bed frames, a typewriter and an old sewing machine.
Other contents reflected the hobbies and passions of the brother and sister. For example, among the astonishing artifacts were a range of old instruments, records and sheet music, some of these dating from the 1920s. The auction firm also found archaic film cameras and old pairs of binoculars. One of the more bizarre items, meanwhile, was an amputation kit from the War.
Pat Ruck, who helped organize the auction for the executors responsible for the Newtons’ will, was astonished by Grange Farm and everything in it. “The house contents have not been touched since their late parents’ time,” he told the Coventry Telegraph in 2015.
A fascinated Ruck added, “It’s a time-warp of interesting items, curiosities and even war memorabilia.” Nevertheless, the man was mindful of Grange Farm’s former occupants. He said, “Although [the Newtons] never married, they had an interesting life. It is really the end of a bygone era.”
Meanwhile, the Newtons’ neighbor Shane Morris spoke to the Daily Mail when its reporter traveled to Ryton-on-Dunsmore to see for himself. Morris explained that the siblings were of the make-do-and-mend generation. Yes, Jack and Audrey had grown up in the Depression era, survived the privations of World War II and then experienced the austerity of the post-War years. And all this had evidently rubbed off. As Morris put it, “It is an old person’s house, but they never threw anything away.”
Morris added, “Even before recycling came in, they were very conscientious people and kept everything. Jack was in the RAF during the War, and he was a master of all trades; he did a lot. They had cattle and pigs, and as they got older they sold the animals off but still farmed the land.”
Now prior to the grand sell-off of the Grange farm contents, Howkins and Harrison held an open house. This allowed members of the public to learn about the Newtons’ lifestyle and view the auction lots ahead of time. And according to a representative from the firm, throwing the doors open proved incredibly popular. Apparently, awestruck visitors traveled from far and wide to wonder at the museum pieces.
The Newtons’ possessions then went up for sale at an auction held at Grange Farm in June 2015. And, thanks to the historical and antique interest and value of some of the lots, the event attracted hundreds of people. Many of the attendees were likely hoping to claim a piece of history for themselves.
Among the visitors’ number was Ryton-on-Dunsmore man Morris, who was hoping to get his hands on something by which to remember the Newtons. As he explained to the Daily Mail at the time, “They were very private people, but they were very nice and caring to their friends. They stuck by you. They were like parents to me and my wife, and we might bid on a few of the items to keep as mementoes.”
In the end, all 500 lots that were available were snapped up at the auction. What’s more, among the items was a gold pocket watch that fetched an impressive £600 – or $840. “It was a really good day with a great crowd,” Shaun Barron of Howkins and Harrison later told the Coventry Telegraph.
Then, after hosting the event to sell off the Newtons’ lifetime possessions, Grange Farm itself went on sale – for the equivalent of almost $900,000. And even though Jack and Audrey are gone and have left no heirs of their own, their legacy lives on in the lives of many auction buyers. The bid winners of those fascinating objects have, then, likely given silent thanks to the Newtons for their amazing preservation of the past.