Christie’s to auction the contents of the homes of the gloriously bonkers late Lord St John of Fawlsey and his late partner this Wednesday
The Rt. Hon. The Lord St John-Stevas of Fawsley, PC, FRSL (born plain old Norman St John and also known as Norman St John-Stevas, 1929 – 2012) was a “renowned name dropper” and true eccentric. He wrote only in purple ink, hated the use of modern words and purposely mispronounced them, counted Oxford, Cambridge, the University of London and Yale as his alma mater and nicknamed Margaret Thatcher “TINA” on the basis of her “There Is No Alternative” rhetoric.
Self described as “celibate” and “chaste”, St John-Stevas, whose marriage to his male partner of in excess of fifty years came about in 2009 purely to avoid death duties, served in the cabinets of both Heath and Thatcher but believed the latter to “see everything in black and white [whilst the] universe [he inhabited] is made up of many shades of grey”. Of him, one critic joked: “If he cannot have power, he must have the trappings” and as Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge between 1991 to 1996, he even rewarded Mohammed Fayed with a ‘Harrods Room’ and an honourary membership of the College in exchange for a substantial donation.
His life, later surmised as a “camp performance” in an obituary in The Guardian, was certainly gilded. St John-Stevas had homes in London and Northamptonshire and hobnobbed with royalty, Rupert Murdoch and the religious elite. He owned a cassock that supposedly belonged to the Blessed Pius, liked to quote Pope John XIII and “brought a touch of Oscar Wilde to public life”.
In the wake of the death of St John-Stevas’s partner, merchant banker Adrian Stanford, in 2016, Christie’s are to sell several hundred items from the couple’s homes this Wednesday, 22nd February, at their South Kensington auction house.
Highlights of the sale include:
Lot 20 – A collection of eight red leather dispatch boxes inscribed during the time of Lord St John-Stevas of Fawsley’s time as Chairman of the Royal Fine Art Commission and Minister of State for the Arts. He is remembered for “injecting a bit of panache and excitement” into each. Estimate: £1,500 to £2,500 ($1,872 to $3,120).
Lot 38 – A 19th century polychrome-painted altar for private use in the manner of A. W. N. Pugin depicting St Joseph, The Virgin Mary, St Helena and St Aloysius. Estimated at £2,000 to £4,000 ($2,486 to $4,972), this is where St John-Stevas is said to have spent many hours in quiet reflection. One room in his house, according to The Telegraph, was “virtually a shrine to Pius IX”.
Lot 283 – A 213cm wide parabolic concave mirror adapted from a WWII German anti-aircraft searchlight. Estimated at £6,000 to £10,000 ($7,458 to $12,430), this was no doubt where St John-Stevas looked at himself in what he termed his “Cardinal crushed” – purple coloured – shirts. It certainly would suit the home of someone with a massive ego.
Lot 286 – A yellow Perspex and painted metal McDonald’s shop sign, circa 1990 is one of the most unlikely items on offer. Goodness knows why St John Stevas owned it but it comes with an estimate of £2,000 to £3,000 ($2,486 to $3,729).
Lot 288 – A French brass and tinted glass 1960s metamorphic drinks trolley. Estimated at £1,500 to £2,500 ($1,872 to $3,120), one can imagine this having been the location from which generous measures were regularly poured.