7 Of The Strangest Things Auctioned In London

By Londonist Last edited 67 months ago

Last Updated 15 October 2018

7 Of The Strangest Things Auctioned In London

Think auctions and you think priceless paintings and bling antiques. But it turns out London has auctioned off pretty much anything and everything over the years — including wedding cake, celebs' front doors and a certain bridge. Jane Alexander hunts out seven of the bizarrest things made available to the highest bidder.

1. London Bridge

London Bridge, Arizona. Image: Shutterstock

In 1968, one of the city's best known bridges performed a new spin on the 'London Bridge is falling down' nursery rhyme refrain — as it was dismantled in preparation for an unexpected relocation. The structure — also known as New London Bridge — was sold at auction to the American millionaire Robert McCulloch, following concerns that it was no longer strong enough to support the traffic flow in the capital.

It was taken piece by piece to the US where it was rebuilt at Lake Havasu City in Arizona, originally over a dry area of land without water that was only later connected with a canal. Rumours that McCulloch believed he was buying Tower Bridge are almost certainly made up.

2. Queen Victoria’s 157-year-old wedding cake

Mmm. delicious ancient wedding cake. Image: Christie's

The wedding cake made for Queen Victoria's nuptials to Prince Albert in 1840 was a spectacle in itself, being 10 feet in circumference and weighing 300 pounds, decorated with sculptures of the newlyweds in Roman style costumes.

In an example of having your cake and not eating it, some slices of the original confection were preserved over the years, and one would eventually be auctioned at Sotheby's in 1997. The buyer, somehow resisting the temptation to eat the century-and-a-half old portion, then put it up for sale again in 2016 at Christie's, where it went for £1,500. Crumbs!

3. Isaac Newton’s occult writings

Isaac Newton write some interesting stuff in his time

Isaac Newton is often regarded as the father of modern science. What is much less well known, however, is that he also devoted a substantial part of his work to studying forms of the occult, including alchemy and the legend of the philosopher's stone. In July 1936, many of these papers were auctioned at Sotheby's in London, where some were bought by the economist John Maynard Keynes. Keynes was fascinated by Newton's interest in these strange works, comprising over a million words of writing, which, as he put it, would have "shock[ed] profoundly any eighteenth- or nineteenth-century prying eyes."

4. A 19th century military fort

One of the Palmerston Forts, off Portsmouth. Image: Shutterstock

Relics of a plan to defend Britain from a potential late 19th century sea invasion that never actually happened, a number of military forts are located around the coastlines of Britain. Sometimes known as 'Palmerston's Follies' they're named after the prime minister who commissioned them. In 1860, Palmerston thought there was significant risk that Napoleon III might invade Britain, and ordered these forts to be created in defence. No such invasion, of course, took place (although Napoleon III made his mark on London in his own way), and the forts were also considered technologically outmoded by the time they were completed. One of these structures, Horse Sands, located four miles out to sea from Portsmouth, was eventually sod at an auction at a London hotel in 2016.

5. Paul McCartney's front door

Riva Lemanski answers the front door taken from the childhood home of Sir Paul McCartney, at Christies. Image: Christies

People are often keen to visit the childhood homes of future greats and take away a sense of the places that shaped those later masterpieces. With Paul McCartney's former Liverpool residence, however, the concept was taken more literally, when the front door was removed from its hinges and taken away to be sold. The door belonged to a house in Forthlin Road where McCartney lived from 1955 to 1964, and where songs including Love Me Do were written.

The door has subsequently been sold at auction a number of times, most recently at Christie's in 2014.

6. The contents of the American Embassy

Everything must go. Image: Shutterstock

Summer 2018 saw another extensive auction when the US embassy moved to a new building in London and put up many of the contents from its former address for sale. Bizarrely, the lots included 1,200 toilet rolls, five broken vacuum cleaners, and a photocopier that didn't work, although at least the latter was only priced at £1. A car was also listed, which, unlike some of the above, was thankfully assured to be in full working order.

7. A meteorite from the planet Mars

Image: Shutterstock

You can't visit Mars, but if you have enough money, you can take a piece of the Red Planet home with you. It has been estimated that only around 135 Martian meteorites have landed on Earth, making them rare and hence highly valuable. This was the case in early 2016 when Christies auctioned a number of such meteorites, including slices of the moon — as well as those fragments of Mars itself. The total came to over half a million pounds. Astronomical.