Relatives and carers visiting the late Margaret Hood at her home in Littleover, Derbyshire, had no idea that each time they crossed the threshold they were entering a kingdom of hidden treasure.
Most staggering of all, one precious sapphire ring was tightly wrapped up in a supermarket carrier bag, swathed in socks and left hanging on a porch hook by the door.
For Peggy – as she preferred to be known – had squirrelled away a lifetime of possessions, including a cache of jewellery so splendid it has now been dubbed ‘The Littleover Hoard’.
The sapphire and diamond ring left hanging in the porch sports an unheated certified 4.16ct Burmese sapphire – estimated to sell at £5,000 to £7,000 when it goes under the hammer with Richard Winterton Auctioneers at The Lichfield Auction Centre as Lot 6 on Monday, March 27.
The preceding lot in the same auction is a pair of early 20th century sapphire and diamond earrings, also estimated at £5,000 to £7,000 and featuring unheated certified sapphires totalling 5.60ct – one Burmese (now Myanmar) and the other from Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
The jewels tick all the crucial boxes of origin, no heat treatment and antique pedigree and are causing a stir amongst gemmologists and jewellery collectors.
But they are just two dazzling examples of the treasures tucked away by Peggy, who had two great grandchildren.
When she died in October 2022, just a month after her 90th birthday, the grandmother of four was affected by the onset of dementia.
Coupled with Peggy’s tendency to collect things and her somewhat secretive nature, it provided a real-life treasure hunt for her children, daughter Sue Bird, 66, from Mickleover, and Jonathan Hood, 56, a company director who lives near Ashbourne.
“We didn’t know mum had got all this jewellery – she never told us and it was only by chance we found it all,” said Sue, a former exam paper coordinator in the engineering and technology faculty at the University of Derby.
“We knew she had inherited some jewellery some decades previously from an old family friend but we had no idea as to the extent.
“She never showed me or my brother and we were gobsmacked when we started to discover all these boxes.
“When we became aware of the extent of things we started going through everything with a fine tooth comb.
“The sapphire ring was in an orange Sainsbury’s bag wrapped up in a big green rambling sock inside another bag and then wrapped in five pop socks.
“It was hanging on the wall by the door and we’d all been coming and going, completely oblivious that this stunning ring was literally hidden in plain sight.
“It was after discovering the ring we had to say ‘right, do not throw anything away’.”
Sue added: “Mum was a lovely lady but I must admit she was the biggest hoarder – she didn’t throw anything away and as the dementia set in she started hiding things around the house.
“She used to save everything, even every plastic bag – after she died we found 316 plastic bags containing greetings cards.
“We knew she had a safe having had a single glimpse inside many years ago but of course we didn’t know where the key was.
“We searched and searched and eventually found it concealed in the CD rack behind 300 CDs.
“When we finally opened the safe we found lots more treasures including the sapphire earrings as well as the empty box for the sapphire ring.”
Intrigued, Sue started doing her own research into the complicated field of jewellery.
“I wish I had been a gemmologist,” she added.
“But it was more that the jewellery kept me going emotionally. It was something to focus on during the grief.
“Our dad John Hood died three-and-a-half years ago – he had Alzheimer’s – and mum kept everything after he passed away.
“So when we were going through the house after she died, all his things were there too so that resulted in us experiencing grief for him all over again as well.”
With the haul of jewellery building up, Sue and Jonathan decided it was time to consult expert help and Sue went to see Richard Winterton Auctioneers, initially at a pop-up valuation at Burton Market Hall and then at the family firm’s headquarters at The Lichfield Auction Centre, Fradley Park.
“There was one set of beads which we nearly threw away but the jewellery team told me they were butterscotch amber and they sold at £420!” said Sue.
“We just kept finding these little treasures and I was up and down the A38!
“They were brilliant and we are so pleased. One of my friends has dubbed it ‘The Littleover Hoard’.”
Other finds from the safe included an Alabaster and Wilson sapphire and diamond brooch – sold at auction with Richard Winterton for £1,200 – and a gold and enamel sweetheart ring reading ‘Hope’ which made £900.
“We’ve now sold more than 30 lots with Richard Winterton Auctioneers and looking back we think the only thing we can remember mum wearing was the ring, perhaps once a year,” added Sue.
“To think all of these treasures have been hidden away for years and we had absolutely no idea.
“We could easily have thrown some of them away and never been any the wiser.
“It’s an amazing story, really.”
The sapphire and diamond earrings and ring are Lots 5 and 6 respectively in Richard Winterton Auctioneers’ Antiques & Home Sale at The Lichfield Auction Centre on Monday, March 27, starting at 9.30am.
The catalogue will be online a week before the sale via www.richardwinterton.co.uk.
For auction information, valuations or to discuss full or partial house clearances, email firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 01543 251081.