Lyon & Turnbull

The Rankine Taylor Collection | The contents of The Old Dolphin, Cirencester

This collection was the contents of esteemed Cotswold antique dealer Leslie Rankine Taylor’s home, The Old Dolphin, Cecily Hill, Cirencester, and was demonstrative of her passion for early oak furniture, works of art and curios. There were also paintings, silver, carpets and all the other items you would expect to find in a ‘house sale’.

Notable highlights include several early 17th century Scottish chairs: one bearing a label from Linlithgow Palace (sold for £10,625), another related to the celebrated collection of chairs at Trinity Hall, Aberdeen (sold for £6,250), and another reputedly from the collection of Sir Walter Scott (sold for £3,250).

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What follows is a personal reminiscence on Leslie Rankine Taylor by Dr. Bernard D. Cotton, FSA, furniture historian, writer, friend and neighbour:

Leslie Rankine Taylor (nee Crawford), who died in January 2014 in her adopted town of Cirencester, Gloucestershire, was a Scot, through and through. Born in Edinburgh in October 1920, she was the daughter of John Balfour Crawford, an officer of the Bank of Scotland who went on to become the well-respected Treasurer of the Bank for a decade from 1942. She, as well as her sister and two brothers attended the George Watson's Colleges in Edinburgh.

Known as 'Leli' by her friends and family, she married in 1946 a young Scottish Banker, Alistair Macdougall from Skye. They had one son, John Crawford, who survives her. This marriage did not last however and after they separated in 1952, Leslie lived a difficult life alone, raising her son whilst honing her love of antiques by working for Margery Bromfield in her wonderful ‘Castle Antiques’ shop on the Lawnmarket. She also started to buy pieces for herself whenever she had funds and developed a passion at this time which was to sustain her thereafter in her full and adventurous life.

In 1960 she married again, to Dr Andrew Rankine Taylor, and they lived for the next eight years in an old Manse in Polmont, Stirlingshire, until her husband's poor health indicated that a move south was advisable. They decided to move to Cirencester, where they lived on the favoured Cecily Hill, and opened an antiques shop in Dollar Street; a few minutes’ walk from the mediaeval parish church and town market-place. This was at a high point for the antiques business, with many British and overseas buyers coming to the shop during this golden period of antiques collecting. In 1971 they moved to larger premises, also in Dollar Street, with elegant showrooms, a workshop, and three flats above. In 1972, her husband Andrew died, leaving Leslie to run the shop alone. This she did in her own striking way, creating a truly magical antiques shop in which she presented an eclectic range of furniture and accompanying exquisite items, with elegance and invention.

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Her overwhelming desire was to assemble an ever-changing kaleidoscope of antiques which reflected her own astonishing range of interests. It might, at any one moment, include stately upholstered armchairs and settees, juxtaposed with oak dressers, chests, refectory and gate-leg tables - and always oak wainscot chairs, joint stools and upholstered stools. All of her furniture had a deeply cared-for appearance and many were rare and unusual items; such as a secretaire made from stained burr-mulberry to imitate tortoiseshell, or a court cupboard of Scottish origin, embellished with stylised thistles, dating from the early 17th century. Her style was that of a gifted interior decorator and no horizontal surface was left without tasteful and compelling pieces of pottery, porcelain, brass and copperware, pewter, carved figures and delft tiles. On the walls, she displayed paintings, mirrors, framed needlework, caryatids and terms; all with meticulously researched and interesting labelled descriptions.

She cared for fashionable mahogany furniture too, and always kept bookcases, bureaux and tables. These, too, were always 'dressed' with items compatible with their original use; a pewter ink pot with a quill pen and a pile of leather-bound books; or with Chinese import plates filling glazed cupboards. No surface or space was left unadorned. All of which meant that entering the space of her shop was to forget about time, and to enter, with her, into conversations about all manner of things which might otherwise have passed one's notice. She despised, above all, indifference to her carefully arranged cornucopia of historic and attractive objects. She relished combative conversation and her shop was, for her, the centre of her life into which friends, new and old, could enter and if they passed the test of good manners and a sense of fascination, they would become welcome guests and enjoy coffee, or a glass of something stronger (sloe gin being a favourite!), in her inner sanctum. Others she left in no doubt that she did not suffer fools gladly!

Leslie bought items from many sources, much of it brought to her, but her love of Scottish items never left her and she regularly travelled to Edinburgh to see her old dealer contacts: Gordon Small, Kenneth Jackson, Harry Parry, Janet Lumsden and others, from whom she brought treasures back to Cirencester. Always there was a strong thematic element of ‘Scottishness’ in her shop; for instance, she would dress the shop windows for Rabbie Burns' birthday with Scottish tartans and appropriate memorabilia. This closely followed on from her outstanding and fascinating Christmas scenes of the Nativity, which brought light and festive joy to the ancient Dollar Street. Other celebratory window dressings appeared for American Independence Day in July, and the 'Glorious 12th' in August.

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In 2004 she decided to move back to Cecily Hill, to The Old Dolphin, selling a large portion of her stock by auction, and prepared to retire. However she took a long time to finally do this. In truth, she loved antiques and the contact with those who visited her shop too much. She continued to trade for another four years until her shop was eventually sold, and she then reconciled herself to filling her new home with her fascinating items, including her silver collection. The Old Dolphin became another warm and genteel place which reflected her tastes and provided a place to invite her many friends and family.

Leslie was truly an antiques dealer of a generation which relished and found fascination everywhere. Her passing, and that of her shop, marks a turning point in the history of antique dealing in Cirencester, and more generally in the UK. Her like will not come again, in a time when antique dealing has become more specialised and internet-based. Many, including myself, will miss the frequent discussions on furniture and the recording of many items of relevance to my own research; for example, her lowland Scottish chairs bought in the Edinburgh region, were published in my Scottish Vernacular Furniture (Bernard D. Cotton, 2008, pp 158-159); as was the rare Orkney wooden chair dated 1703 (p 245). In this way, these and other items she owned have also achieved new and more widely available recognition. She will be remembered with affection, and not a little awe, by the many who have admired her.

All prices premium inclusive.

The Rankine Taylor Collection - Old Dolphin

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Douglas Girton
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0131 557 8844

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Published: 25 June 2014

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