Sisters find small fortune after fear of spiders stops them clearing out home

Retired civil servants Nicky Lane and Karen Douglas began clearing out the property earlier this year but left the garage until last as they are both petrified of spiders

Nicky Lane and Karen Douglas began clearing out the property earlier this year
Nicky Lane and Karen Douglas began clearing out the property earlier this year

Two sisters are sitting on a small fortune after their fear of spiders stopped them clearing out their home.

Nicky Lane and Karen Douglas were stunned to discover rare cricket and boxing memorabilia worth thousands of pounds in a garage after delaying the clear-out.

They were bowled over when they uncovered the incredible sporting collection in dusty suitcases at their late mother’s house in Bath.

The retired civil servants began clearing the property after losing their mum earlier this year aged 92 – but left the garage until last as they are both petrified of spiders.

And they were amazed to find sporting treasures lost for decades, including memorabilia relating to legendary ex-England and Essex cricketer Johnny Douglas.

The incredible sporting collection was discovered in dusty suitcases at their late mother’s house in Bath, Somerset


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A silver tankard from 1860 awarded to iconic English bare-knuckle prize fighter Tom Sayers was also discovered in a box stashed at the back of the meter cupboard.

The collection is expected to fetch £8,000 when it goes under the hammer at Hansons Auctioneers, in Etwall, Derbyshire on January 22.

The 161-year-old tankard itself – belonging to “the Muhammad Ali of his time” – could fetch £5,000 alone.

Nicky, 69, said: “Though we knew some photos relating to Johnny Douglas existed we had no idea where they were, or how much had been saved.

“There turned out to be lots of photos and autograph books too. The suitcase was packed with cricket memorabilia.

“This isn’t about the money, though. We want these items, which have been buried at the back of a garage for decades, to be seen and treasured by sports fans.

“We think there might be interest in Australia because Johnny was well thought of over there.

“The Australians gave him the nickname ‘Johnny Won’t Hit Today’, a nod to the nickname he’d already gained, ‘Johnny Will Hit Today’, which was a play on his initials.

“This find is one of the most exciting things that’s ever happened to us.”

Richard Madley, one of the world’s leading sporting auctioneers based in Wiltshire, was invited to assess the collection with expert Charlie Ross.

He added: “For me, making discoveries like this is a labour of love.

“Charlie and I sat around the dining table with Nicky and Karen to go through everything.

“No one had looked at the archive for decades. I think they were surprised by our reaction.

“This archive is very rare. Collections like this do not come to auction often.”

The sisters believe the items had been in the garage since 1985, the year their father died, and before that in a loft at their parents’ former home in Bath, Somerset.

The collection comes to them through family descent – the sisters are granddaughters of Johnny Douglas’s brother, Cecil ‘Pickles’ Douglas, a renowned and respected boxing referee.

Johnny died at sea, aged 48, off the coast of Denmark just before Christmas trying to save the life of his father, J H Douglas.

They were on a ship rammed by another vessel in fog when their captains, who were brothers, tried to exchange festive greetings.

Richard added: “Douglas was a phenomenal character, an all-rounder who played for Essex from 1911 to 1928.

“He also captained the England team before and after the First World War.

“An untiring fast bowler and an obdurate batsman, he had the rare distinction of winning a gold medal at the London Olympic Games in 1908 – for boxing.

“The boxing connection helps to explain the Sayers find.

“The silver tankard, given to Sayers from ‘admirers of English pluck’ from Montreal in Canada, was right at the bottom of the box.

“I had it cleaned, did some research and soon realised it was special.

“Sayers is revered. Born in Brighton in 1826, he was like the Muhammad Ali of this day.

“Though only five feet eight inches tall and never weighing much more than 150 pounds, he frequently fought much bigger men, and won.

“In a career which lasted from 1849 until 1860, he lost only one of 16 bouts.

“He was recognised as heavyweight champion of England from 1857 until his retirement in 1860.

“He was a national hero, so much so, £3,000 was raised from the public for his retirement. Sadly, he died aged only 39 in 1865, his life taken by consumption.

“I would expect strong interest in the Sayers tankard from Canada as well as the UK.

“It was a totally unexpected discovery among the rich cricketing memorabilia relating to Douglas.”

A 1921 photo of Douglas being presented to King George V, HRH Prince of Wales and The Duke of York at Lord’s is also among the collection.

This is believed to be unique as it shows three British monarchs in one place at one time.

Signed photos of the England cricket team in South Africa and the Australian team in 1921 have also been uncovered in the “rich archive of autographs, photographs and memories”.

Charles Hanson, owner of Hansons Auctioneers, said: “This find has well and truly bowled us over.
“I expect strong interest from cricket memorabilia collectors worldwide.

“And of course, boxing fans have a rare opportunity to bid on that special tankard presented to legendary fighter Tom Sayers.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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