Stoneware narcissus bowl – 14th century, part of the collection bequeathed to Croydon by businessman Raymond Riesco

MA questions ethics of Croydon sale

Patrick Steel, 11.06.2013
MA not consulted over £13m sale proposal
The Museums Association (MA) is seeking dialogue with Croydon Council following reports that the council is planning to sell 24 items from its antique Chinese ceramics collection, bequeathed to Croydon by local businessman and collector Raymond Riesco.

The collection, which dates from Neolithic times to the 19th century, includes Tang dynasty tomb models and Ming dynasty bowls.

The council claims that escalating insurance and security costs mean that the full collection is too expensive to maintain, and is proposing to sell the 24 items to raise £13m towards the redevelopment of the council’s Fairfield Halls property.

But the proposals do not meet the MA’s code of ethics.

Nick Merriman, the convenor of the MA’s ethics committee, said: “Croydon did not approach us, we heard about this case through the press.

“We do not have much information at the moment, but we understand they are proposing to sell these works to fund work on Fairfield Hall. The council should follow the formal procedure according to the code of ethics. At the moment it is not clear to us that they are doing so.

“We would particularly like to know why the collection is not considered core as we understand it was part of the founding deposit at the museum.”

Maurice Davies, the MA’s head of policy and communications, said: "We are keen to have a dialogue so that we can help them understand what the code of ethics prohibits and what it allows in defining exceptional circumstances for financially-motivated disposal. The code of ethics is very clear on these criteria."

The MA will be writing to Croydon regarding the proposed sale.

The council is currently seeking stakeholders’ views, including Arts Council England, The British Museum, Museum of London, Horniman Museum, the Local Studies Forum and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The proposals are due to be considered at a meeting on Wednesday 24 July.


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25.09.2013, 17:58
Answering to Anonymous, 20 Sept::

The thing that hurts a politician hardest is exposure to his/her electorate as incompetent and/or untrustworthy. That should be coming the way of Cllrs Fisher, Pollard, Mead & co. if they are expelled.

They've already had their rap over the knuckles in the run up to this.

They could still request Christie's to withdraw the items from sale and proceed in accordance with the M.A. disposal policy.

We need to establish stronger legal safeguards against behaviour like theirs.
MA Member
20.09.2013, 05:04
OK, so Croydon Council have been 'naughty boys' and it looks likely that their 'punishment' will be to be kicked out of the MA and that their Accreditation revoked. I don't know what else they have but what protection will then remain for it? Once the MA have cut the links what is to stop Croydon's councillors selling off other items? Would a 2 tier cut off be a better idea? A sort of 'rap over the knuckles' with the message that 'we are still watching'.
18.09.2013, 19:11
Please bear in mind that this is not about balancing the books.
The Croydon Council has claimed (without providing adequate details) that it couldn't afford the insurance on the 24 items.
It has also attempted to justify its actions by saying that proceeds of the sale would be used to cover refurbishment of the Fairfield Halls, which, as I understand it, is not a Council responsibility at all.
MA Member
08.08.2013, 21:44
Pawning their possessions seems a desperate way for Croydon Council to balance their books. The issue goes way beyond objects to trust - can the local population trust their museum to provide a long term service - caring for and providing opportunities to access their own heritage. If local people feel the council is going to view their heritage as an asset to be flogged off at their convenience, then all those social goods are at serious risk. We aren't not going to solve the black holes of social care and schools by pillaging our museum stores in a once in a lifetime raid.Most of the answers to those two sectors problems are far more challenging and hence are being all too often avoided.
31.07.2013, 18:51
It is sad that beautiful objects are sold, and all disposals must be legal. However local authorities are under extreme pressures to balance their books. Are objects ultimately more important than people? Like many councils, Croydon is cutting services to people too.
Museums, as publically funded must provide a social good that goes way beyond preserving objects, though without objects they are not museums! (I'm involved with both
social care & museums)
Janet Ulph
MA Member
Professor, University of Leicester
12.06.2013, 20:54
I am particularly concerned about the issue of transparency, which is important because it helps to encourage public trust.

We want local authorities to comply with the MA Code of Ethics. However, as a lawyer, I am also concerned about the law. For example, what if the local authority accepted a collection years ago on the understanding that it would be held for charitable purposes, to educate and benefit the public?

If the charitable purposes can be proved, this would severely restrict the local authority's ability to deal with the collection. Unfortunately, the local authority may be the only body which has evidence of what restrictions were placed upon the collection. It is in these circumstances that transparency over the circumstances surrounding the donation becomes particularly important.
12.06.2013, 18:17
This is so sad! I used to work at the Clocktower and my team had to check the collection every day so know it well. I agree that it should be given to British Museum if Croydon can't look after it.
Judith Martin
Project Organiser, Industrial Buildings Preservation Trust
12.06.2013, 17:26
That should be Anonymous below, not above - didn't know which way this site would order comments!
Judith Martin
Project Organiser, Industrial Buildings Preservation Trust
12.06.2013, 17:25
Anonymous, above, is right. This is from Croydon Council's own website:

"In 1958, Riesco made another agreement with the Corporation under which he would make a gift of his collection of Oriental China, complete with 15 showcases and a collection of etchings - mezzotints and watercolours, to the Corporation on the condition that they were not split up."

If Croydon can't afford to show or insure the bequest, it should give the entire lot to the British Museum, where I gather some has been on loan anyway. Flogging bequests for the receipt is a guaranteed way to ensure no-one will leave anything to the public estate again, thus impoverishing future generations even more.
12.06.2013, 16:47
Croydon Council has no right to sell any items from the Riesco Collection under the terms of the bequest, so I have always understood, which also stated it must be kept together and displayed in its entirety. Croydon has 2000 paintings too, comprising 1500 watercolours and 500 oils. None of this has ever been adequately displayed, and the last I heard was that the museum had been closed and the staff sacked. The Riesco collection was displayed in a small room in the old library building, but with the closure of the museum, there is no proper staffing to look after it. It seems clear that the Council is behaving much like the city of Detroit in the USA and regarding the art collections as an asset to be sold to pay for other expenditure. I do hope the MA can stop this happening and bring Croydon Council to their senses.