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Betty Boothroyd’s belongings raise £84,600 for charity at auction

The estate of the first female Speaker of the House of Commons, Baroness Betty Boothroyd, raised £84,600 for six charities when it went under the hammer.

Top lots included a souvenir programme for the inauguration of JFK signed: “To Betty Boothroyd, with very best wishes, John F Kennedy” which was sold for £7,250, and her black leather House of Commons dispatch box which went for £6,500 – more than 30 times the pre-sale estimate.

A large, certificated diamond solitaire was estimated to fetch between £70,000 and £100,000 during the sale at Special Auction Services in Newbury, Berkshire, on Tuesday, but it did not sell.

Lady Boothroyd became the first woman to be elected Commons Speaker in the more than 700-year history of the role in April 1992, staying on until October 2000, before entering the Lords as a crossbench peer in January 2001.

Undated handout photo issued by Special Auction Services of a Frances Segelman (b 1949-) resin bust of Baroness Betty Boothroyd, owned by the late Baroness.
A Frances Segelman resin bust of Baroness Betty Boothroyd, owned by the late Baroness (Special Auction Services/PA)

Born in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, Lady Boothroyd worked as a professional dancer from 1946 to 1948 and appeared in pantomime in London’s West End before going into politics, unsuccessfully contesting four parliamentary seats before being elected to West Bromwich (later to become West Bromwich West) in May 1973.

Lady Boothroyd died aged 93 in February 2023.

The total raised during the sale was £84,600, which includes the buyer’s premium, and it comprised items relating to Lady Boothroyd’s career as well as her home life, and the money raised will be divided between six charities.

The ring was bought by Lady Boothroyd’s favourite jewellers J McCarthy Ltd and, at her request, the shop’s owner was looking for a diamond of a particular size.

When a much larger diamond than she was looking for came in, the owner phoned her to ask if he could bring it to “The House” as soon as possible although it was bigger than she had requested. Her reply was: “Mr Mullings, a diamond can never be too large!”

Undated handout photo issued by Special Auction Services of a pair of Oscar Heyman of New York diamond encrusted cuff earrings, owned by the late Baroness Betty Boothroyd.
A pair of Oscar Heyman of New York diamond encrusted cuff earrings, owned by the late Baroness Betty Boothroyd (Special Auction Services/PA)

Other jewellery included a pair of Oscar Heyman of New York diamond encrusted cuff earrings which went for £3,500, an Omega De Ville 18ct gold ladies’ wristwatch which raised £2,625, an Edwardian 12-pointed diamond set star brooch which sold for £4,750, a platinum and diamond tennis bracelet which raised £4,000, as well as a high carat House of Commons brooch which fetched £2,500.

Highlights of her career in pictures also went under the hammer including framed photos of her meeting former US president Bill Clinton, which made £550, and Nelson Mandela that fetched £263.

A parliamentary bottle of single malt scotch whisky in a pine fitted case, labelled “Madam Speakers Order” went for £690, a limited edition The Battle of Culloden 1971 Glenmorangie single highland malt whisky raised £1,500, while a pair of House of Commons Speakers whisky tumblers were sold with a set of matching placemats for £550.

Thomas Forrester, director at Special Auction Services, said: “The auction was a tremendous success. In the 223 lots which sold there was something for everybody in all of them.

“Even the bellringers from St Margaret’s Church Westminster Abbey were able to attend and buy souvenirs of Baroness Boothroyd.

Undated handout photo issued by Special Auction Services of a platinum and diamond tennis bracelet, owned by the late Baroness Betty Boothroyd.
A platinum and diamond tennis bracelet, owned by the late Baroness Betty Boothroyd (Special Auction Services/PA)

“Friends of hers were excited to attend the auction and people that admired her enjoyed bidding in the live auction and they are all thrilled to be going away with their own mementos of her.”

The auction also saw a Frances Segelman resin bust of Lady Boothroyd sold for £400.

Lady Boothroyd’s letter patent with notice that she should now sign and be referred to as “Baroness” was snapped up for £2,100, while her Grant of Arms dated 1993 made £1,375.

Other more unusual lots included a Fornasetti Milan wastepaper bin which went for £1,375 and her collection of board games and a complete DVD series of Columbo which made £550.