Catalogue description Accounts and other records of J. Millburn and Son, auctioneers and valuers, of Aylesbury

This record is held by Buckinghamshire Archives

Details of D/139
Reference: D/139
Title: Accounts and other records of J. Millburn and Son, auctioneers and valuers, of Aylesbury

Large Volumes


a) Journal, 1939-50


This was used to record day-by-day transactions, prior to entering in the ledgers. (N.B. Double-entry book-keeping was not used: the entries are in simple chronological order.)


Foolscap, 602 numbered pages. Half-leather bound.


b) Ledger 'F', 1934-50 (i.e. the sixth since the founding of the business)


This is a general ledger containing the Trade Account, Auction Mart Account, personal accounts of regular customers, rent accounts, etc.


During the 1930s it was usual for an appreciable proportion of the goods in the fortnightly auction sales to belong to the firm. Most of these originated at the auction sales of Messrs. Tooth & Tooth, London, which were attended regularly by Mr. B.J.Millburn; purchases at these sales are entered in the Auction Mart pages as 'T & T', and the expenses of fetching them from London to Aylesbury are entered under the removers' names, e.g. 'Dayton' or 'Bezant'. From June 1934, following the death of John Millburn, Miss C.B.Millburn was employed as clerk; her wages (initially 7s. 6d. per week) are entered in the Trade Account under 'CBM'. No.6 Temple Street was occupied by Mr. Bandy, who was employed on a part-time basis by John Millburn as a gardener/handyman as well as in the saleroom. Entries for 'Labour' or 'Wages' in the Trade Account are for part-time employees, generally employed as porters on sale days only.


During the second world war the value of the turnover increased considerably, due partly to price increases in general and partly to increased volume of business (new goods being in short supply). Visits to Tooth & Tooth ceased towards the end of 1941, but this may have been due to that firm being bombed. From the middle of 1940, Mr. Millburn was able to put some of the profits into Savings Certificates and Defence Bonds; these were his personal investments, though the details are entered in the general ledger for convenience.


In 1942, membership of a professional organisation became obligatory. Mr. B.J.Millburn's subscriptions to the Incorporated Society of Auctioneers and Landed Property Agents are entered in the Trade Account in May 1942 and subsequently each January.


Nearly all the entries in this ledger are in Mr. B.J. Millburn's hand, up to March 1950; the few subsequent entries are in Miss C.B.Millburn's hand. The 'Wages' entries for sales nos. 1680-3 include a fee to Mr. L.H.Dix, who conducted these in Mr. Millburn's absence due to illness.


Foolscap, 162 numbered pages plus index. Half-leather bound.


c) Storage Ledger, 1917-50


About 1914, John Millburn purchased the Church Hall at Thame, Oxon, a building mainly of wood and asbestos with a corrugated iron roof, and had it moved to the garden of his private house, [58] Bierton Hill. This building was used for storage of furniture etc., and for repairs. This ledger records the income from storage charges, arranged under names of owners.


Foolscap, 167 numbered pages plus index. Half-leather bound.


Smaller Volumes and Bundles of Papers


D/139/) Auction Book No.1


This contains details of auction sales from the founding of the business in 1878 to September 1879; all the entries are in John Millburn's hand. The sales included those held at various inns, in the Corn Exchange, the Market Square, etc. as well as in the hired room in St. Mary's Square which was the firm's regular auction room at that time.


8vo, 327 pp., cloth bound. Partly damaged by water.


D/139/2 Trading Summaries, 1931-4


These few pages, removed from a book subsequently used for private household accounts, summarize the trading income and expenditure for the last three financial years before John Millburn died in 1934. They indicate that during this period, John Millburn drew £3 per week, and Bowness John Millburn £5 per week; any surplus at the end of the year was divided equally. (Though the younger partner, B.J.M. was doing most of the work during this period, when his father was over 80.)


16 pages 8vo, disbound.


D/139/3 Valuation Books, 1922-50 (2)


These contain details of valuations of house contents, jewellery, etc., and of a few houses, mostly undertaken for administration or probate. Some of the entries are in code, the ten-letter word used for this purpose being 'patterdale', viz:


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10


p a t T e r d A l E


The use of both 'e' and 'l' in handwriting could lead to confusion, but in practice this was not significant as the figure '9' seldom occurred in valuations except in totals.


Pages 104-111 of the 1923-37 book contain the valuation for division of John Millburn's effects following his death in 1934.


Two books, 8" x 5", bound at short edge, openings numbered 1-129. Leather, with clasp.


D/139/4 Unpaid Book, 1936-50


This contains the names of buyers and sellers whose accounts were not settled before the next sale, including 'bad debts'.


9½" x 6½", openings 1-95 numbered in MS. Half-leather bound.


D/139/5 Rough Draft Annual Accounts, 1941...1950


Following John Millburn's death in June 1934, the firm's accounting year ended on 15 June. These sheets are the rough draft copies of the annual accounts submitted to the Income Tax office. They indicate that the firm's taxable profit during these years was as follows:-


Year ended Income 'Expenditure' (includes annual value of premises) Gross Profit before tax


15. 6. 1942 £1,234 £354 £880


15. 6. 1943 missing, see Ledger 'F'


15. 6. 1944 missing, see Ledger 'F'


15. 6. 1945 £1,741 £333 £1,408


15. 6. 1946 £2,029 £378 £1,651


15. 6. 1947 £1,763 £491 £1,272


15. 6. 1948 £1,714 £485 £1,229


15. 6. 1949 £1,353 £511 £841


15. 6. 1950 £1,340 £493 £847


Seven double-foolscap sheets, some with Income Tax acknowledgement letter attached.


D/139/6 Board of Trade Notices etc., 1942-48


These, together with item (7), detail the restrictions placed on auction. sales during and just after the Second World War.


A bundle, v. sizes.


D/139/7 Statutory Rules and Orders, 1942-48


These official notices determined what goods could be sold by auction, and how maximum prices of certain goods were to be calculated.


A bundle, 8vo.


D/139/8 Incorporated Society of Auctioneers & Landed Property Agents Publications


List of Members, Regulations, circulars, etc.


A bundle, v. sizes.


D/139/9 Correspondence, Bills, Receipts etc. 1945-50


This is a general file containing correspondence etc. relating to both the sale of goods and the running of the business, including Income Tax matters, from 1945 to the closure of the business in 1950.


A bundle of approx 400 items, v. sizes.


D/139/10 Removal Contractors' Accounts, 1945-50


A bundle, v. sizes.


D/139/11 Bank Statements, 1946-50


These statements are for Mr. B.J.Millburn's only account, combining his business and private interests.


20 sheets.


D/139/12 Auction Books, 1949-50 (3)


These books contain details of the lots, owners, buyers, and prices realized for sales held during 1949 and the first half of 1950; they are the last three in the series which commenced in 1878 with Auction Book No.1 (item 1).


The method of use was as follows. During the lotting process, Mr. Millburn would call out the description of each lot as he stuck a number on it, and this would be written by the clerk (Miss C.B.Millburn) against the lot number on the left-hand page. Printed catalogues were not issued during the period to which these books refer, but a typed catalogue was pinned to a board in the Auction Room for customers' reference. The owners' names were entered in the first column on the right-hand page. Pre-sale commissions, and reserves, were entered on the left-hand page as a reminder to the auctioneer. At the sale, the price realized was entered on the right-hand page by the auctioneer, together with the name of the buyer. After the sale, the prices were totalled for each owner on each page, and transferred to the 'Summary' entries following the sale pages, where the commission and any other deductions were also entered. Details of buyers were entered in separate books, one for each sale (see item 13).


The commission charged during this period was basically 10% of the hammer price, plus a lotting charge of 6d per lot, rounded off to the nearest 6d. These charges were borne by the vendors - the "buyers' premium" had not been invented then.


The entries for lot descriptions and summaries are in Miss C.B.Millburn's hand, while those for buyers' names and prices are in Mr. B.J.Millburn's hand except for the last four sales (1680-3). The auctioneer for these was Mr. L.H.Dix, of Messrs. W.Brown & Co., who was engaged to conduct these sales during Mr. Millburn's illness.


3 books, 8" x 5", approx. 140 openings each. Limp cloth.


D/139/13 Buyers' Books, 1949-50 (34)


In these books the buyers' names are entered alphabetically (by first letter only), with lot numbers and prices. A separate book was used for each sale.


Most of the entries in these books were made by the sale clerk (Miss C.B.Millburn) during the sale, so that immediately after its conclusion buyers could pay for their purchases and take them away.


34 books, 6¼" x 4", 72 pp. each, stapled in paper covers.


D/139/14 Documents relating to former employees


These two bundles contain documents relating to the administration of the estates of S.H.Green and J.Edwards, former employees of J.Millburn & Son, for which Mr. B.J.Millburn was the executor.


Two bundles, v. sizes, including probate copies of wills.


15) Documents relating to No.11 Abbotts Road, Aylesbury


Sometime in the 1930s Mr. B.J. Millburn's sister, Mrs. E.C. Alderson, purchased No.11 Abbotts Road as an investment. The house passed to her son, the Rev. C.W. Alderson, on her death in 1936. It was requisitioned during the Second World War for the use of the Fire Service. These documents relate to the sale of the house to the County Council in 1949. Details of rent paid, and outgoings, are in Ledger 'F'.


A bundle of letters etc., v. sizes.


D/139/16 Stationery


Examples of printed stationery used by the firm.


Various sizes.


D/139/17 Documents relating to the sale of the firm's premises, 1950


Due to progressively worsening health, the business was run down by Mr. B.J. Millburn during the first half of 1950, and closed in June. These documents relate to the sale of the warehouse in Silver Lane, and the premises in Cambridge Street. Some press cuttings are included.


A bundle of letters etc., v. sizes; press cuttings; sale catalogue of W. Brown & Co. including the office furniture.


D/139/18 Miscellaneous documents and photographs


This file contains various items which do not fit into any of the above categories, viz.-


Notes re licences to deal in gold & silver plate.


Tenancy agreement with V.H. Jarvis, part of first floor, 1907.


Tenancy agreement with David Jones, 1949.


Endorsement to insurance policy for 5 Cambridge Street, 1907.


Plate Glass insurance policy, 1908.


Furniture Depository insurance policy, 1914.


Plan of auction room, 5 Cambridge Street.


Photocopy of a letter from J.M. to his son's C.O., 1917.


Inventory of contents of 143 Wendover Road, Aylesbury, 1939.


Small notebook with details of 48-66 Albert Street, Aylesbury, 1921.


Various photographs.


Compiled by John R. Millburn, March 1982.

Date: 1878-1950
Related material:

See J.R. Millburn, 'The Aylesbury Auctioneer' [John Millburn (1844-1934)], This England, Winter 1981, for an account of the firm's early days.

Held by: Buckinghamshire Archives, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

J Millburn and Son, 1878-1950, Aylesbury, auctioneers and valuers

Physical description: 22 files
Immediate source of acquisition:


Administrative / biographical background:

Notes on the firm of J.MILLBURN & SON, Auctioneers & Valuers, Aylesbury, 1878-1950


The business was founded in 1878 by John Millburn (1844-1934), and was continued after his death by his second son, Bowness John Millburn (1879-1950), and grand-daughter, Miss Cecily Barbara Millburn (1915-1975). It closed in June 1950 due to Mr. B.J.Millburn's ill-health; he died a few months later.


John Millburn was born in Bierton, the only son of a baker, George Millburn (1805-1885). He attended the village schools at Bierton and (from 1855) Hardwick, and was subsequently articled to a firm of surveyors in Aylesbury. In 1868 he married Anne Bateman, daughter of a Penrith printer, who was then a teacher at St. Mary's National School, Aylesbury. When he started his own business in 1878, at the age of 34, he rented an office in Silver Street and a warehouse in the yard of the Derby Arms inn, St. Mary's Square. At that time his wife was headmistress of St. John's National School, Cambridge Street, and Mr. Millburn lived with his wife and three children (a boy and two girls) at "St. John's Parsonage" adjoining the school. His second son, Bowness John, was born there in 1879.


In the early years of the business, Mr. Millburn held auction sales not only in his Derby Arms room, but also in the Market Square, in the Corn Exchange, and at various local inns. In 1880 a number of properties in the town centre, formerly in the possession of W.Y.Purssell, were sold by the latter's executors. Mr. Millburn purchased a house, shop, and yard, No.5 Cambridge Street, then occupied by a plumber and glazier. These were demolished, and a new building erected by Thomas Green. The new premises contained an entrance lobby, office, auction room, and kitchen on the ground floor, and a living room and three or four bedrooms above. (A second storey was added later.) Mr. Millburn and his family moved here in 1881, and their old home was demolished to make way for St. John's Church. His last child, Michael Charles, later a well-known photographer in the town, was born here in 1882.


The first sale at the 'New Auction Rooms' was held in April 1881, and from May that year sales of Household Furniture & Effects were held regularly on the first and third Wednesdays in every month. This pattern continued through two world wars up to the closure of the business in 1950. Extra sales were sometimes held when there were five Wednesdays in a month, and on other occasions when business required them.


The upper floors of 5 Cambridge Street ceased to be used for residential purposes in 1896, when a new house was built for Mr. Millburn on Bierton Hill (later No.58). For a few years the upper floors were used as offices and showrooms, but this proved too inconvenient and in 1907 the rooms over the auction room were let to Mr. V.H.Jarvis, who constructed a bridge giving access from the first floor of his premises in the High Street. The staircase and rooms at the western end were retained by Mr. Millburn and used mainly for storage. This remained the situation until the business closed, when the entire premises were bought by V.H.Jarvis Ltd. and incorporated into their greatly-enlarged department store. It was Mr. David Jones's intention eventually to rebuild all the properties between Cambridge Street and the High Street as a 5-storey Department Store, but only the first stage of this project was completed. No.5 Cambridge Street was demolished in September 1980 after V.H.Jarvis Ltd. closed.


Mr. Bowness John Millburn was educated at St. John's School, the 'Latin' School, and Berkhamsted School, and was apprenticed to Messrs. Sarsons, ironmongers. He subsequently joined his father in the auction business, gradually taking over the heavier part of the work. In 1909 he married Miss Lily Mabel White, of Bierton. Their first child, Cecily Barbara, was born in 1915.


About 1914 Mr. J.Millburn purchased the 'Church House' at Thame, Oxon, a building with a timber and asbestos structure and a corrugated iron roof, and had it moved to the garden of his house on Bierton Hill. The purpose of acquiring it was partly to provide a workshop for furniture repairs, and partly to store furniture and effects for the firm and for customers.


In 1917 Mr. B.J.Millburn was conscripted into the Ox. & Bucks. Light Infantry. A letter written by Mr. J.Millburn to his son's C.O., asking for leave to be granted so that he (J.M.) could take his annual holiday, has survived. (The request was granted.) Mr. B.J.Millburn was later transferred to the Motor Transport branch of the Army Service Corps as a fitter, and served in Mesopotamia from January 1918 to March 1919, returning to Aylesbury in July. During this period his wife acted as clerk at the fortnightly sales.


About 1930 Mr. J. Millburn purchased three cottages in Silver Lane (Nos. 1, 2 & 3). The interior walls of Nos. 1 & 2 were removed to convert the building into a warehouse. No.3 was demolished about 1935. The Silver Lane warehouse was used partly for storage (it was let to V.Robinson for a time), and partly for sales of very 'rough' articles which would have spoilt the appearance of the sales at 5 Cambridge Street.


In the 1920s and 1930s a substantial part of the firm's business depended on Mr. B.J.Millburn visiting London auction sales (mainly Messrs. Tooth & Tooth), buying goods in bulk there, and transporting them to Aylesbury by motor lorry for re-sale. In this connection the 'Depository' at Bierton Hill was used as a temporary store-room, where goods bought in London could be sorted, repaired if necessary, and gradually fed into the auction room to make up suitable sales. (It was not good business to have too many of a particular type of article - pianos, say - in one sale, so they would be temporarily stored and released to the auction room as required.)


From about 1920 onwards, all the sales were conducted by Mr. B.J.Millburn, with his father acting as clerk. This arrangement continued up to a week before the latter's death in June 1934 at the age of 89.


Following Mr. J.Millburn's death, Miss Cecily Barbara Millburn (then aged 19) joined her father as clerk. There were no other full-time employees, but two or more part-time porters were employed on sale days and at other times as required. Small loads of furniture within the town were fetched and delivered by one of the porters on a hand-truck, but most entries for the sales were delivered by carriers or by the vendors themselves. The firm never had its own motor transport for goods, but from about 1922 Mr. B.J. Millburn owned a car which he used to visit potential customers; a proportion of the expenses of the car were charged to the firm. A telephone (Aylesbury 147) was installed in the early 1930s, with a battery-operated extension to his private house at No.62 Bierton Hill. After his father's death, Mr. B.J.Millburn moved to the latter's house (No.58), primarily because of the Depository in the garden. The firm did not use a typewriter until the late 1930s.


The business continued much as before up to the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. The war had three major effects: (1) The bombing in London soon made it impracticable to continue buying goods there for re-sale in Aylesbury. (2) The shortage of new goods produced a boom in the second-hand trade, which more than made up for the loss of income from re-selling London goods. (3) There was an enormous increase in the amount of paper-work involved, due to the introduction of wartime regulations. Prior to the war, there had been hardly any restrictions on what could be sold by auction (an exception was guns: shotguns could be sold, but not rifles), but in 1942 severe limitations were placed on auction sales which almost brought the firm to a close. All vendors were required to sign a declaration, witnessed by a J.P., that (inter alia) they had not previously sold anything by auction within the preceeding six months. This regulation had little effect on other firms which held only occasional sales, mainly of contents of houses on the premises, but it was disastrous for firms such as J.Millburn & Son which depended on a quick turnover from a large number of vendors. Moreover, many of the firm's regular customers were in the habit of buying and selling at almost every sale, which now became illegal. The requirement for a J.P. to witness the declaration was subsequently waived (much to the relief of local J.P.s), but the six-month rule remained in force throughout the war and gave rise to much friction with potential sellers who did not understand it. Another complication was that the Maximum Prices Orders for the sale of second-hand goods applied as much to auctions as to retailers, with the result that for every sale a number of calculations had to made, based on formulae such as the number of drawer-handles on a piece of furniture, to determine the maximum bid that could be accepted for each article to which the regulations applied. If more than one customer was prepared to offer that sum, lots had to be drawn to decide who should have it. (For this purpose, Mr. Millburn used to keep an old hat and a set of numbers in his rostrum.)


Another wartime requirement was that all auctioneers had to be members of a recognised professional institution. Neither Mr. B.J.Millburn nor his father had been in favour of trade association of any sort, but in 1942 he was obliged to join the Incorporated Society of Auctioneers & Landed Property Agents (A.L.P.A.). He was admitted as a Fellow on the strength of his age and lifetime's experience in the business (he was then aged 63).


The extra burden imposed by the wartime regulations had a severe effect on Mr. Millburn's health, and in the immediate post-war years the business began to run down. In March 1950 he had the first of a series of heart attacks. His daughter Miss C.B. Millburn kept the business going for a few months with the aid of the part-time porters, engaging Mr. L.H.Dix of W.Brown & Co. to conduct the sales, but when it became evident that Mr. B.J.Millburn would not recover, preparations were made for the disposal of the business.


At that time, Messrs. Percy Black & Co. and Messrs. W.Brown & Co. held occasional sales of furniture and effects, but not on a regular basis. Neither firm had any need to purchase the 'goodwill' of J.Millburn & Son, however, as there was nothing to stop them launching their own regular sales. Indeed, that is precisely what happened: as J.Millburn & Son's business ran down, both firms started holding regular auction sales of household furniture and effects, in competition with each other. W.Brown & Co. soon dropped out, and their auction room in Church Street (formerly part of Temple School) was demolished and the site redeveloped as 'Lincoln House'. Percy Black & Co. carried on for many years, but their auction sales formed only a small part of their business.


The premises at 5 Cambridge Street, though ideally situated in the middle of the town in the 1880s, were almost impossible to run in the increasingly congested conditions of the post-war years. There were frequent complaints from adjacent shopkeepers of furniture vans blocking their windows, and on sale days it was always necessary to have police on duty to direct the traffic, Cambridge Street being still two-way then. There was, therefore, virtually no prospect of selling the premises as auction rooms. Instead, the premises were sold as a whole to V.H.Jarvis Ltd., who were still occupying the rooms over the auction room itself. The Depository at Bierton Road was cleared of stored furniture (some of which had been there for several decades) and down-rated from a commercial building to a garden shed. Nos. 1 & 2 Silver Lane (and the site of No.3) were sold to Mr. West, the photographer.


Mr. B.J.Millburn died in October 1950 aged 71; Miss C.B.Millburn died in 1975 aged 60.


John R. Millburn


(son of B.J.M.)


March, 1982.

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