An extraordinary gun belonging to one of the 19th century’s most eclectic and interesting women is to be auctioned next month. The gun itself – an exceptional, late 1800’s, 28-bore shotgun – is a rare find, but the Lady who wielded it was unapologetically unique.
Rumoured to be a banjo-playing prostitute before marrying brewer and politician Sir Henry Bruce Meux, Val Reece became Lady Valerie Susan Meux and wasted no time becoming one of London’s most eccentric and forward-thinking women.
“She was a maverick of her time and her story, while not well known, is fascinating,” says Simon Reinhold of Holts Auctioneers. “We often sell guns with an interesting provenance, but this piece and Lady Meux really stands out.”
Lady Meux would often be seen driving herself around the capital in a sporty zebra-drawn carriage and sat three times for renowned artist James Whistler in 1881. Two of these paintings can still be seen today (New York Frick collection and the Honolulu Museum of Art) but the third was destroyed, apparently after she made a comment during one of her sittings.
On becoming a Lady, she wasted no time in doing things her own way. At her husband’s estate, Theobalds Park she installed a museum of Egyptian antiquities, built a swimming pool and put in an indoor roller-skating rink. And after becoming concerned for British troops during the Siege of Ladysmith (Second Boer War) she ordered and paid for six 12-pound naval cannons and sent them to South Africa. This she did despite the War Office in London declining her offer of help.
“The commander of the naval brigade at Ladysmith was so grateful he called on Lady Meux upon his return to England…” says Reinhold. “She was so taken with him she left him her entire estate – on condition that he change his name to Meux – which he did.”
The gun, which goes on sale on December 7 has been valued at £3,000 to £5,000 but is expected to fetch far more and be hotly contested.
“It’s an incredibly rare gun, 28-bore was highly unusual at the time and they quickly stopped making bar-in-wood top lever hammer guns because they were very difficult to make and hugely costly. It’s unusual to see one in such good condition and it’s still very much usable today.”