St Andrews auction house still going, going, strong!

ONE hundred and fifty years since it first opened its doors in St Andrews, Macgregor Auctions is still a favourite gathering place for experts and interested locals.

The firm recently featured on the small screen after a prized autographed 'Broons' book went under the hammer.

The 'something for nothing' promise of finding hidden treasure in a box of ordinary items never seems to lose its appeal.

And it's kept people coming back, again and again to the Aladdin's Cave off Largo Road that is Macgregor Auctions.

Every fortnight, on Thursday and Friday mornings, people stream inside either to buy or simply watch some live entertainment unfold before their eyes.

Had it not been for the determination of one woman, however, St Andrews might no longer have an auction hall and, given the health scares that have beset owner Sandra Urie, she could be forgiven for thinking there's a guardian angel watching over her fortunes.

Sandra, who was born in Boarhills, returned to St Andrews to work in Macgregor's linen department in the 1970s after a spell away from the area.

At that time, the late Peter Swankie owned the business which he'd joined after the Second World War and which he'd taken over from founder John Macgregor.

In these days, the business was located in the narrow end of Market Street on the site now occupied by Kidson Court. Sandra loved helping with the auctions and Mr Swankie eventually asked her to assist him on a permanent basis.

When he died, 20 years ago, she couldn't bear the thought of the auction dying too and took over the gavel, becoming Scotland's first lady owner/auctioneer.

Since then she and husband Ian, who joined the firm from David Dowie's in Leven, have handled some exciting sales — earlier this year, they sold a featherie golf ball for 2800.

In June, they sold two oil paintings by Glasgow boys E.A. Hornell and David Gauld which fetched 24,000 and 8600 respectively.

Then, in September, the showrooms were beamed round the country's TV screens when a 1959 copy of the 'Broons' inscribed by Dudley D Watkins — who for many years drew the family and 'Oor Wullie' in the Sunday paper's pages — went for 1350, to the delight of both the buyer and the seller.


That's the key to the business, says Sandra, who always keeps in mind that the goods she is handling do not belong to her but to someone else.

"It's the tightrope we have to walk, getting a price that keeps the customer happy and keeps the seller happy too,'' she explained, adding that there's nothing to beat the thrill of picking up something from a box of objects and "just knowing that this is something good, something interesting.''

In the 25 years she's been involved with Macgregors Sandra has stayed true to her convictions that customers want something special to catch their interest.

The fact that people keep coming back, from all over the country, would seem to prove she knows what she's talking about.

"We have between 1200 to 1500 lots every fortnight,'' she pointed out. "Ian and I organise each sale ourselves, unpacking boxes and setting everything out."

Sandra, who recently defied doctors with her speedy return to form after surgery for a brain aneurism, explained why she's so passionate about the business: "After the late Mr Swankie died, I didn't want to lose the auction hall.

"I never intended to stand up in front of people but I wanted to keep the business going."

Now she conducts each sale with a style and humour familiar to many, while Ian does his best to keep the atmosphere electric from his auctioneer's rostrum.

Having joined the business on a part-time basis, he later become Sandra's partner — in more ways than one.

"I married him! I reckoned you can hand in your notice if you get fed up with a job, but divorce is a bit more difficult!" she smiled from behind her trademark specs.