Racehorse betting magnate’s art and antiques up for auction

Selwyn Demmy (1932-2020) with some of his vast collection of art and antiques.
Selwyn Demmy (1932-2020) with some of his vast collection of art and antiques. © Dreweatts

Artworks from the private collection of Manchester racehorse betting tycoon Selwyn Demmy (1932-2020) are to be offered at auction in Britain this autumn.

The 20 works in the sale, include seven paintings by British artist Arthur Delaney (1927-1987), will be offered in Dreweatts Modern Art and Contemporary sale on October 12, 2021.

Selwyn Demmy was known predominantly for his racehorse betting empire. An incisive businessman he followed in his father’s footsteps, setting up 75 Demmy the Bookmaker Ltd shops over the course of 20 years and finally selling to Ladbrokes in 1982. A subsequent company was Demmy Racing, which he sold to Stanley Leisure Group in 1993 and six years after founding a third chain comprising of 37 shops, he sold to Fred and Peter Done in 1999. Subsequent ventures included a thriving boxing competition business, staging fights at key venues in the city of Manchester.

A regular visitor to a nightclub owned by the singer Lulu’s manager Tony Gordon, Demmy decided to buy it in 1968, with his brother Harvey, and the iconic club known as Blinkers was born. The club became even more popular with celebrities, such as George Best with whom Demmy struck up a close friendship, as well as Tom Jones, Des O’Connor, Wayne Fontana and The Hollies, amongst others.

As his success grew, so did his extensive art and antique collection, alongside his love of animals and he became somewhat of a local hero in Manchester, winning The Manchester Heroes Awards in 2010 for his work in helping sick and abandoned animals, of which he had many himself, earning him the title of Dr Doolittle among his friends. Newspaper reports of him detail his donations to other great causes and stepping in to help on a range of projects around the city until his death last year.

Amongst the paintings on offer is Arthur Delaney’s The Manchester Hippodrome, featuring the prominent venue with the lead act advertised as Frank Randle, the famous comedian (and a contemporary of George Formby and Gracie Fields), who was believed to be the artist’s father. It carries an estimate of £5000 to £7000.

Delaney worked in a textile studio for 32 years, painting in his leisure time as a means of relaxation. Inspired by the artist Laurence Stephen Lowry, he set out to capture the Manchester and surrounding areas that he grew up with in the 1930s.

Arthur Delaney's The Manchester Hippodrome, is one of the works that will be sold later this month.
Arthur Delaney’s The Manchester Hippodrome, is one of the works that will be sold later this month. © Dreweatts

In his youth, he recalls the trams, gas lights and the atmosphere of a bustling industrial city, as well as the inner workings of everyday life. Starting out as a hobby, his paintings were soon in high demand and after a sell-out show at the Tib Lane Gallery in Manchester, he went on to exhibit at the Royal Academy.

His passion for this particular area of England correlated with Selwyn Demmy’s own and is one of the reasons his works appealed so much to him. With Demmy buying many of Delaney’s works directly from him over the years, the pair struck up a great friendship. Demmy continued to hunt down Delaney’s works long after his death, from galleries in the North West and further afield.

Jennie Fisher, Head of Dreweatts Modern and Contemporary Art department, said it was not often that a highly successful businessman was so fondly remembered, but that was the case with Selwyn Demmy.

Manchester artist Arthur Delaney.
Manchester artist Arthur Delaney (1927-1987). © Dreweatts

“He was so much a part and product of the region in which he was born and lived and his remarkable legacy lives on in the charities that he supported. His passion for art was very personal, tied up as it was with his innate connection with his beloved north-west,” Fisher said.

“Every work by Arthur Delaney oozes nostalgia and those that are familiar with the area will undoubtedly be drawn to sights and locations that are instantly recognisable. The Demmy collection is a fantastic opportunity to acquire a slice of northern art without the price tag of a Lowry.”

Another iconic landmark that is captured in Delaney’s work is The Liver Building, Liverpool. Designed by Walter Aubrey Thomas, the building took three years to construct and was completed in 1911. The grade II listed building facing the river Mersey became a symbol of Liverpool with its two distinctive clock towers and two birds sat on top, one looking inland and one out to sea. Trams are visible at the forefront of the painting and people bustle across the road with hints of rich red clothing jumping out of the canvas, against the dark green of the trams and grey sky. The oil on canvas is estimated to fetch £5000 to £7000.

The Liver Building, Liverpool by Arthur Delaney.
The Liver Building, Liverpool by Arthur Delaney. © Dreweatts

Several pieces from Demmy’s collection were sold earlier this month at Dreweatts Fine Furniture, Sculpture, Carpets, Ceramics and Works of Art sale. Kabyle au retour de la Chasse (the Berber Hunter), which dates from the late 19th century, fetched £9000.  It is considered to be a defining work in the oeuvre of French sculptor Max Arthur Waagen (1833-1898).

Lithuanian-born Waagen worked out of Paris and was revered for his realistic style, with fine detailing. He created a series of groups with a North African flavour, of which this piece, depicting the berber hunter returning from his hunt with his dogs at his feet, was considered the best example.


Kabyle au retour de la Chasse by Max Arthur Waagen (1833-1898), sold for  £9000.
Kabyle au retour de la Chasse, by Max Arthur Waagen (1833-1898), sold for  £9000. © Dreweatts

The bronze is created in the Orientalist style, used to describe western arts of the 19th century that used themes derived from a range of exotic countries. A cast of the model is in the Danesh Museum, New York.

Other pieces from Demmy’s collection will be offered in Dreweatts Fine Clock, Barometers and Scientific Instruments Sale on October 6, 2021. The selection of clocks and barometers reflects his interest in local Lancashire clockmaking.


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