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Mr Williams, who nearly died of an aortic dissection three years ago, is reluctantly retiring for health reasons.

"I am naturally sad to give this business up," said Mr Williams, "but both my family and my cardiologist want me to take things easier. And although I have a strong team behind me, the fact is that as owner I remain ultimately responsible for six people's employment and, as picture specialist, I have to keep meeting deadlines that make it hard for me to spend as much time as I'd like with my wife."

The existing team will remain at Holloway's and the name will stay. Rebecca Mawle will continue to run marketing and day-to-day business, while Jasper Marsh, who currently works at the Charles Ross Woburn rooms, will join senior auctioneer and valuer James Lees. 

"The success of our Woburn operation has encouraged us to expand," said Mr Beard, "and Jasper will no longer have to spend several hours a day driving from Leamington to Woburn and back. By coincidence, he started his career at Holloway's when Tim Holloway still owned it, so in a sense he will be going home."

David Fletcher joins Charles Ross as senior consultant valuer.

The acquisition will complete on May 1, with Holloway's holding their final sale under Mr Williams on March 17. Appropriately, given his own interests, the sale will have a strong picture section, including a late oil by Walter Sickert, two paintings attributed to the 18th century Italian artist Apollonio Domenichini, a Venetian genre picture by Henry Woods and a large collection of watercolours and drawings.

Furniture from the estate of the late Lady Wardington features, as will a Venetian bronze and a collection of Oriental items from Astrop Park.