The Story of the Sylvia Adams Charitable Trust 1996-2023



Who was Sylvia Adams?

Sylvia Adams was a professional collector of antiques and works of art. Born in 1907, her career was at its peak in the 1930s and 1940s. She was a pioneer and broke many of the traditions of her age to start working in, and later to part own, a London antique shop.  She bought and sold items for her clients and some of the works she bought are now housed in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. She also quietly amassed a wonderful personal collection which included renaissance bronzes, ivories, furniture and mirrors which were kept in her Hertfordshire home.

Establishing the Trust

The Sylvia Adams Charitable Trust was registered as a charity in 1996 in line with Miss Adams’ stated wishes towards the end of her life. The Trust was endowed with the money from the auction sale of her personal collection of antiques and works of art, held by Bonhams in May 1996. Several world records were set, including a plaquette which was sold for twice the previous world record. The most valuable piece was a bronze by Antico which sold for £2.8 million.  The sales overall raised around £5 million. The logo of the Trust is a whippet which forms part of a rare English portrait relief of a noblewoman and her daughter, holding the whippet, carved by David le Murchand in 1710.

Sylvia Adams Charitable Trust Timeline


From 1996 to 2015, grants were made to support work in the UK, including some grants specifically for Hertfordshire, and overseas.

The focus was on supporting children and young people, those with a disability and those living in poverty or who were socially excluded.

During these years over £13 million in grants was distributed to a wide variety of organisations. In 2015, the Trust reassessed its grant making policies.


With increasing evidence about the critical early years on a child’s development, and the disproportionate impact that a disadvantaged start can have throughout life, the Trust decided to focus future funding and support on preventative work for the most disadvantaged 0-3 year olds in the UK.  The Trust accepted applications from relevant charities and has been funding and supporting work which addresses those issues which can impact so heavily on the early years of a child’s life.

This has included support for the children of teenage parents; for children with a disability; for those being brought up in workless communities; for those living with a parent with peri-natal mental ill health; for babies and children where there is domestic or substance abuse; for adopted children, and for the children of trafficked women.

2016 was also the start of Breaking Down Barriers: understanding genetics together. This work, established and funded by the Trust, and working with staff seconded from Alstom Syndrome UK (ASUK), is the national project to reach, support and inform those communities particularly at risk of genetic conditions but who are significantly underserved.


Since 2008 the Trust has considered that the assets of the Trust are best used to meet need that exists now and to do so as cost effectively as possible. It has therefore been spending capital as well as income to fund charitable work, having decided that the Trust did not need to exist in perpetuity. The date for the closure of the Trust has now been set as 2023.

2021-23 will continue to see the Trust use its resources for those focus areas decided on in 2015, primarily for preventative work for 0-3 year olds in the UK, and for Breaking Down Barriers: understanding genetics together.

All funding in this period will be proactive, meaning that applications for support will not be accepted. The Trust will be aiming to:

  • Strengthen organisations already significantly invested in, to help ensure that they have a secure future.
  • fund activities to share experience and best practice of work previously funded.
  • fund activities for national action where there are clear and identified issues to address.
  • final grants to a range of charities that have been funded by the Trust over recent years.

The Sylvia Adams Charitable Trust will have contributed over £20 million of grants and support to help causes globally by 2023, a wonderful legacy for Miss Sylvia Adams