The UK's best antiques shopping streets
Home to a mix of brilliant antiques shops and characterful boutiques, these UK shopping streets are well worth a visit this summer
Charm, character, community, cobbles and a fierce independence – these British streets have the ingredients that make the perfect destinations for shopping all year round. From brilliant antique and vintage shops, to characterful independent boutiques, these streets are awash with beautiful homeware, furniture and accessories.
Victoria Street, Edinburgh
With its higgledy-piggledy array of colourful shopfronts, gentle curve and proximity to the castle, Victoria Street in Edinburgh’s Old Town is a pleasure to peruse. There must have been something about its architecture that inspired JK Rowling, as many believe it to be the real-life Diagon Alley from her Harry Potter books. Robert Cresser’s brush shop may no longer be here, in business from 1873-2004, but curious independent shops endure.
Stock up on artisan cheese at IJ Mellis Cheesemonger, stroke Scottish tweed at Walker Slater, find fun homewares at Museum Context, which sells unusual gifts including Harry Potter merchandise, imbibe whisky at The Bow Bar or bottle some cordial or gin at Demijohn.
Affordable art by up-and-coming artists fresh out of Edinburgh College of Art can be found at The Red Door Gallery at number 42. ‘There weren’t many shops in the centre that provided art by local graduates,’ says gallery director Lindsey Brown. ‘Victoria Street is a big draw in Old Town. People like the history of it.’
High Street, Hastings
Since the regeneration of Hastings in recent years with the opening of the Jerwood Gallery and a restored pier, the town has seen the arrival of more high-quality independent shops. The atmospheric High Street, the original thoroughfare despite its narrow disposition (a ‘twitten’ as locals call it), has benefited greatly.
Visitors make a beeline for Alastair Hendy’s beautiful emporium AG Hendy & Co whose window displays have become quite the attraction. ‘The architecture in High Street is unique,’ he says. ‘Behind the Georgian fronts the buildings are Tudor inside. There is a nice winding feel about it and a good cross-section of shops.’ Also on the street is Robert’s Rummage, piled high with antique and vintage odds and ends, and Goods Depot with its great mix of decorative antiques. A must-see is the Flower Makers’ Museum, a family business that has been making fabric flowers for films for decades. Round off a visit with brownies at Judges Bakery.
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Walcot Street, Bath
Famed for its Saturday flea market and generous antiques offering, Walcot Street in Bath has seen big-name interiors and homeware stores arrive latterly but the stretch of street wrapping round into London Road has retained its independent artisan edge, especially with Bath Aqua Glass in residence.
Traditional antiques can be found at Michael Saffell Antiques, Haliden Oriental Carpets, Old Bank Antiques Centre and at the market, with on-trend homeware and art available at The Fig Store and Verve.
The Fine Cheese Co is a long-standing Walcot incumbent and a firm favourite, and grabbing brunch at Cafe Walcot – a light-filled, loft-style space down a side street – is highly recommended. ‘There is a strong independent spirit here,’ says Michelle Aitken of Verve, which has been trading for three years. ‘We wanted to add to the artisan area.’
Steep Hill, Lincoln
‘There are small, quirky shops,’ says Roy Ellis, who has had his clock and watch shop on the hill for 35 years and is usually busy repairing said timekeepers from across Britain and Europe. ‘I think J Birkett is the most unusual shop in the country. Mr Birkett has been here for 55 years and sells all sorts of odds and sods. He has ex-government parts, so if you need something for an old valve radio or television, chances are you can get it at Birketts.’
Built by the Romans and formerly known as Ermine Street, Steep Hill was renamed due to its vertiginous slope (there are handrails in place to assist climbers) and the pretty cobbled street with its listed medieval half-timbered buildings is worth the climb, not only for its architecture but its pubs, tea rooms, cafes and independent shops. Jews’ Court Books deals in historical and second-hand books from a 13th-century building believed to be on the site of a medieval synagogue, as there was a prominent Jewish community in Lincoln from the 1100s. Meanwhile Ben Poole at Imperial Teas, who has been trading on the hill for over 27 years, will demonstrate the fine art of making a cup of tea. ‘It’s like a little village community of its own. Everyone knows everyone,’ Roy adds. ‘If one shop closes, another opens.’
Lombard Street, Petworth
Petworth has long been known as an antiques town but its prettiest promenade has only recently become an antiquing hotspot in its own right.
Tiffany Lewis opened her antique furniture and homeware shop Tallulah Fox in September 2013 and during the past five years has watched as more antiques shops and galleries have joined her. ‘It was quite a quiet street with a lot of empty shops when I arrived,’ she says.
Shortly after Tiffany opened her doors, along came Kevis House Gallery and Arts and Crafts specialist Patch Rogers, who has recently handed his premises to Petworth stalwart John Bird. Independent art dealer Forest Gallery opened two years ago.
Catherine Hill, Frome
Once bustling with greengrocers and bakers, by the 1990s Catherine Hill was anything but thriving. ‘It was quite down at heel when I arrived,’ says Ciara Nolan, who has run Poot Emporium for 12 years.
Trees had taken root in what is now the wool shop known as the Frome Yarn Collective. Happily, today the cobbled incline is one of its major draws. And while those climbing up might need to pause for breath halfway, instead of boarded-up shops they can now linger in one of its many independent boutiques. Buy stylish children’s clothes and toys at Sisters Guild, vintage and antique homeware at Life of Riley, fine stationery and homeware at Resident, brushes and light bulbs in the beautifully styled Frome Hardware and invest in modern craft at Kobi & Teal. Reward your efforts at L’Aperitivo at the summit.
Columbia Road, London
Running through the bustling area of Shoreditch in the hipster E2 patch of east London, the cobbled Victorian street known as Columbia Road welcomes thousands of visitors every Sunday when the flower market, which started in the 1860s, bursts into life.
Most of the 60 or so shops are independent and, while businesses come and go, they remain an unusual mix of artisan makers, vintage and antiques stores such as Two Columbia Road, and boutiques selling gardenalia, fashion and food – Mason & Painter, and The Garden Shop to name a couple.
Margaret Willis of Vintage Heaven, who has been here for 11 years selling vintage homeware and also runs a cafe in her shop, believes it is the flower market that sustains them. ‘It is a beautiful spectacle,’ she says.
Framed by the minster rising above it, Stonegate in York is one of the most historic streets in the city. It was once a main Roman road from the River Ouse and Roman bridge to the city headquarters where the minster now stands and is apparently so named due to the enormous quantity of limestone that travelled through the street to build the cathedral.
The buildings are a mixture of medieval and Georgian, including the enormous Tudor mansion, Mulberry Hall, which now houses a German Christmas shop. Where once goldsmiths, printers and glass painters peddled their wares, today they house an interesting mix of shops such as The Antiques Centre York, Cavendish antique jewellers, Pyramid Gallery and luxury wool company Abraham Moon fashion and interiors store. No visit is complete without nipping into Bettys tea room for lunch or afternoon tea, especially at this time of year.
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Long Street, Tetbury
Anne Fowler moved from Bath to the Cotswolds town in 1995 to join the great antiques scene on the main thoroughfare. ‘Everyone offers something different on this street,’ she says. ‘It has been like this for as long as I can remember, although, before the supermarkets came along, there were more greengrocers and butchers.’
At one end is the iconic pillared market house built in 1655 when Tetbury was a thriving wool town. The most recent addition is the smart interiors shop ANTIQBR at number 33, while well-known antiques purveyors Lorfords, Brownrigg and The Decorator Source all occupy Long Street too. The aptly named Cafe 53 is the place to relax and refuel after all that browsing and shopping.
Castle Street, Hay-on-Wye
Market town Hay-on-Wye on the Welsh border has more to it than books, and its main road, Castle Street, is where you’ll find intriguing stores aplenty. Sally Forwood of Mostlymaps, who has been selling antique maps on the street for 29 years, says the shops have changed from grocery stores to boutiques since she’s been here. ‘There is still the same butcher (CJ Gibbons) though – his daughter runs it now,’ she says. ‘We have old-fashioned-style shops that are all independent. We are not your run of the mill. We are quirky and offer unusual and interesting things you won’t find elsewhere.’
One of the most popular shops is Athene English’s The Great English Outdoors at the end of the street, selling Welsh blankets and beautiful handmade leather goods. Next door you’ll find new arrival The Story of Books, which celebrates the history of the tome, and on again there is Castle Greengrocers, The Addyman Annexe bookshop and Mostlymaps, which is opposite the towering Norman Castle that gives the street its name.
The fortress is currently covered in scaffolding while it undergoes a major restoration project by the Hay Castle Trust, with the plan to turn it into a centre for the arts and learning. Built in the late 12th century by the Norman lord William de Braose, with a later Jacobean manor added in the 17th century, it has been the scene of great battles and fires over the centuries. ‘There’s a lot happening in Hay at the moment,’ adds Sally. Find good food further into town at The Old Electric Shop, which has a cafe alongside its interesting vintage and new wares.
Words: Rosanna Morris
Illustrations: Becki Clark