While online shopping has boomed during the pandemic, it does tend to be a rather soulless process. Britain’s antiques centres and shops offer an alternative, one-of-a-kind experience – the antidote to online monotony.
Found across the UK, in towns and cities large and small, on the high street as well as in former stations, mills, and even air bases. Most are gloriously eclectic – a cabinet of Egyptian antiquities might sit alongside a collection of vintage toy cars or antique silver.
We’ve asked antiques expert and author Mark Hill, homeware designer Sophie Conran, vintage specialist Wayne Hemingway, interior designer Nicky Haslam and Antiques Roadshow expert Katherine Higgins to raid their little black books and reveal the UK’s finest antiques and vintage emporiums.
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‘This is a gem of a shop,’ says Wayne. ‘Tucked away in those lovely serendipitous York streets, it has a brilliantly edited collection of classic vintage and is always worth a visit.’
Hemswell Antiques Centres
Prepare yourself for the largest antiques centre in Europe. Set in a pretty area of Lincolnshire countryside, Hemswell has been going since the 1980s and plays host to around 400 dealers who live all over the UK, from the Isle of Wight to north of Aberdeen, and even come from Europe, America and Australia.
Founders Rex and Nepi Miller bought RAF Hemswell as a derelict site in the mid 80s. They opened the first Hemswell Antiques Centre in a former airmen’s dormitory in 1986. In 1999, when his father passed away, Robert Miller stepped up to the role of managing director and has continued to develop the business. Most recently, after extensive renovation and the addition of an impressive galleried first floor, he opened Hemswell’s fourth building – a former guardroom at the entrance to the site.
One of Lancashire’s best vintage clothes shops, Wayne and his wife Geraldine have been visiting since they were young. ‘We grew up in East Lancashire and learnt to dress second hand (as it was called then). Revival isn’t a million miles from where ‘rags’ have traditionally been recycled, which might explain why the stock is always so wonderful. 01254 382316
Preston Antique Centre
Horrocks was once one of the largest cotton manufacturers in the world, and the pride of Lancashire. One of their few remaining mill buildings is now occupied by Preston Antique Centre. At over 50,000 square feet, it’s the biggest in the North West, filling three huge floors where in decades past the spinning machines clattered away.
Its size lends itself well to displays of larger furniture, spanning everything from Georgian mahogany bookcases to 1960s sideboards. Some of the stock is wonderfully eccentric – one dealer focuses on old painted pub signs and brewing paraphernalia. David Siddall, who has one of the biggest collections of Mouseman and Arts and Crafts oak furniture in the UK, also has a showroom here.
Catherine Smith Vintage
‘For beautiful women’s frocks, this is hard to beat,’ says Wayne. ‘Catherine definitely has an eye for vintage.’ Stock ranges from Victorian dresses and collectable bags to 1980s garb so there is something for all costume-lovers in this pretty boutique.
Red House Antique Centre
Yards from the Minster, striking Red House was once home to York’s Lord Mayor. When his term of office ended, he liked it so much he refused to move, laughs owner Tim Hogarth. You might similarly find it hard to tear yourself away from the well-curated cabinets and small rooms, covering everything from vintage tools to Victorian jewellery.
The Roman and other antiquities are especially popular with visitors wanting a souvenir of historic York, says Tim. And after a day’s busy sightseeing, the tick-tocking of ‘The Clock Room’, with its exceptional display of Northern longcases, is surprisingly calming.
Mr Ben’s, which was founded in the 1990s, is a stalwart of the Glasgow vintage scene. ‘I have picked up some brilliant Loakes brogues, a super Wigan Casino-style canvas shopper and a truly individual tweed jacket all from this Glaswegian institution,’
The word eclectic might have been created for RE. Vintage German beer steins sit next to dainty gilt candlesticks while old woodwork catalogues lie atop vintage tea trollies. Some of the stock is re-worked salvage, other pieces are vintage and there’s some new too.
‘Just as it does in a designer fashion store, it really makes a positive difference when the buyer knows how to edit,’ says Wayne. ‘The owner of this shop can certainly do just that.’ Herman Brown stocks high quality 20th-century fashion sourced on buying trips to everywhere from London’s Brick Lane to Amsterdam and Seattle.
Scottish Antique and Arts Centre
In the mid 1990s, antiques dealers Elaine and Bob Templeman founded two centres – one in the village of Abernyte (off the road between Perth and Dundee), and another in Doune (closer to Glasgow). Surrounded by breathtaking moors, forest and hills, they possibly have the most stunning location of any antiques business in the UK. Alongside antiques, the centres include an interesting mix of contemporary homewares, fashion, and deli goodies.
Their 100 dealers cover the full gamut of antiques and collectables, including a strong selection of Scottish antiques – framed local maps, books by Scottish authors, and handsome Scottish furniture. Dealers Malcolm Innes and Iona MacKinnon stock Scottish landscape and sporting pictures.
Other sellers focus on Scottish silver and jewellery. If you’re lucky, you might find a Celtic revival brooch by Alexander Ritchie, who trained at the pioneering Glasgow School of Art and opened a small workshop on Iona in 1899. Or for the full Scottish immersive experience, how about a vintage kilt and sporran?
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‘Worthy of a day trip, you’ll need the whole day to do the numerous large centres spread across this complex of barns properly,’ says Mark. ‘Whether you are a collector or decorator and whatever your budget, you’ll be able to fill a display cabinet.’
Doe & Hope
‘James Gooch operates Doe & Hope from a lovingly restored historic barn and his business lives up to the romantic address. He has a unique selection of antiques, from neoclassical to Victorian gothic,’ says Mark. ‘Each tempts our senses and has a fascinating back story or romantically conjures up styles and desires of the past. It’s food for the eye and mind.’ Viewing is by appointment.
The Boule-in has two shops, one in Suffolk and one in Kennington, London. ‘Here you’ll find a perfectly on-trend, highly appealing selection of French decorative antiques,’ says Mark. ‘With a focus on the easy to live with, beautiful and affordable, everything on display is sourced in France and curated by a charming husband and wife team. Its ideal gifting territory – self-gifting included!’ By appointment.
LVS Decorative Arts
‘The emphasis here is on rather striking, decorative antiques that can stand alone and whose quality and style shines through,’ says Katherine. ‘Stock ranges from 17th to 20th-century pieces but my favourites are the 19th-century mirrors.’ By appointment.
Rob Hall Antiques
Rob’s stock tends towards pieces with patina and a good story, often linked to old trades. Find 18th-century House of Commons journals, skittle alley signs and 1900s dairy creamers. He is in the process of opening a new space in a 19th-century former Royal Ordnance building where stores were kept in anticipation of invasion during the Napoleonic wars. By appointment.
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The Vintage Showroom
The wooden floored Vintage Showroom feels more like an old world museum than a vintage clothes shop. ‘You can find proper high-quality old menswear here,’ says Wayne. It specialises in early 20th-century pieces with a fantastic collection of old sports and country wear.
Grays and Alfies Antiques
London’s premier antiques centres – Grays and Alfies – were both founded by Bennie Gray in the mid 1970s. Alfies, which fills a former Deco department store in Marylebone, is named after his father, a jazz musician. Alfies features more than 80 dealers, who specialise in everything from Middle Eastern antiquities to vintage costume jewellery.
There’s also a handy onsite picture framer, an upholsterer, a working jeweller and a clockmaker. A mile and a half away, just a stone’s throw from Selfridges and the upmarket boutiques of Bond Street, Grays has the UK’s largest selection of fine antique jewellery, as well as silver, watches and other luxuries.
Alfies appeared on most of our panellists’ lists. Wayne heads there for 1920s pieces while Mark’s first stops in this heady bazaar of an antiques centre are Beth Adams and Geoffrey Robinson on the ground floor, followed by Angry-Agent on the first floor for ‘eye-wateringly scarce 20th century design’. Owner Bennie Gray is the driving force behind its success.
Rellik has made appearances in all the big name fashion magazines from Vogue to Vanity Fair, and with good reason. ‘It’s hidden away in Portobello Market,’ says Wayne. ‘You might need to ring the doorbell but once you are in…’ Its New York-style interior is covered with stunning fashion from 1920s onwards.
Simon Dwyer Vintage Posters
‘When you venture into the world of classic movie posters, you need to know you’re buying something that’s authentic,’ says Katherine. ‘Simon’s expert eye means you can snap up a striking film poster, and rest assured that it’s right.’ You can view his stock online or book an appointment to see the posters first hand.
‘I just can’t resist this shop,’ says Mark. ‘With a selection that’s refreshed every week, and regular sales to clear the decks, shelves are packed with everything from glass to ceramics, lighting and metalware. Check out the basement for furniture and larger homewares. There’s something to suit every pocket, starting from a couple of pounds upwards.’
A specialist in outstanding mid-century furnishings and French and Italian design, Gordon Watson has been in the trade for 30 years and sources pieces for an A-list clientele. If you’re in the market for a striking investment piece, his showroom on Pimlico Road is an absolute treat.
Christopher Butterworth Antiques
Among the many dealers on the Pimlico Road, Christopher Butterworth stands out. Specialising in French decorative pieces, Nicky calls him ‘the best antiques dealer ever’. ‘Christopher has a faultless taste and eye and amasses a panoply of desirable things,’ he says.
The dealers of Lillie Road have recently formed a collective – not a surprising move given that, as Nicky says, ‘the whole of this stretch of antiques dealers is well worth nosing around in’. Nicky’s favourite haunts include the shop of James Jackson, who, he says, ‘has an eclectic knack for finding interesting pieces’. Another favourite there is Quindry, whose owner Gwen specialises in 20th-century objects and furniture.
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Dairy House Antiques and Interiors
A few miles outside Shaftesbury, the appropriately named Dairy House is based in a former milk depot. Handily on the same site as two auction houses, and another antiques business, it’s become a destination for shoppers looking for something they wouldn’t find on the typical high street.
Owner Debbie Jeffery tries to make the centre friendly and unintimidating, so everyone feels welcome. The mainly country-style stock ranges from pretty pine chests of drawers and wicker hampers, to blue-and-white china, galvanised planters and vintage kitchenware. Their 30 dealers also include specialists in glass, silver and dolls’ house furniture.
John Bird Antiques
John has had a long career in antiques and often exhibits at Battersea decorative fair. ‘You’ll find mostly furniture and larger pieces here,’ says Sophie. ‘John has a great eye and picks up really unusual and quirky pieces.’ Expect plenty of garden furniture too.
Wolf and Gypsy Vintage
‘Probably my favourite shop in the UK,’ says Wayne. ‘It’s tiny but the owner has immaculate taste. She understands the true essence of ‘vintage’ and her items are always timeless and transcend fashion.’
‘The clue is in the name,’ says Wayne. This collective of vintage boutiques and designers is a sumptuous hunting ground for those who enjoy nostalgia. With antiques, vintage and bric-a-brac galore, it’s good for a bargain.
Petworth Antiques Market
Petworth is an antiques and foodie hotspot, filled with interesting independent shops, says Kathryn Mandry, manager of the Petworth Antiques Market, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2022. As well as a mix of high-quality traditional antiques, their 38 dealers encompass some quirky specialisms – rocking horses, so-called ‘mantiques’ (things like hip flasks and cufflinks), and walking sticks.
‘A lot of our customers are creatives, and so they are very open-minded in what they are looking for – unusual, one-off statement pieces or colourful accents. Some customers may well have come from their Petworth House tour and not been able to touch stuff, but with us they can actually take it home!’ says Kathryn.
With more than 30 antiques shop in this small Sussex town, it’s not easy to choose a standout but Sophie considers this her go-to place. ‘It’s a veritable cornucopia of dealers,’ she says. ‘It mostly has smaller items with a particularly good choice of ceramics, textiles and small pieces of furniture.’
‘This shop is a real resource for anyone who wants to delve into vintage fashion,’ says Katherine. ‘Fashion enthusiasts will find an impressive range of stock running from the 1920s to the 1980s. You’re almost certain to find what you want as well as a period accessory to match.’ Established for 20 years, it is one of the largest vintage clothes shops on the south coast.
The Old Flight House
Ten years ago, Sally and Michael Dunseath opened The Old Flight House in a 6,000- square-foot former RAF building. They’ve worked hard to make it light, airy and welcoming. ‘We want people to be able to imagine exactly how things will look in their own homes,’ explains Michael. Their 75 dealers aim for a high standard, setting up their pitches as elegant room sets and making their cabinets sparkle. The emphasis is on decorative antiques and furniture, often in chalky tones, with a French country style – think statement mirrors, stone urns, and farmhouse tables.
Old Barn Antiques Centre
‘Great things often come in small packages,’ says Katherine. ‘Though it’s diminutive in size, Old Barn Antiques is packed with goodies from mouth-watering blue and white china to quirky first editions and vintage toys. It’s a proper old antiques shop where you can hunt to your heart’s content.’
‘This is one my top little black book shops for mid-century modern and retro,’ says Mark. ‘Over the past five years, Ben has grown it, starting from what was essentially a corridor, to become a larger shop hidden at the back of the packed and stacked RG Scott Furniture Mart, which is itself well worth a browse.’
Christique Antiques Centre
Mark calls this antiques centre ‘a sparkling jewel’. It is located on West Street in Dorking, which is famous for its antiques shops. ‘What marks Christique out is the not only the high level of quality and variety from more than 60 dealers,’ he says, ‘but the way it’s so beautifully displayed and merchandised. It’s just so easy to imagine these things in your own home.’
‘Stuart and Kiel who run Fontaine are veritable alchemists when it comes to display,’ says Mark. ‘Their innate skill and eye at sourcing objects of beauty and desire are unparalleled, but it’s what they do with it that marks them out as truly top-flight dealers and decorators.’ By appointment only.
Station Mill Antiques Centre
On the edge of Chipping Norton, this busy Cotswolds centre is popular with discerning locals and out-of-town visitors who come to mooch the well-styled space. Across the two floors and 10,000 or so square feet, there’s an enormous range of styles and periods, but the main focus is on pieces that will fit effortlessly with modern interiors – Art Deco leather club chairs, bright cushions, old French linen and enamelware, and cheerful 20th-century oil paintings.
Highly-respected dealer Max Rollitt (who has also begun to dip his toes into design) is well known for combining quality pieces with extraordinary textiles, unusual ceramics, pictures and lighting. ‘Instead of upping sticks to London, Max has stayed put in his barn in Lovington where he displays his finds in an equally ravishing setting,’ says Nicky. The showroom is open by appointment only.
Glass etc is Britain’s largest antique and vintage glass shop. ‘If you stopped to count the range of glasses, decanters, decorative 20th-century vases and other vessels in Andy McConnell’s shop, you could be there for a year or more!’ says Katherine. ‘It’s a one-stop shop for antique and vintage glass that’s both home-grown and European. Andy has a special interest in Scandinavian production so you’ll find plenty from the key factories here, along with my favourite firm, Whitefriars.’
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Both Mark and Sophie nominated Lorfords, which occupies two cavernous aircraft hangars at Babdown Airfield. ‘Lorfords has become the place to source decorative antiques, with buyers coming from across the world,’ says Mark. ‘It‘s filled with exotic and stunning pieces,’ adds Sophie. ‘The staff are really helpful if you are looking for something specific.’ There is also a Lorfords in Tetbury itself.
The interior of a stunning old Georgian town house is a hub for decorative European antiques and elegant vintage pieces. ‘There’s a great collection of classical furniture,’ says Sophie, ‘and fantastic paintings and sculptures too.’
Below Stairs of Hungerford
‘Filled with Victorian kitchenalia and high quality household goods, Below Stairs has a wealth of domestic antiques,’ says Sophie. ‘There are spectacular antique doorbells, doorknobs, knockers, taps and fireguards.’ Stock is largely 19th and 20th-century and the stock runs over five themed showrooms.
Top Banana Antiques Mall
Tucked away in the antiquing hub of Tetbury is this arcade of dealers. You can easily spend a morning browsing its eclectic mix, including furniture, paintings, prints, china, kitchenalia, clothing and antiquarian books. ‘This is a great
arcade with a lots of little dealers,’ says Sophie. ‘Don’t miss the vintage textiles on the first floor.’
The Malthouse Antiques, Arts and Artifacts
This atmospheric antiques centre fills two floors of a former malthouse – unusually for the local area it’s built from granite blocks, probably salvaged from the ruins of nearby Narberth Castle. Some of the 30-plus dealers celebrate Welsh heritage, with vibrant tapestry blankets and pottery from Portmeirion, Ewenny or Gwili, however you’re equally likely to find a sumptuous Oriental rug or Art Deco cocktail cabinet.
Outside at the back are garden antiques including vintage tools, galvanised wash tubs and watering cans – plus a pretty selection of herbaceous plants and perennials, all grown in an environmentally friendly way.
Hungerford Antiques Arcade
One of the first antiques centres in the UK, Hungerford Arcade proves experience pays, and is home to over 100 dealers. ‘A wonderful place for a rummage,’ says Sophie, ‘with dealers selling everything from silverware to timepieces as well as some proper bric-a-brac.’
Hay Antique Market
Among Hay-on-Wye’s many bookshops are a smattering of top-quality antiques shops too. ‘Hay is such a sweet town to wander round in and my favourite place is Hay Antique Market, a really lovely little arcade with vintage treasures and antique goodies,’ says Sophie. ‘I always find something I fall in love with.’
What Katy Did
‘Who doesn’t love to bring a ray of vintage into your home with some fabulous retro styling?’ says Katherine. Organised into room sets, What Katy Did is more vintage experience than shop. ‘Here you’ll find it all, from a 1970s fondue set to a pair of 1950s curtains. There’s always a good dollop of mid-century furniture too.’
Drew Pritchard is one of the country’s best known antiques dealers by virtue of his eternally-popular TV programme, Salvage Hunters. His warehouse is, as you’d expect, a wealth of quirky finds, solidly-made furniture and other, mostly British, pieces. The business is about to move to a new space so it’s worth making a call in advance when planning a visit.
Tim Bowen Antiques
LAPADA member Tim Bowen specialises in Welsh and English country furniture and folk art, which he sells from a gallery in Ferryside on the mouth of the River Towy. Everything from spongeware pepper pots to beautifully-patinated Welsh stick chairs to cricket tables and oak chests are on offer.
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In a picture book thatched cottage in County Fermanagh, Rosemary Cathcart curates and sells a stunning collection of antique and vintage lace, wedding headpieces, fans, dresses, embroidery and cards. It’s a fairytale world. Next door you’ll find Rosemary’s lace museum, which showcases around 700 exhibits.
David Wolfenden Antiques
In an expansive showroom just off the main road between Antrim and Ballymena you’ll find a hoard of high quality walnut, mahogany and rosewood furniture. Other than his specialism in wooden antiques, David also holds a stock of fine porcelain, silver, jewellery and the occasional piece of Clarice Cliff, which all makes for some pleasurable browsing.