Jump on the Tube and exit at Notting Hill Gate, follow the crowds and you will arrive at one of London’s most visited attractions. It’s a street. Portobello Road. Anyone not heard of it? Anyone else visited there? Seen bumbling Hugh Grant’s movie Notting Hill? Here’s our short review: if you are looking to buy antiques or vintage or collectibles for resale, go elsewhere.
We arrived early to beat the crowds on a Saturday, which we had heard were tremendous. That is an understatement. At 8 a.m., we had the south antique section of the street to ourselves and we started off by wandering in and out of the private small over-priced stores that line both sides of the road. We casually browsed tables set up on the sidewalks and tented booths that set up in the street.
Then we ventured into the antiquated antique stalls built into rooms of tiny buildings. Close your eyes and imagine…..You’ve entered into a retail building, but instead of open shelving and displays, there are small glass closets and each of these closets are crammed with grandma’s finest crap, from floor to ceiling. Next to the first closet is another closet and another and so on. Besides the stuff, there is a person sitting on a tiny chair reading the daily newspaper. No eye contact, although they may decide to break their silence and talk with the person on the chair opposite them. There is room for one person to carefully walk down the hall between the closets. This is not a comfortable way to shop if you are claustrophobic or carrying a child. Follow the hall as it turns the corner and exits back onto the street. There are many of these buildings and we went into each of them.
By 11 a.m., Portobello Road is full of people, wall to wall people. Casually strolling is now off-limits. The throng of tourists pushes you down the road. Think about if Madison Square Gardens had only one exit and everyone was using it to go in and out at the same time. Chaos!
The road itself has developed specific sections. The south part is the antiques section, followed by food and groceries. We thought there would be flower stalls, but there weren’t many, maybe due to it being October. The food stalls were the most interesting. All types of international open air cooking were offered. The Spanish paella smelled out of the world, but we were unwilling to eat and try to walk at the same time. Then there are house ware vendors and rows and rows of vintage or simply old clothing. At the most northern end, regular people put out secondhand garage sale items. At the end, you turn around and let the mob push you back to south of the road which empties out at Notting Hill Gate.
By now, everyone is looking for a place to eat and all the eateries are full of stressed out foreign people. Luckily, we found a sushi restaurant, where we could unwind and recuperate. We did buy a few items and got to visit with a fellow Transferware Collectors Club member who sells from a double-wide glass closet. He has amazing transferware.
So, we’ve been there and done that. We’ve checked it off our bucket list. No treats on Portobello Road, but the real treat is that we are living our dream and shopping for antiques in England and the rest of Europe to bring some great pieces back to our friends in Springfield Missouri.
After we finished shopping at the Festival of Antiques in Peterborough, we headed to Stamford to check out an antique centre, where we bought a few pieces for the fall container. As we wrapped up our business, we decided to head a mile down the road to eat lunch at Burghley House. Because that’s just what you do.
Built by William Cecil, Lord High Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I, between 1555 and 1587, Burghley House is one of the best examples of Elizabethan architecture in all of England. It has been the Cecil family’s home for over sixteen generations. It is currently owned by Michael Exeter, 8th Marquess of Exeter, 17th Earl of Exeter and 18th Baron Burghley. And he lives in Oregon!
We did not tour the house, but enjoyed our lunch and walking around in the park which was laid out by Capability Brown.
You might have seen Burghley before on film. In fact, it served as Lady Catherine’s home, Rosings Park, in the 2005 film version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, starring Kiera Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet.
When we are in England, we plan our trips around the ASFairs (Arthur Swallow Fairs) and IACF (International Antiques and Collectors Fairs). They are usually held during the same week. Then, we take a look at other fairs that coincide with them, either the week before or after. Our trip in October was preceded by a fair at the East of England Showground-Peterborough Arena called the Peterborough Festival of Antiques. Less than an hour and a half south of Lincoln, we decided to add this fair to our itinerary.
The Peterborough Festival of Antiques is advertised as one of the largest Antique Fairs in England and is held twice a year in March and October. It is a well-organized fair in super facilities with 1700 stall holders. Everyone was friendly and helpful. Fairs of this magnitude offer the best opportunity for those in the trade to shop for bargains. While we enjoy shopping in individual stores and centres, we find the majority of our inventory at the big fairs.
We lucked out with the weather. England was having a wonderful Indian summer and the temperatures were warm and no rain clouds in sight. We paid extra to get in early on the Friday. We were in line by 6:30 a.m. and considering that we were sleep deprived (less than 8 hours during a 48 hour period); we were ready for the gates to open at 7:00.
We learned that there are several large buildings and outdoor pitches. Since the weather was cooperating, we decided to shop outdoors first. We hunted for bargains amid the rows of tents and pitches. We found French, English, and German items. We bought well. And we weren’t the only ones. As we carried our bags out to car numerous times, we saw lots of shoppers doing the same. As usual, we played leap frog around television crews filming game shows/reality shows. They are very polite, but often in the way. And we try desperately to stay far away from the television cameras.
By the end of the day, we were exhausted and tired of all the walking and carrying. Our shipper was not with us and, boy, did we miss him. We had not even been in any of the buildings. We changed up our plans on Saturday, so we could come back the next day and shop some more. We are dedicated!
At the end of day one, we ate at The Cuckoo in Alwalton. It’s a country pub and restaurant. There’s nothing quite like a pint of Cider and a loaf of homemade artisan bread at the end of a long day of shopping.
We highly recommend the Festival of Antiques at Peterborough. Check out their website at http://www.festivalofantiques.co.uk/
We’ve had a framed historic etching of Ely Cathedral in our home since we were first married. Our etching shows the Norman building in Ely, England, before disaster struck in 1440. It’s been a goal of ours to visit the cathedral in person and in October, we finally made it there on a break during our October antique shopping trip in the UK.
We took the train to Peterborough, where we picked up our rental car and headed southeast to the town of Ely. As we approached, the Cathedral rose over the flat fens. Several rivers feed the mostly agricultural area. In fact, Ely is built on the remains of a clay-mud island. Parking in the center of town (yay for car parks!), we trekked up High Street to the Cathedral. Beautiful grounds and parklands surround the medieval buildings. It did not disappoint.
The first monastery at Ely was founded in 673 by Etheldreda, a Saxon Princess. The Vikings destroyed the monastery in 870 and the Benedictines re-founded the monastery in 970. Work began on the present building in 1080. The monastery became a Cathedral in 1109. It took one hundred years to build and other bits were added through the years. Then, the disaster!
In 1322, the Norman central tower collapsed. It was replaced with an incredible engineered timbered structure. Massive trees were used to form supports for the roof. Then, in 1440 the northwest transept, which had been structurally failing because of the land, collapsed and was removed.
The Cathedral was attacked by more than building defects. Henry VIII closed the monastery in 1539 and in 1541, all the windows were smashed and sculptures removed or defaced. Oliver Cromwell forced the closure of the Cathedral in 1653 and it remained closed until 1670. In 1699, part of the north transept collapsed.
Today, the Cathedral is a mix of styles from over 800 years. It is a beautiful holy place. A true blessing to those that visit it.
Lastly, we did manage to visit the Waterside Antiques Centre at the Wharf of the Great Ouse River and had a nice afternoon tea next door at Peacocks Tea Room.
Interesting note: Ely is probably named so because of the centuries of their massive eel fishing industry. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to try eel while we were there! We also missed the May Eel Festival. Darn.
We will be closed on Monday, September 7 for the Labor Day holiday.
We will also have limited hours this week, from Wednesday to Saturday-September 2-5, so if you are coming in from out-of-town, make sure you call and let us know you are coming to see us. Damian and Alvina will be manning the store, while we prepare to bring in some new items!!
Thanks for your interest and for helping spread the word about our store.
We like to buy folk art pieces for the store because of the combination of art and utility. At any given time, we will have hooked rugs, lace, woven pillowcases, samplers, painted paper mache’ trays, woven coverlets, and toleware for sale in the store. The last time we shopped in England, we found several examples of another folk art, the “Roses and Castles”.
“Roses and Castles” is another name for folk art made by people who sail the narrowboats on the canals in England. There are more than 2,000 miles of canals in England and Wales and it is estimated that over 35,000 narrowboats, or canal boats are sailing today. Just imagine spending the summer leisurely sailing and crisscrossing the island. As you sail, you decorate your watering can using your paints and brush.
Painting objects on the narrowboats began in the late 1800s, when many of the working boats were turned into homes, rather than for transporting cargo. Typically, the rose is the illustration used on regular household and garden objects, pails, buckets, watering cans, etc. More elaborate items have painted castles on them. The interior and exterior of the narrowboats are also painted, as are door frames and windows.
Stop by the store and take a look around at the folk art pieces. Be inspired to create or surround yourself with beautiful objects that make you smile.
We carry a great number of easels. Check out this short selection.