Antique Markets and Centres

The research for the antique dealer project is progressing, and we’re now very near to launching the interactive project website – keep your eyes open!

One interesting ‘theme’ for further investigation that has emerged during these early phases of the research is the development of ‘antique centres’ and ‘antique markets’. They are now such a familiar sight of course, with places such as Helmswell, in Lincolnshire (the largest ‘antique centre’ in Europe) but our research is starting to uncover the significance of a particular moment in the development of antique centres in Britain.  It seems that the mid to late 1960s saw an increasing number of antique centres appearing all over the country. The Soho Antique Arcade, for example, which opened in in St. Anne’s Court, off Wardour Street in London in 1966 – see below.

Soho Arcade

There were earlier arcades of course, (the architectural form and commercial innovations developed from the early 19th century – particularly in London with developments such as The Burlington Arcade (1819) – and earlier Antique Centres – the London Silver Vaults in Chancery Lane is perhaps the earliest antique centre, dating back to 1885.

In terms of Antique Centres, the Red Lion Antique Market in Portobello Road was opened as early as 1951, but it seems that the 1960s was a particular period for an expansion in the antique markets and centres.  Camden Passage, London (1960), Bermondsey, London (early 1960s), Chelsea, London (1965), as well as antique markets and centres in the regions – Birmingham (1966); Bath, Guinea Lane (1968); Halifax, Yorkshire (1969); Woburn Abbey (1967) – sadly closed last year. We’ve traced more than 50 of them so far in the period 1950-1980.

The doyen of the London Antique Centres is no doubt Bennie Gray, who established his first antique centre in Bartlett Street, London in 1964.  Gray did not invent the form, but refined it prodigiously, opening The Antique Hypermarket, Kensington, (1968), Antiquarius, Chelsea (1970) Alfies, North London (1976) – (see left), Alfies Antique Market 1970s









and finally the eponymous Grays, Davies Street (1977) – (below). Grays The phenomena of antique centres and markets, their naming (they seem to borrow heavily from American culture in the 60s?), and what they tell us about the changing cultural geography of the antique trade are key questions for the project – we’ll keep you posted on further developments.


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