Maybe I’m biased, but I find it hard to think of a more diverse, passionate, interesting and occasionally downright bonkers bunch of people than antiques dealers.
Despite little experience with the trade
beforehand, since moving home to Cothay Manor a few years ago to
help her parents establish antiques fairs at the medieval Somerset
house, Charlie Campbell has been won
over by the eccentric, passionate nature of those in the
Charlie, along with her ex-Army husband
Jamie and her parents, Alastair and Mary-Anne Robb, is about to
open the seventh Cothay Manor Fine Art, Decorative and
Antiques Fair from May 24-26 at Greenham, near
A few weeks ago, Charlie emailed to tell me
about an encounter with one of the exhibitors in the run-up to the
fair: "Guy Brigden (of The
Design Shrine), one of life's rarities, turned up on my
door, dressed in his high-vis jacket, fairly unshaven and dirty and
looked as though he had just stepped off a building site.
"In actual fact, it turned out that he had.
While talking to me, in true builder-cum-antiques dealer style he
pulled out a wad of cash to pay for the stand that he is taking at
the fair. It was 5 o'clock and I was anxious to finish the work day
and start the 'being mother and having to cook children's tea' day,
but I found that I couldn't get away. This was because he was
beginning to draw me in."
Guy told Charlie that his love of iridescent
glass, in which he trades, started when he caught a perch on a
childhood fishing trip with his uncle and was fascinated by the
fish's iridescent scales, which he thought looked like glass in the
At 25, he bought his first piece of glass
and, now 45, he is a qualified fish farmer, builder, collector and
dealer in Art Nouveau glass.
Now 40 herself, Charlie says she has found
her own passion - the house, grounds, antiques fairs and other
events that make "this beautiful old place work for itself".
She's also inspired by her mother, who is a
keen collector, some-time antique dealer and full-time gardener,
who she says is "the most energetic 70-something I know" and lives
by the motto 'Thrifty till Fifty, Spend till the End'. "If that
doesn't spur you on I don't know what will...!" says Charlie.
As you may have guessed, the Cothay events
are low-key, family-run events, and the next has 32 exhibitors,
many of them local West Country names and with a bias towards oak,
folk and country pieces, some of whom have been here since the
first event in 2010.
But there are also four first-timers -
Country Oak Antiques (Yorkshire),
Red Fox (Dorset) with antique and modern
hand-knitted rugs and hand-made furniture, S.A.S.
Antiques (Somerset) with a mix of antiques, paintings,
glass and textiles and Susan Rafferty, a Somerset
dealer in vintage furs.