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At that time the antiques centre phenomenon in the provinces had become more than a little jaded, and many centres were indeed depressing places with a desolate ambience and down-market stock.

But with his first Great Grooms centre at Parbrook, Billingshurst, West Sussex, Mr Podger proved just how vital a part of dealing a centre with a well maintained building with top dealers and vetted stock can be.
He established a template for the modern up-market centre.

The success at Billingshurst was echoed when he established Great Grooms at Hungerford and James Podger had grand plans for a chain of branded, fine centres in prime locations.

He has pursued this aim, but found the difficulty was location. Now, he is back in business with a new centre having purchased Hampshires of Dorking. This is an established dealing business with a reputation for quality 18th and 19th century furniture.

It has been going for 35 years and on the retirement of its owner and founder Peter Foster, a friend of James Podger, the latter decided to take it over and, without changing its character, turn the shop into a classy centre. It is already open for business at 50-52 West Street, Dorking but will have an official opening in the Spring.

Unlike his other centres Mr Podger is maintaining the name Hampshires of Dorking, although it will be under the overall Great Grooms branding.

Great Grooms centres host around 50 dealers but at Hampshire’s there will be an optimum of around 30 and Mr Podger insists they will be top notch.

In hard times well-run antiques centres have much appeal for the trade and James Podger’s ambition of an expanding chain of centres aimed at top ranking dealers seems to be working well.