The family firm, now headed by Simon Evans, runs the biannual Peterborough Festival of Antiques with the next one on Easter Friday and Saturday, March 30-31.
Looking back to those early days at Melton Mowbray and the other fairs, Simon said: “As Bob’s son, aged nine, I would help set out the stands and chairs and help traders to carry in their stock. I remember being given a huge Arabic sword complete with a dagger set as thanks for my help. How things change regards health and safety.
“During the 1980s we started the furniture hire company BE Event Hire. It was when I was delivering tables to the East of England Showground for the large Four In One Antiques Fairs, who ran fairs across the country, including at the showground, as well as Edinburgh, Warwick, Derby and Kent, that I realised what a great venue it was.”
Bob was not interested in taking it on, as he was nearing retirement, but when he fully retired in 1994 Simon mentioned to the showground that if they were ever without an antiques fair that he would be willing to have a go. In 1998 he got the call.
Lost a fortune
Simon added: “Eighteen months later, after the first two hugely popular festivals, I still wondered what we were doing as although they were very well attended and successful for traders, we had thrown everything we had at it in order to make it a success and lost a fortune.”
Peterborough Festival of Antiques launched in 1999 with just 550 exhibitors. The upcoming event has 2000-plus exhibitors with bookings still coming in three weeks before the festival.
Four buildings and an indoor atrium area already have 1600 standholders as well as 40 marquees, which, said Evans, “are so popular that we have had to adapt the whole of the outdoor space to accommodate the new square layout”.
Nineteen years after the launch – and with the benefits that a biannual attraction such as this brings, with dealers often setting aside stock for it and now with 15,000 visitors per festival – Simon’s initial reservations have proved unfounded as this event continues to grow.
“We are a tight-knit team headed by Kris Hart, my events manager who has been with the company for 14 years, myself and now my son Luke Evans and my partner Margaret Adams.
“My initial enthusiasm for the showground as a venue has proved to be absolutely right.”