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The social revolution that was the Swinging Sixties gave us the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the miniskirt, the anti-nuclear movement and sexual liberation.

Innovation was in the air too on the fairs scene in the UK when Caroline Penman, now a doyenne of the circuit, launched her midweek South of England Antiques Trade Fair at the South of England Showground at Ardingly in mid-Sussex in 1969.

This is now run by IACF, which celebrates the event’s 50th anniversary at the Ardingly International Antiques & Collectors’ Fair on Tuesday and Wednesday, April 23-24, at the showground.

Indoor origins

Reminiscing back to those early days, Penman said: “We advertised the fair largely to the trade and it began solely as an indoor event, with outside pitches added in 1972. It always coincided with the first hot spell of spring around April 22 and 23.”

Penman added that “originally it was £1 per car and five turned up”. But next time it was “30 then 90, then 200 and upwards to a planning permission limit of 1000”.

For the first decade the hall was divided into 70% of the stalls with no dateline and 30% datelined and vetted.

The Abergavenny Building was added later after about 300 outside pitches were taken. Penman said: “On the night before the fair we had terrier racing in the main gangway in the building with barbecues outside.”

Entry to the trade was free from 7-9am then £3 for the public.

The event was so popular that, according to Penman, “at one stage some dealers were cutting the perimeter fence to get in at dawn so I had guards and dogs”.

Although the ‘first hot spell of spring’ for the upcoming fair on April 23-24 might be wishful thinking, IACF’s Grant Nicholas says his firm is keeping its fingers crossed weather-wise for the first of 2019’s five two-day fairs at Ardingly.

It currently has an estimated 1000 standholders, although this number is very likely to change nearer the dates.