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PETWORTH

Since the early 1970s, the charming early Georgian town of Petworth in West Sussex has been a name synonymous with antiques shopping – a key selling point being its accessibility from London. An old milestone embedded in a wall on Petworth’s New Street proudly proclaims the town’s distance from the capital city as being ’49 miles from London’.

Petworth House, among the jewels of the National Trust crown, is just a stone’s throw away but, if multiple comments on Tripadvisor are any guide, exploring the town’s 23 antiques and interiors shops and five art galleries is a central part of the town’s allure.

Nowhere has been immune from the familiar retail challenges of rising rents and shifting collecting habits. Several dealers having come and gone from the town. However, if some antiques towns may be living off former glories, not so Petworth.

Many of the shops and galleries are clustered around the town’s core of Lombard Street, Market Square and East Street. Leading dealers in their respective fields maintain a retail presence here, some of them new arrivals that suggest something of a high street revival in the antiques quarter.

Town for art

Last year, sporting and maritime art dealer Rountree Tryon Galleries closed its London premises to focus on its gallery in Petworth’s Market Square. The royal warrant holder set up in the town in 2016, with an eye on well-heeled sports enthusiasts attending horse and motor racing at nearby Goodwood and polo at Cowdray Park. Rountree joins a number of other independent commercial galleries in the town, including contemporary picture specialists Forest Gallery (Lombard Street) and Dragon Gallery (High Street) and Kevis House Gallery whose July exhibition is titled Hitchens: Alfred, Ivon, John and Simon.

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This 18th century Aubusson tapestry c.1750 depicting a peacock in front of a chateau, 8ft 4in (2.55m) wide by 7ft 6in (2.3m) long is available for £7500 from Carol Page Antiques at the 'Petworth Antiques Market'.

The Petworth Art and Antique Dealers Association, founded in the early 1980s, is currently promoting the town’s image as a centre for all periods of flat art and modern sculpture, adopting the hashtag #townforart. “With a critical mass of galleries here now, buyers don’t have to go to London to get great art,” says PADA chair Elizabeth Lee.

The town is already well known for its ‘decorative’ antiques. John Bird (recently relocated into the town centre), Heather Denham Antiques and Augustus Brandt are Petworth stalwarts while last year Tim Langston, who has a shop on Pimlico Road, acquired premises on Lombard Street and opened his second outlet here in December.

Langston says that Petworth “has a mixture of levels that appeals to collectors starting out as well as to connoisseurs,” adding that the town’s concentration of expertise (he himself studied at Sotheby’s Institute of Art) means “it’s a great training ground for buyers”.

Arts and Crafts expert Patch Rogers is among those trading from East Street’s Petworth Antiques Market, a centre with 44 dealers selling across the price and collecting spectrum, while a late 1800s former alehouse is home to antiques collective Tudor Rose Antiques & Interiors and to eight furniture, decorative and art dealers.

HUNGERFORD

The historic Berkshire market town of Hungerford, sited precisely 60 miles from London on the River Kennet and the Kennet and Avon Canal, supports three antique centres and ten other independent antiques shops.

As Travers and Katie Nettleton of the Blanchard Collective based just outside the town succinctly puts it: “The trend of online sales or buying direct from auction will ‘have its place’ but what it lacks and what we can provide is a destination where shoppers feel relaxed, can build relationships with designers and dealers and simply enjoy the thrill of antiquing.”

The Blanchard Collective, open for 10 years but now under the new ownership, is among the major draws to the town in its 21st century guide. With 18 separate dealers specialising in English and other Continental furnishings, carefully chosen to suit lovers of the traditional, the ‘modern’ and the downright quirky. Two recent items of sold stock are typical of the mixing of styles and periods: a large and impressive post-war Murano glass and chrome ceiling light by Mazzega and a fine quality early 19th century satinwood and marquetry Carlton house desk, the latter sold to enrich the drawing room of a new boutique hotel.

The Great Grooms antiques centre has been a fixture here since 1998 – the busiest and most successful of a series of deluxe showrooms that once carried the respected brand. Over three floors open 361 days a year, the Hungerford store houses the stock of over 50 specialist dealers with an emphasis on the traditional. The firm has sold no fewer than five portraits by Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) in the past nine months.

‘Ideal for a day out’

Two of the longest-standing dealers in the town are silver specialist Styles Silver and Below Stairs of Hungerford, dealer of more than 40 years selling Victorian and Edwardian antiques and bygones from period architectural fittings to advertising memorabilia and commemoratives.

Styles is today a recognised specialist in British post-war silver – the firm’s recent sales include a large suite of tableware by Stuart Devlin – but the town’s appeal remains much as it was when the firm began in 1974.

“Hungerford is the ideal location for a day out” says George Styles. “A beautiful rural market town with independent shops sited midway between London and Bath, it drawers both private and trade clients without being overrun by tourists.”

The wider area is also well-served by auction houses with both Special Auction Services (Greenham, Newbury) and Dreweatts (Donnington Priory) conducting regular specialist sales.

Fairs in focus: south-west of London

A busy schedule of regular fairs and markets takes place south-west of London including:

Sunbury Antiques Market at Kempton

Where: Kempton Park Racecourse, Staines Road East, Sunbury On Thames, TW16 5AQ

When: second and last Tuesday of every month

Next events: 25 June; 9 July

Opening hours: 6.30am - 2pm

Admission: free

Website: sunburyantiques.com/kempton

Notes: The racecourse is situated between Hampton Court Palace and Staines on the A308 and provides ample free parking. The fair accommodates over 700 inside and outside stalls.

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Tribal art dealer and BBC Antiques Roadshow pundit Ronnie Archer-Morgan is a regular at Sunbury Antiques Market's events at Kempton Park

Kempton Classic & Vintage Arms Fair

Where: Kempton Park Racecourse, Staines Road East, Sunbury On Thames, TW16 5AQ

When: At least three times a year

Next event: Sunday 30 June

Opening hours: 9:30am - 2:30pm

Admission: £5

Website: kemptonclassicarmsfair.co.uk

Notes: Exhibitors include gun, antique flintlock, percussion weapons, sword and militaria traders displaying anything from cap badges to cannons.

Sunbury Antiques Homes & Interiors Fair

Where: Sandown Park Racecourse, Portsmouth Road, Esher, KT10 9AJ

When: on five Tuesdays and two Sundays during the year

Next event: 15 September (Sunday)

Opening hours: Tuesday 7am-1pm ; Sunday 10am-3pm

Admission: free

Website: sunburyantiques.com/sandown

Notes: There is ample free parking at the racecourse. Stalls offer antique, retro and vintage goods including furniture, gold and silverware, jewellery, ceramics, clocks and paintings.

Continuity Fairs: Epsom Racecourse Antiques And Collectables Fair

Where: Epsom Racecourse, Epsom Downs, Epsom, Surrey KT18 5LQ 

When: Monthly (January to November)

Next event: 23 July

Opening hours: 9am - 3pm

Admission: £3

Website: continuityfairs.co.uk/epsom

Notes: The Epsom fairs have up to 200 stands both inside and outside. The inside stands are all on the ground floor in one large exhibition hall with easy access for loading. Free parking which can accommodate 1000 vehicles.