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The setting for an antiques fair was perfect: a sprawling park amid the rolling Sussex downs, an elegant, unfussy 17th century stately home, an antiques town nearby and bursts of warm sunshine. 

More than 50 exhibitors, the majority selling fine art, jewellery, furniture and decorative objects, were in upbeat mood at the Petworth Park Antiques & Fine Art. 

That mood was still intact on the final day, Sunday May 12, in the hours after a criminal gang robbed the fair's safe, having driven across the expansive park at around 3am on Sunday morning to ram into the marquee. 

The sense of shock amongst exhibitors post-raid was mitigated by admiration at the way the aftermath was handled  by fair organisers, security and local police  with Ingrid Nilson, director of The Antiques Dealers Fair Limited (ADFL), singled out for her sangfroid in the face of such a challenge. 

“Ingrid was on the spot as soon as it happened and so were the police," said Emma Duveen of Duveen Art & Antiques. "Exhibitors felt incredibly supported by Ingrid and her team throughout the next day."

Duveen spoke for many in the trade when she observed that such raids were "an occupational hazard of the business we're in".

Early buying

Despite the raid. exhibitors and buyers ATG spoke to judged the event a success, with sales recorded at all price levels and across specialisms.

On Saturday when ATG arrived, visitors were already leaving with purchases half an hour into the fair at 11am, with the car park filling up nicely. 

The Petworth Antiques Market was stalling out at Petworth fair for the third time. Kathryn Mandry, the centre's manager, listed the fair's attractions: "Lots of visitors, including many married couples, who can park free of charge, in a gorgeous environment, buggies and disabled people catered for and dogs welcome if held in their owners' arms," she noted. "Who can’t come to this event? It is a genuinely lovely pitch."

Ingrid Nilson consciously involves traders from Petworth, still a significant antiques destination for private buyers. Down in the town, the Petworth Antiques Market was hosting a yard sale to coincide with the Petworth fair. “We’re trying to show our ‘scruffy’ side and our refined side at the same time!” said Mandry. 

For Dorset antiquarian horologist Richard Price, the Petworth fair was a nice segue from standing at the BADA fair in March. New customers at the London fair had followed Price down to Petworth. "I sold four clocks on the opening Friday," Price told ATG. "Three were brand new clients - which is why we do fairs, after all - and the fourth had been introduced at the BADA fair."

John Stanley of Leicestershire-based Blackbrook Gallery believes the Petworth fair to be "one of the best we do" and its location one hour from London a key draw. "Exhibiting at London fairs is a worry, as it's expensive and you have to sell a lot or you lose money," he told ATG.

"It’s the second time we've done this fair and it’s the only one I know with really high quality stands, a waiting list and located in a geographical hub where there is a lot of disposable income."

Onwards and upwards to next year's Petworth fair, as one exhibitor put it to ATG