If you love antiques shopping, England is a great place to visit. And these are some of the best towns and villages to visit for a good old rummage.
Antiques shopping is addictive. Once you've got the bug, no vacation or holiday getaway is complete without some time spent bargaining over antiques and collectibles or poking around in the bric-a-brac. And one little antique shop - no matter how full of treasures - is never as good as a whole street of them, lined up one after the other, or a market with more dealers than you can possibly visit in less than a whole day.
These towns and villages in England are devoted to antiques and collectibles, with concentrations of antiques dealers and shops dense enough to please the most avid antiques hunter. This, by no means comprehensive list, represents my personal favorites and I'll be adding to it as I discover more.
Battlesbridge Antiques Centre
The antiques center is collection of buildings, including a former granary and a range of barns, sheds and cottages, open every day from about 10am to 5:30pm. At any one time, at least 80 antiques dealers trade in a very wide range of items including stamps, jewelry, ephemera, furniture, vintage clothing, lamps, music boxes and musical instruments and, yes, plain old fashioned dusty junk. Paradise.
This isn't the sort of place where posh interior decorators find elegant 18th century Italian furniture. It's a real grab bag of antiques. But there are real treasures to be found, like the convertible, art deco occasional table I took home for thirty quid.
Where: Essex, about 40 miles from London, midway between Chelmsford and Southend beside the A130. The village takes its name from a family named Bataille who once looked after the bridge over the River Crouch beside the Granary.
By Train: Take the Southend Line from Liverpool Street Station in London and change at Wickford for Southminster. Battlesbridge is the first stop on that line. The centre is about a third of a mile from the station.Check National Rail Enquiries for times and prices.
Food and Drink: Confirmed shophounds need sustenance. There are one or two small, basic cafes scattered among the traders but most people head for the on-site, traditional pub, The Barge Inn, for pub grub, beers and wines.
If you really like to immerse yourself in antiques, you could spend days pouring over wonderful things in this traditional English market town about halfway between London and Bristol. There are at least 18 antique shops, several large, multi-dealer antiques centers and regularly held flea markets and antiques fairs.
Start in the Hungerford Antiques Arcade. This mega mall of stuff was voted Britain's Best Antiques Center in 2012 by readers of the BBC's homes and antiques magazine. It hosts at least 100 dealers of antiques and collectibles, at 26-27 High Street and on Wednesdays, there's a photogenic outdoor market right outside. At The Emporium , a blue and white Victorian building at 112 High Street, 60 dealers set out their wares and at Great Grooms on Charnam Street, just outside the town center, dealers spread out over three stories in a beautiful Queen Anne town house.
If flea markets are more your thing, they hold one in the town hall on the first Wednesday of every month one Sunday a month. And the town hall also hosts a full fledged Antiques fair on the last Saturday of every month.
Where: Hungerford is just off the M4 about 67 miles west of London or 57 miles east of Bristol. It's a handy for antiquing if you are planning a visit to Bath or heading out to see the prehistoric sites at Avebury and Silbury Hill.
By Train: Trains from London Paddington leave hourly, throughout the day for Hungerford. The trip takes just over an hour.
Food and Drink: As you might expect of a busy market town, there are plenty of little cafes and sandwich shops to pop into. Try the coffee shop at the Three Swans for really nice cakes in a historic hostelry. Eliane at 24 High Street, aims to cater for vegans, vegetarians, gluten-free and allergen-free diets as well as providing for confirmed and unrepentent carnivors. And they somehow manage to do this without being cranky about it. Plan on heading for lunch early here because a line forms outside.
Petworth, West Sussex
Petworth House and Park, in the South Down's National Park near the South Downs Way, is one of England's top stately homes. It has the National Trust's most important collection of paintings, including 19 Turners. Many of the Turners were painted when the artist was resident in this West Sussex house under the patronage of the Earl of Egremont.
Visitors to this important house may not be aware that the adjacent town of Petworth is often named as one of England's top towns for antique hunters. It has at least 35 antique shops and 100 dealers, offering country furniture along with very high quality UK, English and Continental Antiques. Most of the shops are members of Petworth Antique and Decorative Arts, which publishes a useful street map of dealers on its website. Look, in particular, for Tudor Rose Antiques, housed in a 500-year-old, red brick building.
Where: West Sussex, about 50 miles South West of London on the A272, 5.5 miles west of Pulborough.
By Train: Trains from Waterloo Station in London call in at Haslemere and trains from London Victoria stop at Pulborough - either is about 20 minutes from Petworth. Local bus services from Worthing to Midhurst stop at Pulborough Station.
Food and Drink: Quick, casual dining in West Sussex, an affluent residential area, is always a bit of a challenge. There are a couple of Indian restaurants and a Chinese takeaway in the center of town as well as a small local cafe or two. The National Trust restaurant and coffee shop at Petworth House are open to the public until 5 p.m. without purchasing a ticket to the house and garden.
Tetbury is at the heart of royal territory in the Cotswolds. Highgrove, the home of Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales is in the countryside outside the town. Garden tours of Highgrove can be booked in advance. Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, lives nearby as well.
The town first made its fortunes in the Cotwolds wool trade and can boast a 1300 year history. A number of interesting landmarks and buildings dot Tetbury's historic center, in particular its striking, 350 year old market hall. Other local attractions include Chavenage, an Elizabethan house open to the public, and the Westonbirt Arboretum, keepers of more than 18,000 named specimen trees.
This thriving market town is also the capital of the Cotswolds when it comes to antiques, with about 20 antique stores and antiques centers in which to browse and buy.
Where: Tetbury is about 105 miles from London in the heart of the Gloucestershire Cotswolds. It's at least a two and a half hour drive from London on the M4 and local roads, so if you are planning to shop till you drop and visit a few sights as well, staying in the area makes sense.
By Train: The nearest train station is Stroud, 11 miles away. Trains from London Paddington take an hour and a half. Plan on taking a taxi from the train station because local bus services require multiple changes and take forever. Parts of the Cotswolds are like the Los Angeles of England - you just need a car.
Food and Drink Tetbury is a busy market town in the midst of some fine agricultural country so there's plenty of fresh local food around in a variety of cafes, pubs and restaurants. Look for produce, prepared products and meats from "The Duchy", that's the Prince of Wales' own organic food business. The Duchy Home Farm is just down the road on the Highgrove estate.
Fans of The Fabulous Baker Brothers (cook book and television program) should stop in at Hobbs House Bakery to buy some bread and local produce. Tom and Henry Herbert are part of the five generations of Herberts who have run this family business. If you visit on the weekend, they run a bistro from 7p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.
Honiton in Devon
Honiton was once known as the lacemakers town. Though the cottage industry has mostly disappeared, individual lacemakers still take on private commissions. Crisp white Honiton bobbin lace has adorned Royal baby's christening dresses since Queen Victoria's day.
Today, though, this Devon town is famous for antiques. When I mentioned to my hotel host in a nearby village that I was heading for Honiton next, he said "Ah yes, the town with the High Street lined with antique shops, from one end to the other."
That was no exaggeration. Honiton has about 85 antique dealers, operating from some 17 locations on and just off the High Street. There are also two quality auction houses where you can pop in to see what's coming up in future sales or sit in on a country auction yourself. The only place you'll see the famous lace, though, is in the town's All Hallows Museum of Lace and Local Antiquities.
Where: Honiton is about x miles from Central London and just to the east of Dartmoor. It's located at the crossroads of several major routes, A30, A35, A373 and A375, close to the M5 toward London and other motor routes in all directions. It's about 150 miles from London on the A303 and the A30, or 25 miles from the Cathedral city of Exeter via the A30 and the M5.
By Train: There's hourly direct service from London Waterloo throughout the day with round trips, purchased in advance as separate one-way tickets, about £26 in 2016.
More Antique Villages Worth Visiting
I'm working my way around the country, stopping in antique shops, markets and villages whenever I'm able. Meanwhile - though I haven't visited all of these, the buzz is that they're worth a look in :
- Lostwithiel, named Cornwall's "Antique Town" in 2004
- Leeks in Staffordshire
- Margate, the Kent seaside resort modeled on Coney Island is an antiques hunting up-and-comer.
- And last but not least The Lanes in Brighton - a really great place to shop with gay abandon for antique jewelry, Art Deco bronzes and lots more.