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ALICE ROBERTON: BATH TIME
We are delighted to welcome style journalist Alice Roberton as an occasional contributor to Antiques News & Fairs. Alice recently wrote a captivating feature for the new Reclaim Magazine on the art of shopping for antiques, vintage, salvage and decorative homewares in the beautiful city of Bath - home to 2 very well known antiques and vintage fairs - Bath Decorative Antiques Fair and Bath Vintage & Antiques Market. A resident of the Georgian city, she serves as a brilliant authority on the best places to shop, to obtain a fine Gin & Tonic, and to find a quality bed for the night.
"Growing up in Bath gave me a taste for buying antiques, vintage, reclaimed and salvage (or ‘old stuff’ as my children now describe the contents of our home). My first home in Bath was almost entirely fitted and furnished with market and reclamation yard finds – from end of pew doors as kitchen cupboards and old school chemistry lab benches as worktops, to chest of drawers in need of a good sanding down. This was the 1990s, but if I cast my mind back to my teens in the 1980s, I recall spending Saturdays trawling indoor and outdoor antiques centres and markets. Going back further still to the 1970s, I remember weekends exploring the dusty rooms of the renowned Walcot Reclamation: a place full of curious objects and fascinating people.
Bath Decorative Antiques Fair
For decades Bath was an antiques hub, boasting thirty-seven antiques shops and a plethora of regular markets, until the hard hit of 911 on the antiques trade led to less foreign buyers (especially those from the USA) and the second-hand landscape of Bath changed. The annual Bath Decorative Antiques Fair, which has just celebrated its twenty-seventh year, survived, along with a handful of others, but for a few years the antiques scene faded a little – and I spent less time treasure hunting at the weekends.
Beau Nash Scissors & Fob (Image courtesy of Alice Roberton)
The last few years however has seen a resurgence in the trade, and today Bath is once again a destination for specialist shopping, with interesting and unique shops selling quality decorative salvage, antiques, upcycled and vintage. With an abundance of cool places to stay in and around the city, a fine array of places to eat and drink, museums and galleries to visit, I would highly recommend Bath as a weekend break destination.
If you’re looking for a place to stay try The Halcyon Apartments on George Street; seven stylishly furnished apartments in the heart of the city. The owners also have a restaurant Clayton’s Kitchen at The Porter, and a cocktail bar Circo – both directly beneath the properties. Also try the boho Canary Gin Bar at No 3 Queens Street which boasts in excess of 250 different gins, including the city’s own fragrant Bath Gin. Directly opposite this ‘gin den’, and open seven days a week, is Vintage ‘n’ Rare Guitars – three floors of gleaming instruments dating from as early as the 1800s. A two-minute walk away in Kingsmead Square is cellar bar The Dark Horse, a personal favourite of mine for its simple yet opulent interior; the giant 1930s bronze eagle that takes pride-of- place on the bar is a clever piece of styling. If you fancy a country retreat The Pig Hotel a few miles out of town is a delightful bolthole for rustic luxury; the rooms unique and beautifully styled. The restaurant offers a twenty-five mile menu, which means ingredients are fresh and local or from their own kitchen garden. I’d happily live here for the rest of my days.
Off the Wall Shelves (Image courtesy of Alice Roberton)
If your visit includes the first or last Sunday of the month then visit the Bath Vintage & Antiques Market at Green Park. The iron-vaulted canopy of what was once a grand terminus station, built in 1870, now provides an impressive setting to shop for vintage clothes, records, furniture, homewares and up-cycled furniture. My recent buys include a chrome 1950s stool and a gorgeous powder blue painted birdcage.
A short walk away, nestled between the iconic Royal Crescent and The Circus, you’ll find St Margaret’s Buildings – a little haven of gorgeous shops. Immerse yourself in Bath Old Books, a specialist bookshop which is reputed to have a fine section on architecture, amongst other subjects. Nearby – and still in St Margaret’s Buildings – is Homefront Interiors, a newly opened interiors shop selling a mix of old and new. Directly opposite is the perfect coffee or light lunch stop the Foodie Bugle, which triples up as a café, grocers and homeware store. The delights of the basement offer up metal dustpans and wooden brush sets, balls of string, old ladders, French crockery, vintage Kilner jars, linens and cookery books, whilst the ground floor has big crates of local fruit and veg and delicious platters of sweet and savoury food.
Royal Crescent (Image courtesy of Alice Roberton)
Further down is Heavens Bazaar, a second-hand designer clothes shop with a good vintage section; it’s the place to find knockout pieces from the 1920s right up to the 2000s. Across the way is a ‘mantiques’ paradise, Off The Wall Antiques, a den of intrigue selling wares such as taxidermy, leather luggage, old fairground signage, tribal pieces and punchy art.
If you leave St Margaret’s Buildings at the Brock Street end and take a left you will shortly be dazzled by Beau Nash, an antique silver specialist with a funky twist. The shop is a well-polished treat for those who love silver and is run with passion by Duncan Campbell, an Antiques Roadshow expert. If you are looking for a rare spoon or an entire silver dinner service, then this is the place for you. Look downstairs if you really want a larger scale treat, as here you will find sparkling port-hole mirrors, gleaming Rolls Royce parts made into glass-top tables and old shop-front bracket signs – the giant scissors and gold pocket watch were particularly impressive.
Turn right out of Beau Nash to admire The Royal Crescent, or left to head into town, passing The Circus – a segmented circle of townhouses built circa 1768. Pop into Fashion Museum Bath at the Assembly Rooms around the corner and be blown away by world-class collections. The exhibition ‘A History of Fashion in 100 Objects’ runs until January 2018 and is well worth a look.
Exit into Alfred Street and take a right into Bartlett Street, home to The Bartlett Street Antiques Market which has been there for as long as I can remember. Back in the day there was also The Great Western Antiques Market, paradise for a wannabe new-romantic girl of the 1980s to buy black dinner jackets and dress shirts. The real treat on this street (pedestrians only) nowadays is Felix Lighting Specialists, a museum-esque shop with wall-to-wall and floor-to- ceiling illuminations, from Paris Street lights and New York Walk Don’t Walk signs, to German warship searchlights and former Ritz Hotel table lamps. It is a sight to behold.
Traders at Bath V&A Market (Image courtesy of Alice Roberton)
A couple of streets away on Broad Street is Suzannah, a decorative antiques shop and warren of curios, selling pretty fabrics, quilts, lace and French furniture. This cosy, whitewashed shop has been going for around twenty-five years and is a must-see.
Turn left out of the shop and left again onto Walcot Street, now known as Bath’s artisan quarter. The area has some great second-hand and home shops, along with independent cafés. The recently refitted Sam’s Kitchen offers a divinely healthy menu and is stylishly decorated with salvaged items. Head on towards the London Road area and en-route in Cleveland Place you’ll find Walcot Upholstery next to mid-century art and furniture shop Pencil Tree which offers up a bounty of Ercol furniture, Conran chairs, Danish sideboards, lighting, funky art and much more. Owners Kirstie and Paul Jackson also offer a specialist service of furnishing and styling holiday lets in and around the area with their signature style of bright colours and classic design.
In total contrast next door is Owl in The Ivy offering reclaimed homewares and things of natural beauty. Think wooden bowls, grain sacks, galvanised buckets, dark old mirrors, chipped paint, and a smattering of unusual Moroccan antiques.
Continue along the London Road and at Walcot Buildings you’ll find a host of quirky shops offering homewares and the unusual. Pop into Michael & Jo Saffell, who’ve traded from the same location since 1981, and marvel at their incredible display of British tins. Further on you’ll find a fine selection of decorative antiques at Simon Jackson and just a couple of doors along is the Old Bank Antiques Centre which hosts around seven varying traders.
Bath, in a nutshell, is a one-stop heritage shop for those that appreciate all that is old and beautiful – a great reason to call it home."