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Harley Antiques Geoffrey Harley

The death has been announced of Geoffrey Harley, Harley Antiques of Corsham, Wiltshire on 23 February, 2016 at the Brunel Nursing Home, Box, Wiltshire.  Geoffrey was 82 and had been suffering from Parkinson’s Disease for eleven years.  His partner of 20 years, Mark Rippon, was by his side.

The funeral will take place on Wednesday 9 March at Semington Crematorium, Wiltshire at 2.30 pm and afterwards at The Beechfield Hotel, Melksham.  All enquiries to: FW Jones Funeral Directors Chippenham, tel: 01249 847520.  Donations in lieu of flowers if desired to Parkinsons 

Geoffrey born in London and was the son of a foreman in a South London brewery.  He attended school in Dulwich.  His career in the antiques trade started with a temporary stand in Portobello Market and he decided to stay on and took over Shaw Taylor’s stand when he went off to work on a TV project.   He moved from Portobello to an arch at Loughborough Junction, Camberwell and gradually expanded into 3 arches.  His career in London culminated in owning the South London Antiques Centre including a tea room which his sister supplied the cakes for, a small boutique type shop in Dulwich Village and one on Fulham Road near Chelsea Football Club.

In 1977, against all advice from his peers who thought he was mad to leave, he moved out of London to The Comedy, a large country house near Christian Malford in Wiltshire, where he consolidated the London shops into 9 showrooms in the converted stable blocks on the estate.  The Comedy was the perfect location for easy access to the M4 motorway making it an ideal stop for dealers and runners. His clients included members of the Royal Family, well known show business names, every major American dealer and the cream of English trade.

He made a firm commitment to the local area when he moved to Wiltshire and made a point of introducing himself to everyone in the local trade in Bath. 

Robin Coleman, founder of the Bath Decorative Antiques Fair and a dealer in Bath since the late 1960s:  “I remember when Geoff arrived on the scene in 1977.  Bath was already becoming a magnet for the then vibrant American export market but Geoff provided the gilt on the gingerbread because his illustrious export clients followed him from London to The Comedy and the area became the UK hotspot for American trade in the UK during the 80s and 90s.

His then business at The Comedy was unique in the scale and breadth of what he stocked.  He did not just have one pair of good Kashmiri candlesticks or 1 beautiful naive sampler, he would have 250! Everything that the American trade bought was there in volume artfully displayed in 9 showrooms in the converted stable blocks next to The Comedy in Wiltshire.

In my opinion Geoff was a huge asset to the Bath trade – he did all his buying locally and everyone benefited – the trade, the restorers and the local transporters.  He was greeted like a God in the then nationally famous Guinea Lane Antiques Market early every Wednesday morning because he spent so much money and cut such a dash. 

He was though, very much a trade person and although he had a very luxurious lifestyle and his clients numbered Royalty and many well known film and stage stars of the day, he always looked after those who looked after him and his Christmas parties for the trade were legendary gatherings with free flowing champagne and good food and it was one of the rare times when all the local trade could mix together."

Editor’s note: “I remember Geoffrey in the heyday of the decorative trade in the 90s as something of a Godfather figure.  He would sweep into Pennard House Antiques, where a group of well known decorative dealers, Martin Dearden, Robin Coleman, Denny Leroy of Ark Angel, Robert Pugh, Michael Holt, John Davies and Gene Foster, shared a large decorative collective.  He always travelled with his entourage, clip board in hand and would usuallly buy a huge amount from the group and his operatives would run round ticketing and packing, then he would always pay for it on the day, and sweep off but not before having his coffee and Chocolate Digestive biscuits which he expected to be there each time!

A member of that original entourage, Lee Adams, worked for him to the end and was his right hand man for the shop, house and garden.

Like the Godfather, he was something of a benefactor to the local trade and I know of a number of occasions when he bailed various people out financially when they needed help.  He also made his wonderful house in Portugal available to anyone who wanted to use it – and we all did.

He kept the most beautiful garden and aconites were his absolute favourite – it is sad to think they are flowering this week when he has passed away.”  Gail McLeod