In the crowded ecosystem of outdoor antiques markets, the bi-monthly Kempton Park run by Sunbury Antiques Market has carved a strong niche. Now in its 40th year, the event is aimed at trade but attracts private buyers too, no doubt drawn by the absence of an admission fee and the free parking.
The range of objects on offer is also appealing, private buyer Jenette Hart tells ATG, which spans Victorian to 1970s furniture, silver, jewellery, ceramics, vintage clothing and industrial goods.
Tribal art specialist and BBC Antiques Roadshow pundit Ronnie Archer-Morgan is one of Kempton’s most loyal customers, attending twice a month since the event was founded in 1979 by the late Sue Cruttenden.
“There always will be discoveries at events like this,” he says, when ATG catches up with him. “I calculate there are 15 amazing bargains here each time at Kempton – in categories across the board.”
This time he’s excited about a 17th century Mughal carved jade button with embedded sapphire he had just bought from a jewellery dealer he knows well. “It’s a very rare thing,” he says.
For a dealer-buyer, Archer-Morgan has an unusual modus operandi – he eschews the 6.30am trade brigade, who have long gone by the time he rocks up. “I don’t get here at the crack of dawn and I don’t want to either,” he laughs.
Edward Cruttenden, who with his wife Jennie is the second generation of Cruttendens running Sunbury Antiques Market, says the early opening won’t be reappraised. “The idea has always been that traders come here at 6.30am to avoid the rush hour and their purchases could be in their shop window – or on Instagram or eBay these days – by 10am the same morning.”
End time at Kempton is 2pm and while stall holders may start to pack up at 12 noon, “buyers like Ronnie will still be here at 2pm, looking for that diamond in the rough,” Cruttenden says.
Last year Edward and Jennie acquired the other key Surrey indoor and outdoor fair, Sandown Park, from IACF, with plans initially to run the fair on the first Tuesday every month. This year, it will run on Tuesdays on alternate months. “We started at Sandown last year and learnt a lot,” Cruttenden says, referring to the launch of two Sunday slots for 2019 in addition to the Tuesday fairs.
“A Sunday fair should tap into the private market that Esher has got to offer. People see pictures about Kempton on Instagram and tell us, I’d love to come but I can’t get out of work. So, doing a Sunday event, from 10am-3pm, gives those privates an opportunity to buy and then perhaps go out for lunch in Esher.”
Many stall holders ATG spoke to at this week’s Kempton said they rely on Sunbury Antiques Market’s fairs and IACF’s Newark and Ardingly events as their main selling platform, rather than the internet.
Jewellery dealer Alexandra Burton has a regular car pitch at Kempton and no internet presence. "I rather sell face-to-face and my buyers will travel specially to Kempton, even those from overseas," she says.
Why stall out at a fair so early in the year? “It’s the first fair of the year and with Christmas out of the way, we’re gearing up for Valentine’s Day,” she tells ATG.
Burton says the free admission and charges to stall holders – “car charges have gone up this year from £75 to £80 but that’s affordable compared to other fairs” – make a big difference to sellers and buyers alike.
Elsewhere, however, there was palpable concern about Brexit. Terry (he politely declined to give ATG his surname) is a dealer in antiques with tantalus a speciality, goes to France and Italy regularly to buy. “Dealers who buy on the Continent didn’t want Brexit and if the government doesn’t strike a proper trade agreement, it will hugely upset us and the foreign trade who come here,” he says.
Andy Thornton in West Yorkshire, supplier of modern and vintage furniture and fittings to retail, pubs, restaurants and hotels, is a Kempton regular and this week the firm had its usual pitch under the grandstand.
The firm’s buyer, Rob Hions, says he is glad to focus on local UK fairs – “you can spread yourself too thinly otherwise” – as the Brexit process unfolds. “Lots of dealers are bulk buying from Italy and Portugal, ahead of the Brexit deadline, as things are so uncertain,” he says.
All that said, there was little uncertainty among the buyers ATG encountered at Kempton's 2019 curtain-raiser. Whatever import-export complexities that may come with Brexit, it seems the appeal of a strong local fair has suddenly got stronger.