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The late Elizabeth Bowman.

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Elizabeth Bowman, née Palmer, who established Bowman Antiques Fairs in 1973, passed away peacefully on Monday November 13 in Leeds General Infirmary.

Elizabeth had a lifelong love of antiques with a particular penchant for early ceramics. She was born in the Potteries and like most Stoke people had family connections with the factories.

One of her relatives designed for George Jones and one of her great uncles (from the family firm of Palmer’s Butchers) amassed such a large collection of 19th century porcelain, taken in lieu of money, that he had a large sale at one of the major London auction houses.

Elizabeth came from a long line of business owners and entrepreneurs, including boxing promoters, ale house owners, butchers and tailors.

Fair origins

She worked tirelessly for the Childrens’ Society. The Leeds area committee had the opportunity of setting up a bazaar in the old Central Garage for a month in the late 1960s before it got demolished. They sold a desk to Peter Stringfellow when he lived in Leeds and Elizabeth got the dealing bug.

“They sold a desk to Peter Stringfellow and Elizabeth got the dealing bug

She was a member of Horsforth Antique Society and they exhibited at a stand-fitted fair at Skipton Town Hall. It was here, during four days of good sales, that she had the idea to set up a table-top event to increase the scope for dealers.

She launched her first event at Pudsey Civic Hall on a Wednesday (being half-day closing for most antique shops) in 1973. It was a resounding success and Elizabeth Bowman Antiques Dealers and Collectors Fairs was born.

Elizabeth and Peter ran fairs all over the north. They included the Lounge Hall, Crown Hotel, Granby Hotel and the Yorkshire Showground all in Harrogate; the Astoria Ballroom in Leeds; Pudsey Civic Hall; York Racecourse and Doncaster Racecourse.

Also, Lincoln Showground; Malvern 3 Counties Showground; The Forge Inn Tadcaster; Cutlers Hall, Sheffield; Milton Rooms, Malton; Edinburgh Showground; New Century Hall, Manchester; Retford Town Hall; Selby Town Hall; Otley Civic Centre; Europa Lodge Hotel in Darlington; Wynyard Hall, Co Durham; Barnsley Civic Hall; Penistone Cinema; The Commodore in Nottingham and many more.

Events were always family affairs with Elizabeth’s children and their friends helping out most weekends.

She continued to deal and run the events business from her antiques shop in Otley. After the Lord’s Day Observance Society took out an injunction before a Lincoln Showground event which then had to be cancelled at very short notice, Elizabeth became part of the campaign to relax Sunday trading laws. Her daughter Helen represented the Antiques Fairs Organisers Association at high-level meetings to push the agenda forward.

Ironically, when the change came it lessened the appeal of antiques fairs because of all the other opportunities to shop.

Celebrity visits

Peter and Elizabeth had a large following of antiques dealers.

The family also recall celebrity visits to fairs, including one at the Holiday Inn in Darlington when Muhammad Ali and his entourage were staying. They asked if the fair could be opened especially for them to buy. Betty naturally agreed to this.

Elizabeth was fearless and formidable with a quick sense of humour. She loved a challenge and always looked for new opportunities.

She had a keen sense of what was right and anyone who crossed over the line was asked to pack up and go. Her attention to detail, kindness and genuine concern for the well-being of others made her an excellent fair organiser.

She inspired and encouraged other dealers to start fairs.

Some organisers who cut their teeth with Bowman Fairs include David and Ann Stroud; Reg Cooper who established Cooper Fairs; Robert Bailey of Bailey Fairs; Heather and Peter Burgoin of Arthur Swallow Fairs; and Alan Cartwright from Jaguar Fairs.

Even though she semi-retired more than 20 years ago and fully retired 12 years ago, she still took a keen interest in the business. Betty came to many of the fairs at Stafford Bingley Hall at the Staffordshire Showground – for decades the flagship event for the company and still sailing on, due to mark 40 years at the same venue and under the same family stewardship in 2018.

She loved buying beautiful objects and took particular pleasure in attending the Yorkshire Antiques & Art Fair started nine years ago by her daughter Helen and son-in-law Ben. The venue was a far cry from the hall used by Elizabeth and Peter on the site in the 1980s.

She was always enthusiastic to hear of new plans and innovations made by Helen and Ben and was very excited about the flea markets they started this year and a new venue for the Yorkshire Antiques & Art Fair.

Elizabeth is survived by son Richard, daughter Helen and three grandchildren.

From Bowman Fairs