From 1607 to 1804, fairs were held on the surface of the Thames when its waters froze hard enough to bear the weight of stalls and crowds of buyers. In the same spirit and fine tradition of winter UK fairs, IACF holds two events each December, regardless of weather and daylight challenges.
A one-day weekend fair for consumer buyers at Alexandra Palace is followed the same week by a two-day event for the trade at the Newark & Notts Showground in Nottinghamshire.
The two experiences are very different, not least because Ally Pally (see below) is held within the warm confines of the Grand Hall in the north-east London venue.
Newark, meanwhile, has far bulkier items for sale, with dealers stalling inside in pavilions, in stables and outdoors on grass. ‘Shopping arcades’ have tented pitches all in a row, housing UK and continental European decorative stock aimed at interior designers and home furnishers.
“Newark is solidly a trade event,” says Robert Thomas, director of IACF, as he guides ATG through the two-day event. Indeed, most of the buyers we encountered at Newark on December 6-7 were buying to sell on to others (see story, opposite).
The 2000 stalls of Newark’s spring and summer editions shrink to around 800 pitches in winter.
“There are those who don’t do winter Newark because some of their regular trade buyers don’t make the trip, meaning they can’t do enough trade,” says Thomas. However, those dealers who do take part “travel from all over the UK and Northern Europe – a long way – so it has to be worth it”.
Across the two days, ATG met a cross-section of dealers, most of whom are committed Newark-in- December regulars, taking advantage of the reduced competition. These then divide according to whether they stay for the second day, with those who don’t arguing that the main action takes place on day one.
Fred Tomlinson has a shop called Flintlock Antiques in Stockport and takes a stables stall for day one of Newark. The event “is the only fair we do. It gathers most of the dealers together and everything sells well here. There’s always somebody looking for something.”
Final prices are different in London and Newark, says IACF operations manager Rachel Everett. Ally Pally dealers “don’t do trade prices,” she says, adding however that “you might well still get a bargain.” To test this, ATG tried haggling at both events, getting the normal 10% consumer discount at Ally Pally but with bigger discounts on offer at Newark.
Is Newark in December still viable, given that the online buying alternative is not at the whim of the weather? Heavy rain started day two, however eventually giving way to sunshine. One buyer says the experience of viewing the expanse of antiques “under one sky” at Newark is impossible to replicate online.
For IACF’s part, the event is run “to provide the industry with a place to do business at this time of year until things pick up again in January,” Thomas says.
“Whatever the weather, we will always hold a fair at Newark at this time – we know not everyone can come.
“We’ll take a hit but the proportion of dealers to buyers is always the right way around, so the dealers that do come generally do well.”