Around 1600 dealers turned out to exhibit at the final IACF Festival of Antiques on Friday and Saturday of the April bank holiday.
Stallholder Dean Hendy from Hendy Antiques was one of the traders returning for one last time and did a roaring trade with his textiles.
On the first day, he sold 20 blankets to the public for prices varying from £100-300. Like many of the stallholders at the fair on April 8, he was sad that this was the final edition: “It’ll be hard to find another site to do a fair of this size anywhere in this country.”
The two-day event has been held at the East of England Showground since 1999, with IACF taking over in 2019. A one-day event was first held there in 1972.
However, the showground is no longer able to host large-scale outdoor events because works for a housing development on the site are scheduled to start in the summer.
As a result, the Festival of Antiques officially closed its doors.
Will Thomas, IACF managing director, said the event went out on a high: “It was the busiest that we’ve had in a long time on the Friday. Saturday was very good, but the Friday was exceptional.”
Very good Friday
This was the consensus among many of the stallholders ATG spoke to. Henry Vaughan from the Antique Gent was sharing a stall with Hendy and reported that on the Friday its entire marquee was cleared and the firm had to bring out entirely new stock for the Saturday.
Richard Keefe from Old Stable Antiques agreed: “Friday was great, I’ve never seen such a volume of people.”
Jim Sinclair from Sinclair’s Antiques has stood at this fair for the previous four years (outside of the lockdown period): “I’m gutted it’s closing. This is the only one that I do now.”
Having driven down to the showground from Fife in Scotland, he was doing good business in small pieces of furniture, including a Chinese stand that he sold for £325 to a private client.
Melody Shelton from SGS Collectibles had cleared half of his van by midday on the Saturday, managing to sell a few of the larger pieces of furniture that he had brought with him.
Despite being a fair renowned for smalls due to difficulties getting a big van onto the premises, larger furniture did seem to be doing well - such as a table and bench sold for £1000, going to a private client for his garden from Cotswold Grey.
Rowan Grover from Heritage Antiques had also sold a Victorian cabinet to a Japanese trade buyer for £225. A regular trader at IACF’s Ardingly and Newark fairs, he was surprised that furniture was being taken up so well given the fair’s reputation for selling smaller items.
Alongside the traders, auction houses were on site for the final fair. Colin Young from Golding Young said that it’s a concern for the wider trade: “Many good buyers are reliant on this event as a face-to-face with the public and they do an enormous amount of business. A lot of the dealers here source their stock from auction and that’s great when they have the outlet to sell.”
Many of the buyers at the Festival of Antiques were regulars. One buyer who gave his name as George has come twice a year for over a decade; he picked up a sitar to learn to play for £75.
Another buyer, Esther Davidson, had come to pick up another rug from Barry Fletcher of the Carpet Merchant. She had met him at this event years before and is now one of his best customers, owning a dozen of his rugs in her home. A local to the area, she will now have to travel further away to continue her collection.
Search for a new venue
However, every cloud has a silver lining; although this event is closing its doors, the organisers are already searching for a new location and are in talks with different venues.
In the meantime, IACF Newark is just a short drive away at the Newark & Nottinghamshire Showground with regular two-day fairs (the next is on June 1-2) and Runway Monday events (May 22 with four more to follow this year).
According to Thomas, there is “a clear appetite for good fairs as you can see with the footfall on the weekend”, and he hopes that they will continue to thrive with the support of the trade.