Sunbury Market is the biggest furniture and antiques market you’ve never been to – just don’t forget your torch, says Katie Dailey. Photography by Jean Goldsmith
When researching this piece, the two people I found that had been to Sunbury Market, of the many I asked, really didn’t want me to write about it. This enormous, sprawling antiques fair has taken place in Kempton racetrack for more than thirty years, and regularly hosts 700+ traders, but somehow people still regard it as their own little find. Sorry folks – we’re taking this one public.
Sunbury Market was established 42 years ago by Sue Cruttenden. She was a minor antiques dealer, and set up the market with ten stalls after persuading Kempton racetrack to lend her some space. Everything about the fair was designed to service the antiques industry – stalls opened at 6.30am and more or less closed by midday. This meant antique dealers could buy a haul of stock and get back to their shops in time to open at 9am. It also meant that the overseas traders who quickly began to arrive from Belgium, Holland, Germany and France were able to take cheap off-peak ferries. Entry was free to punters because Sue ‘couldn’t imagine Harrods charging its customers’. Although she still attends every event the market is now run by her son Edward – though Sue tells me that Kempton, which makes more money from its antiques tenants than its horses, still regards her as ‘the Queen of England.’
The bulk of the customer base here has expanded from those antique dealers’ early days to include commercial interior designers (Kelly Hoppen is a regular) and the odd day tripper, but the early start still applies.
Regular customers who come each second and fourth Tuesday of the month have a special relationship with certain traders. Mary Jo Van Gils from Holland tells me she has the email addresses of regular clients, like Liberty buyers, who she’ll tip off when she gets something that will interest them. Danny Wolfs from Belgium does the same – taking careful note of prevailing trends when he buys from the bric a brac marketsacross Belgium and France. ‘What passed as garbage five years ago is now the must-have thing,’ he says, and advises looking out for industrial salvage as 2012’s interiors trend. Nearby, Kirton antiques stall regularly kits out the interiors buyers of Cath Kidston and Jack Wills with rustic crates and furniture.
Part of the appeal of the place, aside from the vast variety of the stuff on offer, from old French maps and tables of stuffed owls to gargantuan Belgian farmhouse tables – lies in the fact you can often buy in silly quantities – meaning people kitting out pubs can buy 20 of the same science lab light-fittings, or 100 school chairs. There’s also the great atmosphere that comes from a jumble of different accents, a shared enthusiasm for unusual objects, and the solidarity of enduring an excruciatingly early start.
Sunbury Antiques Market, Kempton Park racecourse, Staines Road, Sunbury on Thames,TW16 5AQ (01932 230 946/sunburyantiques.com). Kempton Park Rail. Open 6.30am.