The Norfolk area of England is one of the richest hunting grounds for antiques in Europe. Just ask the French. In 1069, William the Conqueror inventoried the people, animals and chattel of 11th century Norwich in his famous book Doomesday. Unlike modern visitors, it’s unlikely he bought anything as he had just recently captured the entire country lock, stock and barrel. But a visit to Norfolk today is your opportunity to collect amazing antiques just the right size to fit into your luggage for the trip home.
And the price should be right. When the Industrial Revolution hit England, Norfolk couldn’t compete because it was just a little too geographically remote from the rest of the country. That means that today there’s still plenty of finds in the area antique centers and auction houses. Best of all, you can base yourself in a romantic little waterside cottage in the village of Wroxham and explore the antique highlights by train and bus, without ever having to attempt driving on the wrong side of the road!
Just Water Fowl for Company
Step back from the madding crowd and into picture- postcard quaint Horning, a small market town at the head of the Norfolk Broads, a large inland waterway dating back to 800 A.D. with its own haunted pub! There we rented a delightful two story two-bedroom self-catering holiday cottage at the Ferry Marina from Hoseasons Holidays for just under 300 pounds a week to use as our base. We avoided the trauma of driving by catching the train from Heathrow to Norwich,switcing to the little hopper train to Wroxham, and catching a taxi for a few minutes drive to Horning. The entire journey was about three hours.
The next day we boarded an old steam train at Wroxham to check out the action at Keys in the beautiful village of Aylesham. One of England’s foremost auction houses, Keys is the place to stop if you want to shop where the savvy traders find their best buys. In this part of England, auction houses sell virtually everything from antique toys and jewelry to live and dead cattle – all part of the fun! To get a piece of the action, you must first register to bid. Simply ask for a bid card (it’s free and there’s no obligation to buy) and you’ll get a piece of cardboard labeled with a number that will serve as your ID when you’re ready to buy. Purchases can be paid for by credit card and shipped back to the U.S.
We bought an antique bronze doorknocker in the shape of a fox , easy enough to clear customs and a snap to pack. To make sure your trip coincides with its auctions of antique toys, artwork, books, etc. visit www.keysauctions.co.uk to plan your travel itinerary.
Holt and Away
From there, it was off by train to the market town of Holt, a place almost wholly dedicated to antiques. A real double-decker English bus greets you when you detrain for a quick jaunt into town. A treasure trove of shops like Past Caring and Forget-me-not feature a range of 18th and 19th century vintage clothing and costume jewelry at quite reasonable prices, perfect for the woman with a petite Victorian figure. At Unique, you’ll find antiques like silver candlesticks and the more complicated Art Deco chandeliers priced from 110 pounds. Pick up some unique kitchenalia at Holt Antique Centre in Albert Hall, and check out the bevy of shops that sell everything from reproduction posters to Indian imports. For our niece’s birthday, we bought a styling chunky amber pendant with silver chain for just 20 pounds at the Osokozi Gallery, known for its amber contemporary jewelry and authentic pieces from tribal Fagan.
Back on the train again, we traveled to the antique shops hidden away in Norwich’s narrow and twisting cobbled medieval lanes. Here we were struck by the misshapen timbered houses, which owe their crooked lines to the old ships timbers from which they were built.
Outside the city’s famous cathedral is a cobbled quadrant named Tombeland, dating from Saxon times. There we discovered Tombland Antiques & Collectables, an amazing warren of shops representing 24 vendors housed appropriately in a 500 -year old house. Walking through the shops to the back we found the perfect portable collectibles – antique trading cards once inserted into cigarette packs. Similar in concept to American baseball trading cards, these beauties feature a range of birds, country flags, and national dress, etc. Each card in the set is numbered so you know when you have a complete collection. The dealer also carries picture postcards dating back to the 19th century, some of which were produced before lines for the recipient’s name and address were printed on the back. A big favorite with Americans is a fast vanishing series of painted plates depicting hunting scenes, the practice of which is now banned in Britain.
When in Norfolk, be sure to check the local paper for estate sales. As Queen Elizabeth has one of her estates at the nearby village of Sandringham, you never know what you might find – something being auctioned off to feed the corgis?
SIDEBAR: IF YOU GO
To rent a holiday cottage, visit http://www.hoseasons.co.uk
Get the dates for Keys auctions at www.keysauctions.co.uk.
Holt details are at www.nofolkcoast.co.uk
Tombland Antiques & Collectables, 14 Tombland, Norwich NR3 1HF
Unique, 16 Chapel Yard, Holt, Norfolk NR25 6HC
Past Caring, 6 Chapel Yard, Holt
The OsoKozi Gallery, 6 Albert Street, Holt
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