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A Place Like No Other: antiques, architecture and bike-shop flapjacks in Tetbury

Tetbury is celebrated for its antique shops, but come hunting for precious objects and you’ll find plenty more to do besides. We spoke to three noted dealers to learn more about what makes the Gloucestershire town so special – and what to do while you’re visiting

Words
Nick Carvell
Photography
Paul Whitbread
A Place Like No Other: antiques, architecture and bike-shop flapjacks in Tetbury

It goes without saying that the Cotswolds aren’t short on picturesque towns. On any journey through this lush, green, undulating area of Britain, you’d be hard pressed to find a village that doesn’t look like it’s been lifted straight from the lid of a chocolate box. But beautiful places that also have a bit of a buzz to them? That’s a different matter. If that’s what you’re after, there’s only one real candidate: Tetbury.

During the Middle Ages Tetbury was a major player in the wool and yarn trade (the Tetbury Woolsack Races are still held every year). While in times past the impressive Market House (built in 1655) would have been what brought people to town, today Long Street serves as the focus for visitors. Over the past two decades, this small town has become a magnet for many of Britain’s most prominent antique dealers and it’s on this central thoroughfare that you’ll find most of their emporiums, housed inside a higgledy-piggledy selection of buildings that bely the town’s historic development. Here, Tudor-revival shops rub shoulders with beautiful Georgian townhouses, while all manner of infills jostle for space. It’s an architectural mix that’s as diverse and beautiful as the wares on offer at street level.

“Trying to get antique dealers together is like herding cats, but there is an undeniable strength in numbers. That’s what makes Tetbury so special,” says Toby Lorford, director of Lorfords Antiques, a company with three showroom spaces in and around the town. “People come from a long way away to visit because of that,” he says. “I like to compare it to a town in the south of France called L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue,” says Josephine Ryan, a relative newcomer to Tetbury, having opened her shop on Long Street in early 2019. “It has a very similar set up, with about 30 shops all concentrated into this one small area. Here, we have about 50 dealers, so it’s a real Mecca.”

What sets the town apart from its sleepier Cotswolds neighbours is hinted at by Toby and Josephine – its thriving local community. “Tetbury isn’t the kind of place where half the houses are second homes and sit empty during the week,” says David Gibson, who runs the three-storey Brownrigg antique shop with his partner, Jorge Perez-Martin. It was this “very vibrant” community that brought Inigo to town, where we spoke to the three antiquing heavyweights about what attracted them Tetbury, what makes it a special place to visit, and the best things to eat, drink and do in the area if you want to make a day of it – like a local.

Toby Lorford, Lorfords Antiques

Inspired by his father, an antiquarian bookdealer, Toby Lorford left London for the Cotswolds in the late 1990s and opened his first antiques shop in Tetbury in 1999. He now has two hangar showrooms nearby and, the last we heard, he was talking about opening a wine and coffee bar in the Long Street shop.

How would you describe the Lorfords aesthetic?

“Lorfords has always been known for what I’d call ‘serious’ decorative pieces. At the start, we specialised in original English, French and Swedish painted furniture. Of course, we’ve broadened out over the years, but we still find people come to us for painted things. If I saw it, I would always buy a good Regency painted chest of drawers or original painted Swedish secretaire.”

Tell us about your shop on Long Street…

“It’s a wonderful space. Well, I say wonderful… It’s also rather ugly! It’s a former bus garage that we bought in 2005. We used to have a really beautiful building in the centre of town, but people who came in just used to ask us about the building. I wanted a space where people focused on the antiques instead.”

And how is that different from your two hangars outside town?

“The outer showrooms are a bit like an antique fair; we represent around 70 dealers from all over Europe in these two spaces, each with their own booths. You can find a super traditional English dealer next to a French raconteur next to some high-end mid-century bits. It’s a real mix and there’s something for everyone.”

What is your Tetbury highlight?

“The highlight is the architecture throughout ­– the infill of Long Street over the years is absolutely fascinating. It’s hard to pick a peach because there is so much variety. Just keep looking up! Meanwhile, the finest coffee outside London can be found at a bike shop called Veloton. As well as selling and repairing bicycles they serve awesome Italian coffee. Oh, and their homemade flapjacks are amazing too. The best lunch is at The Woolpack, a pub owned by the artist Dan Chadwick, which is a 20-minute drive away. The only problem is getting a table.”

Josephine Ryan, Josephine Ryan Antiques

It’s hard to miss Josephine Ryan’s shop on Long Street: an imposing Georgian sandstone townhouse with three storeys, 14 windows and a grand portico entrance. Inside you’ll find a broad mix of things, often with rustic French or Irish sensibilities.

You’ve lived and worked in London for the majority of your career. What prompted the move to Tetbury?

“I’ve been in this field for nearly 30 years. Having closed my Chelsea shop, I came down to Tetbury on a whim to explore the possibility of sharing a space with another dealer. It wasn’t quite right, but as I was walking back to my car I passed this beautiful, empty building. I rang the estate agent and asked to see it there and then. Within two weeks I was in!”

What do you love about the town?

“If you come on a Saturday, there’s a lovely market in the beautiful old marketplace. There are plant and flower stands, a bric-à-brac stall, a woman who makes homemade produce, a book stand… I go every Saturday and have a pootle around. Also, Westonbirt, the national arboretum, is just outside the town and well worth a visit.”

If someone wanted to spend the weekend here exploring the antique shops, where should they stay?

Oak House Number One, north of Long Street, is the most beautifully decorated hotel I’ve ever stayed in. There’s also The Close on Long Street. In the summer, it’s just gorgeous for a meal outdoors. The walled garden is stunning.”

Where would you go for something to eat?

“There are lots of lovely pubs nearby. My current favourite is The Trouble House in Kemble – I had a superb saffron risotto there recently. It’s on the way to the train station if you’re coming down for the day. Opposite our shop there’s Casa, an Italian restaurant that we always go to for pizza. The staff are all gorgeous – if I’m here on my own they’ll bring my pizza over to me.”

Jorge Perez-Martin and David Gibson, Brownrigg

Jorge Perez-Martin and David Gibson have been partners in life and business for 18 years. Founded by Jorge in 1998, the first Brownrigg shop opened in Petworth, West Sussex; after helping Jorge with the business in his spare time, David left a 30-year career in law to join him permanently a couple of years later. In 2012, they moved Brownrigg to Tetbury. Its stock, diversely styled and put together, spans the 17th to the 20th centuries. The result, as Jorge puts it, is “an English design sensibility with a Spanish flavour”.

What’s the Brownrigg look?

David: “It’s all about mixing periods and blending genres. It’s one of the main reasons we still have a significant shop presence as opposed to just being online; the shop is where Jorge can work on our look. That’s why, in our store, you’ll see a 1960s French coffee table next to an 18th-century Italian commode.”

How does it work when it comes to buying pieces as a duo? Are you relatively aligned?

David: “Jorge tends to do most of the buying, but he uses me as a sounding board. Sometimes my enthusiasm can seem muted, but that’s the Anglo-Saxon in me, versus his Latin! We have endless conversations about what pieces should come home with us or go to the shop. I can’t count how many armchairs we have right now; certainly more than we can ever sit on. They’re a source of friction and hilarity in equal measure.”

What’s the most rewarding part of running your business?

David: “That we have so many long-term clients, which is absolutely lovely. They just seem to understand our vision and are so generous in their appreciation of what we try to do. And, because of this, when people downsize or change their homes around, pieces often come back to us – we’ve sold certain pieces two or three times. That’s nice, as the reason we buy something in the first place is that we love it, so it’s always great to see it again. Then off it goes again to its next home.”

What non-antiques-related shop would you recommend in Tetbury?

Jorge: “I’d suggest Moloh, a local tailor. They make beautiful coats for women – their recent lookbook was shot in our shop before the lockdown. They only do womenswear now, but I own a jacket from their menswear collection, which was a long time ago. Maybe this will encourage them to resurrect it.”

David: “It’s not a shop, but Highgrove is definitely worth a visit. While the house is impressive, it’s all about the garden the Prince of Wales has created over the decades.”

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