Market loved by Kate Moss and Stella McCartney celebrates 40 years
PUBLISHED: 17:00 31 August 2016 | UPDATED: 10:49 01 September 2016
Alfie's Antiques was only ever supposed to run one day a week but 40 years on it's still going strong
When Bennie Gray launched Alfie’s Antiques in 1976, his market was only ever supposed to run one day a week on the ground floor of former department store Jordan’s.
Despite the market taking place in an area Bennie recollects as being “derelict and quite desperate”, it quickly became evident that there was demand for what was on offer.
“When we launched, everybody thought we were mad because Church Street was semi-derelict and vandalism was rife.
“It wasn’t exactly the safest place to store antiques,” says Bennie.
“But by the time we opened the demand was clear so we moved the concept forward opening all floors, five days a week.
“It was a huge success and I was quite stunned by it. But it seemed that people just liked the idea of having this buzzing community of individual antique dealers in one place.”
Coming from a long line of dealers (Bennie’s father Alfie, who the market is named for, also worked in the industry) antiques was always something he’d been interested in, so when Jordan’s closed, he seized the opportunity to create a community of traders.
“Jordan’s was a beautiful bulding selling all sorts of things that people don’t really buy anymore. Haberdashery and the like,” he reminisces.
“They had an old cash system with brass tubes where you gave your pound notes to a cashier, they would place the money in a canister which went in the pipes and it would travel to a cashier who would process it and write a receipt.
“Unfortunately in the end, the brothers who owned the store were in their nineties and unable to continue, so the building was sold on. We picked it up for really good value.”
Fast forward four decades and Alfie’s Antiques has been crucial to the neighbourhood, injecting life back into Church Street.
The local area has become one of London’s central antiques hubs with new stores continuing to open.
Since Kate Moss popped in to buy a handbag, the market has become popular among stylish celebrities, from Kiera Knightley to Stella McCartney and Jean Paul Gaultier.
“When we started we were an oasis on a sea of dereliction. As the years went by, the surrounding area has become full of antique shops with almost all of them having started off at Alfie’s.
“They expanded from having a stall in the market to their own premises.”
This month marks 40 years since the opening of Alfie’s and, to celebrate, the market is hosting a week of pop-up shops and activities between September 20 and 24.
These will include talks and demonstrations by antiques experts such as Mark Hill (Antiques Roadshow) who will be offering his insight about 20th century glass work.
In addition, there will be a week long occupancy from London Glass Blowing, also celebrating its 40th birthday in 2016.
“The events are a celebration of Alfie’s and the area, and what we have managed to achieve. The transformation of Church Street started from less than nothing, and has taken place in an era where antiques shops themselves have disappeared, certainly in London,” says Bennie.
“I think a lot of this is because the overheads of running an antiques store today are so huge that it isn’t always worth it.
“Yet despite this, the street has kept a good balance with Alfie’s continuing to thrive. People come not only to buy antiques, but to talk to the dealers and get involved in some of the things going on, so I don’t expect we’ll be going away any time soon.”