A thunderstorm is prowling the downs on the day I visit Petworth, and slate-blue skies threaten. But this small Sussex market town is made for iffy weather: there’s magnificent countryside to explore when the sun is shining, and when it isn’t, a wealth of treasure-filled shops beckon you in.
PAADA – the Petworth Art and Antique Dealers Association – has helped put Petworth on the bargain-hunting map. At the centre of it all is cobbled Lombard Street, home to eight PAADA members, and it’s here that I begin my day with a visit to Chequers Antiques. To the accompaniment of countless ticking clocks and a dainty chorus of chimes, I light upon a set of Old Sheffield Plate eggcups – at £90 rather more budget-friendly than the elaborate £1,359 silver-plated 1850s candelabra that also catches my eye.
A few doors down, at Kevis House Gallery, a demonstration of wood engraving is underway, while at Tallulah Fox, opposite, I find antique hand-painted furniture and contemporary homewares. The stock ranges from elegant glazed armoires to oystershell mantelpiece garlands, and the shop’s website is updated weekly with new arrivals.
There’s more to Petworth than antiques, however. An independent bookshop, a cottage museum and cafés galore make for a lively community feel, and there’s also a top-notch deli, The Hungry Guest, where piles of floury artisan loaves masquerade as a Dutch still life.
At the eastern limit of the town, just beyond Sacred Heart, the impressive Roman Catholic church, is the Shimmings Valley. A footpath leads to the small hamlet of Byworth, but even if time is scarce, be sure to take the short asphalt path (known as ‘Round-the-Hills’) which leads from the church and skirts the valley’s lip. As the first frosts start to set the woods on fire and wintering polo ponies drowse in their paddocks, it’s hard to imagine a more dramatically beautiful prospect than this.
OFF THE MARKET
Back in the town I head for the Antiques Market, which hosts over 35 antique and decorative arts dealers under one roof. It’s the kind of place where an afternoon can easily vanish in a flash of silver spoons and side tables (or, if you’re like me, rings and rocking horses).
Knowledgeable traders are on hand to advise, and there’s the opportunity to engage in more extensive brain-picking at a monthly ‘market clinic’.
My final stop is the handsome Georgian townhouse premises of Augustus Brandt Antiques. This is a place to dream, full of fairytale pieces: 18th-century Italian console tables, chandeliers and gilt-framed mirrors begging to be taken home. One day, I tell myself. One day…