Pictured: View of Alexandra Palace Great Hall from the pipe organ
As a first time visitor to Alexandra Palace I was aware of some of the building's history and cultural significance. However, before my first visit to the International Antiques & Collectors Fair (held four times a year at the venue), I was unaware of what to expect from the event. What I experienced was an event full of character and charm, with a unique atmosphere not to be missed.
Originally opened in 1873 Alexandra Palace was always intended to be 'The Palace of the People.' Nicknamed 'Ally Pally' (supposedly by Gracie Fields), the venue became, in 1936, the home of the world's first 'high-definition' television service, operated by the BBC.
It has been home to regular Antique Fairs for over 30 years now and has been a more recent addition to the host of fairs run by IACF.
Since taking on this prestigious venue in 2014, IACF has seen the event double in size. It regularly attracts over 300 quality antiques dealers from around the UK, and the striking setting makes this a perfect hunting ground for beautiful collectors’ pieces, ceramics, artwork, jewellery and much more.
More recently still, 'Pop-Up Vintage London' have been a regular and interesting addition to the exhibitors stalls at the fair. They have their own section, bringing a lively, fun element; adding colour to the unique nature of the event.
But, what can you expect as a first time antiques hunter at Ally Pally?
First you will be greeted by the impressive building itself, a beautiful example of Victorian architecture and a venue that has been host to everyone from 'Led Zeppelin' to 'Songs of Praise'. From the 'The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream' in 1967, to the PDC World Darts Championship for the last 8 years; with every one else in between.
As a visitor to the event you will walk through the impressive entrance way and the light and exotic Palm Court, before buying your ticket at the ticket office. You will then be guided through the West Corridor and into the Great Hall, where a cornucopia of varied antique and collectable delights await.
You will find everything from antique silver, jewellery, pottery and glass to more contemporary items; dating from the post war period. The sheer variety can, at first, seem overwhelming. What am I looking for? Where do I start? There is certainly a buzz in the Great Hall, and the stallholders are always happy to chat about the finer details of the pieces they are exhibiting.
Picture: Jimi Hendrix Experience Poster
On my first visit to Ally Pally, one of the first stalls to catch my eye was one exhibiting vintage posters, mostly from the early to mid 20th century. A psychedelic, day-glo 'Jimi Hendrix Experience' poster, dating from about 1968 really stood out (as it was intended to), with it's bright, bold, pink, blue and orange design of Jimi dressed as a Native American Chief, and his two band-mates (Mitch & Noel) harassed by blue and pink flying saucers; with a slumbering dragon beneath them. This would be a bold addition to any wall, and a wonderful find for anyone with a love of the hippy dream!
Older antiques juxtapose with the newer collectables. On a stall not far from Jimi, there was another icon from history; a bust of Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson. The bust, dating from the 1850's by Doulton & Watts was in excellent condition and had real presence. A fine addition to the mantelpiece of any history lover of a nautical persuasion!
Pictured: Admiral Nelson Bust, circa 1853 -1860
Underneath the beautiful, round, blue and red stained glass window at the far end of the hall, was a wonderful antique toy stall, which held the attention of many passing visitors; unlocking those happy memories of childhoods past, and the wish that they'd been a bit more careful looking after their own old favourite toys.
Pictured: Corgi London Bus
Being close to February 14th, the jewellery stalls were doing brisk business. With items to suit every pocket, and pieces dating from ancient Roman rings; through the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods; right up to very modern items. There was no excuse not to spoil your Valentine.
Anyone looking for something decorative for the garden couldn't go wrong in making a bee-line for the stall belonging to Linda North. Not only are the items wonderfully displayed, it has some really interesting 'gardenalia' (as I'm reliably informed the correct term is). If you love birds, then you'll love the cherub bird bath I saw on her stand. A truly classical edition to any garden, big or small.
Pictured: Stall belonging to Linda North
At the other end of the hall, beneath the giant pipe organ, you can find many of the larger furniture pieces. You could easily furnish your entire home with items from this area of the fair. All eras and styles of furniture are covered, from the genuine aged antiques of LAPADA member Frank Wilson, whose stall had items predominantly from the 18th - 19th centuries, to the more contemporary, retro pink sofas and leather swivel chairs on the neighbouring stand. The key word here is 'style', it doesn't matter which era the items were from, all of them had an unmistakable quality of design and manufacture, which would shame most modern furniture outlets. Though prices may vary considerably in this field, as one expert pointed out, "You couldn't make them for that money!"
Directly beneath the pipe organ is where you will also find the IACF information desk, and alongside that the expert evaluation table. The expert at February's fair was Ian Crawford, Senior Valuer at Bamfords Auction House, though it is often attended by TV's James Lewis from the same auctioneers. During the day a steady stream of both buyers and sellers waited to have Ian cast his expert eye over their finds, elucidating the mysterious ones and trying to explain something about the history of the piece.
I was even lucky enough to be allowed up onto the giant pipe organ, though not to play it! What a fantastic view over the entire hall; the busy stalls below, eager antique hunters chatting enthusiastically with stallholders over the merits of this item or that piece. The eye in the sky view really brought it home to me the wonderful eclecticism of the event. Seeing visitors dressed in vintage and period clothes mingling with the other buyers, families and couples sitting to have lunch or coffee at one of the available dining tables, it really is an event worthy of it's excellent reputation. A wonderful way to spend a Sunday and a great way to pick up a quality bargain, you might even be lucky enough to make a knowledgeable friend or two, as I did!
The whole day was a wonderful experience, I learned so much. I just hope some of it goes in, and stays there.