Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Antiquing Trip to England: Day Four, Lewes

Our fourth day in England was my very favorite of the whole trip (with Canterbury a close second, due to our visit to a teddy bear factory there). The town of Lewes (pronounced LOO-IS) is an antiquer's dream, hosting 13 antique shops, some with over 100 dealer booths inside.

Lewes is beautifully set in a valley just beneath the South Downs, chalk hills that run above the coast in the southeastern corner of Great Britain. It has been occupied since prehistoric times. Romans had a settlement here, and Saxons built a castle, which pops up on the unsuspecting shopper between a couple of stores on the high street.

Lewes Castle.

The main shopping area houses unique stores in lovely old buildings. This one, a second-hand book store called the Fifteenth Century Bookshop, was one of my favorites. (Click on it to magnify and see more details: it's magnificently ancient.)

Lewes is also home to Harveys, a beautiful brewery founded in 1790.

The highlight for me was Sue Pearson's famous teddy bear shop. Sue is an expert in antique and vintage bears, with several published books to her credit. Bears and Bygones was housed in a tiny storefront, but had a huge range of carefully selected antique, vintage, and modern bears. Here's a glimpse inside:

Doesn't this one look sort of like Winston Churchill?

It was difficult choosing at Sue Pearson's, but I finally settled on this couple, a 1930s English gentleman wearing a vintage sailor shirt, and a lovely 1920s American lady in her garden party dress and lace collar:

A charming couple of character bears.

From Sue's stock of modern artist bears, I chose this tiny "tea bag" ted, created by a Belgian artist whose work is quite difficult to find. Just 5 inches tall, he has a very unusual face that was most appealing.

After the teddy bear shop, it was time to begin exploring the antique stores. Our first stop was Church Hill Antiques Centre, housed, as its name suggests, in an old re-purposed church.

A sign we like to see!

A view inside the Church Hill Antiques Centre: 
Victorian taxidermy, old books, and china.

I found a really cool old toy in this antique shop: a lithographed tin bank in the form of a dollhouse, Queen Mary's Dollhouse, to be exact. Queen Mary's dollhouse was created specifically for her in the 1920s. It was designed by a famous British architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens, and furnished with incredible miniatures donated by over 1,500 of the finest craftspeople in the country. The house is massive (the largest dollhouse in the world) and unbelievably detailed: water runs in the taps; fine champagne fills the tiny bottles in the wine cellar; and famous authors wrote miniature versions of works in their own hand for the library. 

This tin dollhouse bank was made by two firms who contributed items to the real dollhouse, and was sold to raise money for the Queen's favorite charities. Incredibly, the bank still had its original key attached, and there were eight old English coins (pennies, half-pennies, and farthings) inside, dating from 1885-1926.

Detail of the lithography, showing the dollhouse interior,
complete with a garage full of cars at the lowest level.

The text on the underside of the bank reads:

"Made in England
Model of 
The Queen's Dolls' House
Issued by 
Cauldon Potteries Ltd., Stoke-on-Trent
(Potters to Her Majesty the Queen)
in conjunction with
Chubb & Son's Lock & Safe Co., Ltd.,
128 Queen Victoria St., London, E.C. 1
Produced by Special Permission of H.M. The Queen,
whose charities benefit by the sale of each model.
Cauldon Potteries supplied miniature china for the Queen's Dolls' House, and Chubb & Son's Lock and Safe Co., a miniature Chubb safe to protect the Queen's Dolls Jewels."

After this great find, it was on to the next antique shop: the Lewes Antiques Centre

 Another sign we're happy to see...

...and still another!

The Lewes Antiques Centre had loads of old toys over its four floors, including this beautiful case holding a 1930s Noah's Ark and a bunch of bears:

I liberated this adorable vintage ted, a 1940s British bear with a cheery disposition:


By skipping lunch (we didn't even stop for our usual scone break) we made it to each and every one of the antique shops in town. We had our priorities straight, for sure!

 A very enticing antique shop window.

Our last stop was the Lewes Flea Market, housed in a beautiful Victorian building, with antiques over two floors. 

 An enticing view through the open doorway.

Yet another welcoming sign.

This wasn't really a flea market, as its name suggested. It was a fully realized antiques shop, and the bric-a-brac was invitingly dense:

This taxidermied bear wearing a fez pointed the way
to various collectibles.

I found a beautiful antique German bisque doll here, complete with old clothes and shoes, including a lovingly hand-knit sweater and matching stockings. Made by Goebel circa 1900, she measures a hefty 18 inches tall.

Doesn't she look like she's just been happily surprised by something?

My last find in Lewes was this vintage miniature wooden toy village, made in Germany. These little sets make great accessories for dolls and teddy bears, and are just lots of fun to play with. Villages like these have been made in Germany for hundreds and hundreds of years.

Finally, we limped (quite literally) back to the coach with our bags of finds. My new Wooly Bear sat next to me on the ride back to our hotel, guide books at the ready as we prepared for tomorrow.

Coming up next: Day 5, the village of Tenterden and a visit to Pashley Manor Gardens.


  1. What a wonderful time you've had! And what amazing finds, my favourite has to be the tin bank. The picture of the old old bookshop is wonderful, it almost looks like it's made for Hobbits, that poor woman in the window looks like she'll suffer a back injury if she stands bent over for much longer.

  2. I want that bank! I want to go to Lewes! I'm so jealous! P.S. will you reveal the price of the bank?

  3. Amazing finds indeed! The bears, of course, melted my heart into a puddle on the floor!
    And yes, the doll does look surprised...I imagine if she could speak she'd say "so glad you found me!"

  4. Hi Norma! That's EXACTLY what I thought when I ventured into the bookshop, that it was like a hobbit hole!

    Michelle: yes, I think the dolly must be very glad I found her. She was way in the back of the store, in a very dusty glass case full of old tools and junk (!) staring at the blank wall across the way. I definitely feel I rescued her. :)

    The bank seems to be very popular! I have no idea what it's "worth" as I've never seen another and haven't been able to find anything out about it yet. It was priced at 150 (British pounds), but I got it for 100, which I thought was pretty good...but even if it isn't, I still love it.

  5. I love toys too...but skipping lunch!? I would have been awol having tea somewhere. You must have left the U.S. with a big empty suitcase?