Friday, July 1, 2011

Antiquing Trip to England: Day Two, Henley-on-Thames

Our antiquing tour of England officially began with a visit to the beautiful town of Henley-on-Thames, situated, as its name suggests, along the famous river. Crossing the 18th century bridge into town, we saw a classic English narrowboat, one of the beautifully decorated houseboats that ply the waterways of Great Britain.

Our first stop in Henley was also our first teddy bear shop, Asquiths, housed in a marvelously preserved 15th century building. The display windows left no doubt as to the type of merchandise inside:

Teddy bears galore filled shelves, cupboards, and tables inside, and comical reminders to mind your head on the low, heavily beamed ceilings abounded:

See the plush yellow duck above the "Duck" warning?

Asquiths stocked mainly contemporary 
and artisan teddy bears, and I chose 
a small one crafted by a British couple, 
complete with hand-knit accessories 
and a wonderfully eccentric face:

The owners of Asquiths served us tea and pastries in their private apartment upstairs, which was delightful. And, we got to see their invitation to an upcoming garden party hosted by the Queen! I guess you could say we had tea with someone who is going to have tea with the Queen. That must count for something...

After Asquiths, it was on to my very first antique shop, the appropriately named Tudor House, in a building that was actually from the Tudor period. A sign on the front stated the house was built during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, between 1560 and 1601! It was so marvelously old and looked so deliciously inviting, I would have willingly paid just to go inside...

Like Asquiths and all the other buildings we saw from this period, the ceilings were very low, made even lower in places by the heavy, blackened beams. This shop was so crowded with junque inside, it was almost impossible to hold the camera far enough in front of myself to take photos! Baskets, copper pots, and stoneware hung from the ceiling, and huge display cases filled the already tiny and cramped rooms. We had to weave our way through, occasionally backing up and onto the sidewalk so that people already inside the shop could make their way out. The second floor was a bit more open, and had very interesting architectural features:

Deep in one of the glass cases, I found these 3 tiny German bisque dolls, circa 1920: two dollhouse babies, just 2 and 3/4 inches tall, and a slightly larger standing one. Cute, cute, cute. 

After this, we visited several stores of a type plentiful in Britain, but not so familiar here in the States: Charity Shops. The UK has loads of charities devoted to various causes, and many of them raise funds by selling donated items in these storefronts. The merchandise is cleaned and professionally arranged, and the stores are often so nice, you almost forget they're second-hand shops. Here are a few we spotted over the tour:

Charity Shops are great places for treasure hunting at bargain prices, and I wasn't disappointed. In my very first one here in Henley, I all but stumbled over a 1930s English dollhouse sitting on the floor right inside the door. It had been lovingly played with over two generations: some of the rooms had been repapered in the early 1960s, and the furnishings were a mix of 1930s German and 1950s-60s British. Most likely, a mother passed it down to her daughter, and they played with it together, giving the dollhouse a wonderful history.

Carrying the dollhouse to the bus.
An English dollhouse had been at the very top of my trip wish list, and after some estimated on-the-spot weighing and measuring, it was purchased and carried down the street back to our waiting coach. And thankfully, it did indeed fit in my largest suitcase, and didn't make it overweight. It was an antiquing miracle.

The really neat thing about this dollhouse was, we saw many very similar real houses on our travels throughout England. Finding it was like getting to take a little piece of England home with me. 

The oldest piece of furniture in the house was this 1930s German-made cupboard, found in the bedroom, which still had its original floral carpet paper:

I love the classic British hunting print hanging on the bedroom wall:

The house and furniture is sized just right for Flagg Family dollhouse dolls, who moved in once I got it home. Here, dad and junior hang out in the TV room.

Coming up next: Day 3, the white cliffs and castle of Dover, and old toy finds at a boot sale (flea market)...


  1. "An antiquing miracle"! Wow..that said it all hey?
    Congrats on this very amazing find! My heart is melting at the thought of someday having the chance to maybe see those bear shops in person:(
    Excellent write up Tracy! I look forward to reading more!

  2. Tracy - we are vicarously taking a trip to England by reading your blog. We loved the dollhouse, and especially that you found it in a charity shop. Did you have to (as we had to on one trip) winnow out clothes and extra shoes to leave at charity shops on the way as they were displaced in your suitcases by all the wonderful things you bought?

  3. I am enjoying reading about your trip to my country. It is interesting to find things that we take for granted that are different for you to see(such as charity shops and really old buildings)

  4. I'm so glad you're all enjoying the trip reporting! And Michelle, the Michauds are considering leading another tour, a "reunion" in 2 years. Start saving your change and come with!

  5. Sharon and Rich: YES! I did have to leave things behind: almost all my toiletries and one pair of shoes. But it was worth it!


  7. One of the best things to love in this place is the rampant charity shops around the area. It’s easy to indulge yourself with a bit of shopping, what with the bargain prices, and knowing that you’re actually helping out a community in every item you purchase. I’m glad you enjoyed this adventure, and that you brought home a beautiful vintage toy at the end of it. Thanks for sharing!

    Norman Watkins @ eBay Giving Works

    1. Yes, the charity shops were wonderful, and there were so very many of them. They were a delight to browse. I still have happy dreams about this trip: it was glorious. I hope I get to come back again someday!