Category Archives: shopping

Old Town

If you stand and listen in the Old Town showroom in Holt, Norfolk, you hear the ticking of the clock and the sound of the sewing machine upstairs, making garments from traditional, hardwearing materials. There is no sleepy electronic beeping or the soft hum of computer fans that  we tend to take for granted.

The list of fabrics they use reads like a hymn to the forgotten glories of British mills – not just Harris Tweed but also corduroy, heavy tactile linens, cavalry drill, wool serge, moleskin and flannel. Shapes are simple, inspired by workwear from the last hundred or so years, and crucially don’t change seasonally. If you find something that suits you can continue having it made for you in summer and winter weight materials.

Old Town started 18 years ago in Norwich as a retro kitchenwear shop, but gradually the clothes started creeping in, and gained a fanatical following.

In their own words “Our single breasted rever collar jacket is an unfaithful copy of one found in a tool locker during the demolition of Stratford locomotive works; locker and contents seen on offer at Lea Bridge Road car boot sale.

Handed in as lost property in 1936, the originals for our style know as ‘High Rise’ were then mislaid behind a radiator in the London Transport Lost Property Office until redecoration in the early nineteen eighties.

Our popular ‘Overall Jacket’ is the mutant offspring of a pre-war lamplighter’s jacket glimpsed on the back of a chair in Coffee Republic at Canary Wharf.”

The Old Town look isn’t a painstaking reproduction of a particular period, but more an exuberant ramble through Britain’s idea of its heritage. Playful references to the Nanny state (the ties you can just see in the photo above), a range of Fair Isle tank tops straight out of an Enid Blyton book, and the dreaded Aertex which sadly reminds me of the smell of my old school changing rooms, all contribute to a jolly air of faded seaside holidays and 1950s milkmen.

Everything both downstairs and up contributes to this feeling – there is no jarring note of  the 21st century creeping in.

Upstairs is a low ceilinged work room reminiscent of those on Saville Row, where everything is cut out and much of it sewn, the rest being sent out to local seamstresses before coming back for finishing. It is the exact opposite of buying semi-disposable chainstore clothes made in the Far East.

So, if you prefer Gill Sans to Helvetica, and paper cones of winkles to plastic trays of sushi, do investigate further. Telephone former Woolworths saturday girl Miss Willey, visit the store in Holt or their fine website, where most of the male models sport estimable beards and the ladies sensible shoes suitable for bicycling through country lanes.

Old Town clothing

Also turn to The Evening Star, their cheerful publication which makes the final demise of pale blue Aertex headline news. Next edition coming soon.

Old Town, 49 Bull Street, Holt, Norfolk NR25 6HP. 01263 710001. (they do say it is advisable to telephone before travelling any great distance).

Opening times Tuesday to Saturday 10am – 5pm

NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at http://flatlanders.co.uk/ – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

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All the toys you can shake a stick at

Drum-playing BearThis Thursday there is a very special auction happening at Keys auction house in Aylesham, Norfolk. A stonking collection of automata, robots, toys. Browsing the catalogue it seems that everything that moves by itself is worthy of inclusion.

RobotsI’m a sucker for both auctions and toys with interesting or quizzical expressions on their faces – bringing them together might be too much for my discretion and self control.

Automated CowThere are also delights such as the lampophone (below), a combination lamp and gramophone, with the turntable hidden in the ‘cake’ base of the lamp and the speaker tube being the lamp’s column, the opening concealed by the shade. Although it also works as an ordinary lamp, so as not to give the game away.

The marvellous lampophone

Bids can be made by phone and over the web as well as in person, although with no estimates or guide prices on the website I suspect we might be in the ‘Collectors Only’ end of the price range.

Special Collectors Sale Thusday March 19th 2009.  To Feature the Arthur Windley Collection of 100+ Lots of Automaton 75+ Lots Japanese Robots, 300 + Vintage and other Toys, 75 Old Radios, Arcade Machines, Model Thursford Wurlitzer Organ, Juke boxes inc Wurlitzer, Rock Ola, Seeburg, Gramophones, Quantity of Lps & 45’s to include some rare Elvis Presley. Also to include 1970’s Taito Space Invaders Arcade Game, Sega Afterburner, Konami Track & Field Video Arcade Game.
Viewing Wed 18th March 9am to 7:30pm and from 9am the day of the sale.
Sale starts from 11am Thursday 19th March 09
Keys Aylsham Salerooms
Off Palmers Lane
Aylsham
Norwich
Norfolk
NR11 6JA
+44 (0)1263 733195
Maps and directions here.
Catalogue here.
NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at http://flatlanders.co.uk/ – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

A motherlode of beautiful furniture

This weekend is the monthly auction at Willingham, a small village northwest of Cambridge.

The auction house is a series of beautiful old brick barns, set around a gravelled courtyard, and to me it beats shopping on Ebay hands down, especially for furniture.

Auctions are held on Saturdays and the drill is that if you arrive at 9am, you have an hour to look round before the auction opens. Arrive early, register for your bidder numer, get a catalogue and a bacon sandwich from the fabulous cafe and have a look round the furniture and objects.

There is usually lots of victorian furniture, a smattering of georgian and some fabulous oddities. My husband raised one eyebrow when I brought home an old tin trunk fancifully painted with a fictional nautical scene but I’m happy with it.

There’s a certain amount of rushing between the two simultaneous auctioneers – one doing furniture in the main barn, one doing china and collectables in the other building. (Collectables – I’m discovering that covers a multitude of weirdness.)

Bidding is a huge adrenaline rush, everything telescopes into you, the auctioneer and the mysterious competition, on the phones, commission bids in the auctioneers book or other people on the floor. Those who attend are a mix of dealers and punters. There’s lots of married couples where the husband  does the serious business of talking to the auctioneer, but each new bid stands or falls on the wife’s nod. It’s a beautiful thing.

As the morning wears on the rooms start to look a bit thinner as people take their purchases away, but tea and home made cake keep the energy up and in summer there’s usually some garden furniture being sold that no one minds you borrowing for a quick tea break.

And then home in time for lunch in Antiques Roadshow stylee, with a giant grandfather clock sticking out of the sunroof.

Sign up for catalogue alerts at www.willinghamauctions.com – they have an excellent website where you can see exactly what’s going to be in the sale with pictures and estimates, and all the usual information. See you saturday!

NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at http://flatlanders.co.uk/ – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

Christmas shopping

If you are anything like me, you have sorted out all the easy christmas presents and are worrying about the last few people who are impossible to buy for or you don’t know well. After a panicked saturday afternoon wandering round Cambridge in the freezing rain looking for inspiration that never came, I decided that buying something local and handmade will never go amiss. I’ve had a look round local makers who are selling over the internet and rounded up some of the best pieces in a couple of sensible price brackets.

Credit crunch christmas, under £20

For the woman who has everything, including a tidy handbag:

Silver leaf keyring by Romilly Norman in Ipswich, £19

 

 

For the teenage girl you’ve never met who is coming for christmas day:

Peacock photogram by Heidi Burton

Peacock photogram by Heidi Burton  in Cambridge, £5

 

For people who like to age their bills on the fridge:

Hand screen printed magnets by Summersville in Suffolk, £5.95

 

For baby’s first christmas:

Hand knitted baby slippers by Willo in Cambridge £12

 

£20 – £50

You can’t go wrong with a beautiful bowl:

helen_brown_bowlBlackbird bowl by Helen Brown at the Suffolk Craft Society, £38

 

For modern mermaids:

mermaid_pendant_coryvreckanInspired by a piece of bladderwrack picked up on Southwold beach, seaweed pendant by Corryvreckan, £26

 

For the cosy and house proud, St Judes screen print artist-designed fabrics, and make up lovely cushion covers:

stjudes_cushion_coversSt Judes cushion covers, £32 each. Also check out their printed notebooks and cosy woolen throws.

 

For those who appreciate stark winter beauty, this tiny etching:chrissy_norman_winter_willowsWinter willows at Dedham, by Chrissy Norman, who is based in Trimley St Mary in Suffolk, £55

 

Disclaimer: the local and handmade thing doesn’t work on teenage boys at all. Except for local beers for the later teen years. Or after – what man (apart from my husband) would appreciate socks over hand brewed beer?