This past Sunday we got the wonderful opportunity to visit the Hemswell Antique Center
in rural Lincolnshire. It was a solid 90 minutes of freeway driving from our temporary home on the AF base out here, but it wasn’t a terrible drive. Forewarned that this was the largest antique center in Europe, I knew it was going to be a long day, but upon arrival, I was almost overwhelmed by the sheer size of the place.
Once part of the WWII Royal Air Force base, RAF Hemswell, you enter a large gate and are greeted initially by the first of four large buildings FULL of antiques. The first building you’ll come upon, and my guide’s favorite, is the Guardroom. It holds plenty of amazing furniture and even boasts a coffee shop in case you need your caffeine fix.
When you venture here, plan to arrive early and stay all day. It took us hours to get through the four main buildings and one smaller one that wasn’t actually part of the Hemswell center but is on the same site. There were also at least two other buildings we didn’t get to and we were there the entire day. On Sundays you pay 50p per person to get into all four Hemswell antique buildings. And keep your ticket handy, because they will check for it at the entrance of each building. *Tip – If you buy a coffee or snack from the coffee shop in either the Guardroom or the coffee shop in building 1, they will take it off your purchase price when you produce your ticket.
Side note: If you can, make an entire weekend out of it. There is really that much to see. Especially because on Sundays there is a HUGE boot sale in the field adjacent to the antique center. (A boot sale is somewhere between a giant yard sale and a flea market. People have allotted areas but stuff is just plopped on tables, canopies aren’t really a thing, neither is staging haha). I don’t think it’s affiliated with the center at all, but it’s worth a look. That boot sale in and of itself could take you hours. We tried to breeze through it and only made it through about half of it. We found EVERYTHING at this boot sale from what American’s would call vintage things/antiques to yard sale type junk, to new things like Egyptian cotton bath sheets (3 for £10! what a deal!). They even had a whole booth dedicated to dog treats (think, rawhides, bones, weird animal things for them to chew on…)and a butcher truck selling fresh meat. I found a couple vintage pieces I wanted to buy at the boot sale but was hesitant to pull the trigger on anything large because we hadn’t even crossed the threshold of the “largest antique center in Europe” yet. In the end, we bought some towels and I nabbed a could bangles for 50p each.
After my friend scored some cheap pottery for decor and a few galvanized old watering cans at the boot sale, we dropped our prizes in the cars and headed into the Guardroom. My initial thought upon entering this spotless, well laid out antique store, is “wow, antique is a WHOLE different meaning in England” and then… “holy moly, I can’t afford anything here!” I mean, we’re talking desks from the 1700s for a few thousand pounds. And I can’t fault them, we just don’t have anything that age in America and it’s obviously worth it when it’s in that amazing condition. Eventually we found some things we liked that were in our price range!
The other three buildings were larger than the first and held similar types of antiques. I mean we’re talking tables, chairs, chests and bookshelves from hundreds of years ago! The most confusing thing is, there are several rooms and multiple floors in each building and ALL THREE BUILDINGS ARE THE SAME. They are even painted the same blue. They are all filled to the brim with furniture, little knick knacks and other vintage pieces like bread boxes and books. Other cases line walls and small alcoves full of antique jewelry and smalls the lines of which I’ve never seen gathered together in one place.
Overall I had an amazing time here and can’t wait to go back. When I’m there next time though, I’ll follow these tips I’m leaving for you:
1 – Don’t jump into anything – We saw a corner cabinet we really liked and thought was pretty unique because we hadn’t seen anything like in the states. But after four building’s worth of time, we saw several more in varying degrees of ornateness. I’m glad we didn’t jump on the first one we saw because there were definitely ones we wanted more.
2 – Take NOTES! – That being said, if you see something you think you’ll want to come back and see, or possibly buy later (today or another day), write down not only the building but the general area you found it. We found several things I liked and by the end of he day I couldn’t tell you where they were for us to go back and see because like I said before, all the buildings, except the Guardroom, are the same.
3 – Take measurements – If you have an idea of what you’re looking for, a table, an armoire, etc, have measurements with you on how big the space is in your house, and if it’s something larger, have measurements of your doorways and if applicable, stairwells. Houses are small in England but true antique furniture is not.
4 – Don’t expect to see anything from later than the 1950s (and those mid century modern pieces are few and far between) – In antique stores in California, things from the 70s are common place and 80s and even 90s stuff is starting to creep in. I think this is mostly because we just don’t have the history in the states like they do in Europe. Our country is only 240+ years old and we just don’t seem to have the same respect for old things as they do over here. From buildings (our house was built in 1700) to furniture, they have hundreds of years on us. If you get the opportunity to antique hunt in the UK, keep that in mind.