The Giant Flea Market

At Bath and West Showground near Shepton Mallet in Somerset (approx once a month).

Oh My God! I went there this morning and I have barely stopped talking about it because I am so flabbergasted by it. I try not to swear on these pages, but I’m not going to be able to stop myself, so look away now if you are easily offended: It was completely and utterly shit. It was huge, so I have never seen so much utter crap in my life for such extortionate prices. Have you seen the ‘I saw you coming’ sketch on the Harry and Paul show on Fridays? It’s like that, but on a massive scale.

Some of the stalls were legitimate; they specialised in things like antique lace, or postcards for collectors or military paraphernalia; but 90% of the stalls were simply utter crap. My Mum has some plastic orange food storage tubs from the 70s – she uses them for flour and sugar. £15 for the larger size and £12 for the medium one here!!! There was an iron cooking pan with a handle over the top – perfect for hanging over and cooking on a fire and the guy wanted £70 for it!!!! “They go for more than that on e-bay,” he said when I laughed. “Very popular with the travellers.” Then; by pure coincidence a bone fide genuine traveller came along as I was browsing the next stall and asked the guy how much is was. You could tell he was dithering – I was still in earshot and he knew it, so he had to offer the same price. The traveller had the same reaction as me, but was more vocal about it. “I usually pick these up for a fiver,” he said.

And that’s frankly a good example. Unless you’re looking for a collector’s item and you know how much things are really worth; you’re better off going to boot fairs and jumble sales. They were really trying to pass things off as trendy “vintage” when really everything was just a bit old. I found some bargains at the material stall right by the entrance, and that’s all I came away with. The £3 pounds entry fee wasn’t worth it for that. And frankly I felt as if I’d had my time wasted, as the thing is so big, it took well over an hour to look around – and after a while I stopped bothering to ask the prices of things. If you want a good thorough browse, then allow 2 to 3 hours. But make sure you’ve got a good size wad of cash you don’t mind lining the pockets with of the people who’ve seen you coming. You’ve been warned!

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14 Responses to The Giant Flea Market

  1. Sue says:

    I’ve tried to leave you a comment but am having difficulty in doing so.

    This is my 3rd attempt!

    Oh dear, what a shame you found all the stalls that give the rest of us a bad name. Did you go into the Showering Pavilion – where most of us are genuine dealers? Bearing in mind your comments I sincerely hope you didn’t. As you say, there were some bona fide dealers outside, many of whom I know, and who are not in the habit of fleecing the public. The rest of the outside stallholders queue up on the day and are generally ‘fair weather’ sellers.

    I don’t know what you were expecting, but most visitors to the Flea are thrilled to find there is so much to browse, and spend several hours browsing and finding bargains. If you got round in an hour and only found rubbish, then it’s hardly surprising you were disappointed.

    One other thing bothers me, though – the fact that your post is dated 29 September and Sue Ede’s Giant Flea Market at Shepton Mallet was not held on that day. There was one on 31 August and the next one, the most recent, was 12 October. If you attended a Flea Market at the Bath & West Showground on 28 September it should certainly NOT be confused with the major one held 6 or 7 times a year run by Sue Ede.

    I hope others will not be put off by your comments and will make up their own minds about the quality of some of the items and the sellers. Many bloggers buy at the Flea and later sell the items on their websites. They seek out items tucked under and behind other bits and pieces, negotiate with the seller and generally come away with bargains which they are then able to sell on to others through the internet at realistic prices.

    I am guessing that you won’t be turning up at my pitch in the Showering Pavilion at the next Giant Flea Market at Shepton on 14 December, but if you decide to give it another chance I shall be delighted to meet you.

    Sue

  2. Helen says:

    Hi Sue. I’m sorry, I often write stuff in my notebook to type up later and I should’ve put that the flea market I was referring to was actually right back on the 13th July. I’m afraid I don’t know who ran it.
    Thank you for your comments; and I probably will give it another go and have more of a rummage, but as I mentioned, I pretty much gave up because every time I asked the stall holder for the price of something I liked, things were so expensive, it wasn’t worth even starting to haggle. I don’t know if it was called the Showering Pavilion, but I did go inside the large indoor area, where on the balcony I found those orange plastic tubs. Though, I agree the better stalls were definitely inside there.
    I suppose I was expecting to find items that often can’t be found in shops any more; that have a feel of history and could have interesting stories to tell; but for reasonable prices as stall holders don’t have the overheads of antique shops; and I wouldn’t expect such good quality either. However, most of what I found was simply what I’d class as second hand and a bit old, but I may as well pay the same price for brand new.
    I thought I might find a jug – I’m after an ordinary ceramic jug of no particular make. I asked the price of about 6 or 7 jugs and the price varied between £12 and £30 for similar smallish sized ones. I’m not prepared to pay that when I can buy just as nice ceramic jugs from M&S or Ikea for that price. They may well have been bargains if they were of a particular designer; which is why I mentioned it is probably the place for you if you know what collector’s item you’re looking for. But last year I bought two nice large ceramic jugs from a boot fair for £1 each. That’s what I call a bargain!

    I’m sorry you had trouble leaving your comment. I’ll look into that, but it may be just this delay because I am bombarded with spam so I approve all comments before they appear on the website. (I approve everything that isn’t spam.)

  3. Sue says:

    Hi Helen

    Indeed, the July Flea Market was run by Sue Ede but it was an extra one in the calendar, only arranged with the Bath & West about a month before instead of being included in the dates set at the beginning of the year.

    I was inside selling the vintage linens and textiles which are my stock in trade but I know there were a vast number of outside pitches because of the good weather. Anyone can fill their car and go along on the day, and because many regulars were unable to rearrange their calendars to fit in this extra Fair there were plenty of indoor spaces for others to book. Of course that doesn’t mean to say that it wasn’t a regular who was selling the items you were looking at and I appreciate your comments.

    I generally take the same items that I would take to the 3-day Antiques Fair, with a few extra cheaper items which would be out of place at the other Fair, and my prices do not vary from one Fair to another. The rest of the time I sell my stock from Dairy House Antiques, which is my antiques shop/centre near Shaftesbury (see the link on my blog) or my website. My prices are set according to what I paid for an item and the profit I need to stay in business. This may mean that you would find them too expensive, but if a particular length of fabric or piece of china has hung around for some time nearly all dealers will sell at a lower price to move the item on. It’s always worth asking for a best price, but do be prepared for the fact that an aggressive approach by a prospective purchaser is bound to be met by an equally aggressive response from a seller. I love to chat to everyone who comes to my stall, and will often reduce an item more than I should when dealing with a friendly buyer, but I give short shrift to someone who is rude or tries to bully me into reducing a price.

    Remember also that the majority of people selling at a run of the mill carboot are just clearing their houses of unwanted items which owe them very little return. This is where you will get the bargains for obvious reasons. For those of us whose business it is to buy and sell, a proper return on our outlay is the difference between success and failure in business.

    If you do decide to come to the Flea in December do please come and say hello. I stand half-way down the first aisle, next to the middle roller shutter door, and opposite the sweet man.

    Sue

  4. Helen says:

    Well Sue, now I feel guilty because I know exactly which stall you were at and I should have mentioned you in my original review. I did in fact buy a beautiful blue silk tablecloth and a linen baguette bag from you! I suppose I admit to leaving this out to greater impact my feelings about the rest of the flea market. I told my husband about your stall at the time because both times I came up to it you had a large crowd because you sell things at reasonable prices. I said that I bet you actually take a far bigger profit at the end of the day for selling a greater number of items at prices people can afford, rather than the others outside who weren’t selling much at all. I just hope the other sellers notice your popularity and also notice why!

  5. Liz says:

    Hi both,
    Very interested to read all the comments re Shepton. We are Red Fox and we have been at the Fleamarket twice as stallholders; we are also at Dairy House Antiques. We sell hand-knotted rugs and antique furniture. I can vouch for the quality of Sue’s stock. I have sympathy both with the overwhelmed buyer at a large event and the stallholder who is trying to sell genuine items. Please be reassured that there are very many genuine stallholders who take a delight in selling beautiful quality, reasonably-priced stock and who would be as horrified as you have been by anyone who does not have either morals or standards!! Please have a look at Red Fox http://www.redfoxgallery.co.uk – we are also with Sue at Dairy House. Best wishes and happier hunting in the future, liz

  6. Joseph Leonard says:

    Hi Helen.I read your comments with interest as i exhibit at the Flea market.I can understand your reaction and would like to put it from a trade point of view.
    I am a professional jewellery dealer,trading for twenty years in fine antique and pre owned jewellery.I too can totally relate to the ‘Harry Enfield sketch’ as i come across that type of seller all the time,especially selling jewellery.The devil of it is,people love it and will buy from a upper class schmoozing idiot every time as long as they think they are ‘P L U’.I offer a no nonsense approach to my stock which is immaculately displayed and correctly labeled and my customers get honest service and full back up the same as they can (should) expect from a high street shop.
    The people you commented on are a generation up from the car boots of the 80′s.They think they are now experts in collectables and count their experience as the number of frosty mornings they have pitched up in rather than any solid training or accreditation.Many of them are retired and see this way of life as a way of meeting people and are hoping for a comeback of the 90′s buying spree that saw people buying anything remotely ‘collectable’ as a gamble for the future.
    This type of buyer has long gone and the stallholders with ‘tat’ ,70′s glasses/cheap china will always be seen sat behind the stall with a puzzle magazine and a mug of tea.At the end of the fair they will always say ‘well, we covered our pitch so that wasn’t too bad’.I am only amazed by how tenacious they are as surely they cannot afford to make a loss each time they leave the house,can they?.I hope this recession (which we have yet to really see at Antique fairs) will clear out the last of this type of trader and the existing ones will realise that they have to be professional and sharpen up their act.Do come back again and pay us a visit.

  7. Sue Meager says:

    Hi Helen

    I’ve only just found your posts again, and see that you replied again to me in October. Thanks so much for buying the blue cloth, and for your lovely comments.

    I still stand in the same spot, and if you decide to come in June (21st) do come and remind me of this correspondence!!

    How nice that Liz (Red Fox) also commented. She and her husband are dealers at Dairy House Antiques (www.dairyhouseantiques.co.uk) and I had no idea Liz had added a comment.

    I do hope you’ll come and say hello, either at the Giant Flea or at Dairy House sometime.

    Best wishes
    Sue

  8. Rob says:

    This is a reply to the lady who visited the Flea Market at Shepton and described it as “utterly shit” This Lady really needs to consider her words before making such unworthy comments. The Sue Ede Fairs are without doubt one of the best Fairs l have visited over the last few years. I’ve picked up many bargains, by simply looking beyond the ‘fly by night’ weekend Traders. How can she possibly gauge the feel of the event, by only staying for one hour? Really makes me angry that the reputation of a good standard Flea Market can be potentially damaged by such an ignorant and obvious ‘serial car booter’. Take my advise and stick to your car boots, which is where you obviously belong.

  9. Helen says:

    Hi Rob. Hehe! I’d just like to point out a few things. “Stick to your car boots, which is where you obviously belong.” It’s been a while since I heard such a snobby remark. I’m not a serial car booter, but if I was, I wouldn’t be ashamed of it. I am a frequenter of reclamation yards, antique fairs, ebay and the occasional car boot sale (I don’t have any near me) while I kit out my new, old house. Between them I have learnt the value of things. Do you really think it acceptable to charge £15 for an old orange plastic tub? Or £70 for a second hand cooking pan? As I said, these ridiculous prices tended to be typical. However, I also said it was good for collector’s items if you knew their worth and if you’d read my other posts here, you’d also know that I admitted to buying from a very reasonably priced linen stall. I’m sure you have picked up up some bargains there, but I bet you had to trawl through a lot rubbish from those “‘fly by night’ weekend traders” to get them.
    I also said I was there for “well over an hour”. My advice (with a ‘c’)is read people’s comments carefully before getting so worked up about them. I never realised that my opinion would be so controversial! Considering the number of people that have responded to defend the flea market, I doubt I have damaged its reputation. I fully assume that all flea markets have a lot of rubbish, but this one happens to be so big, so therefore it will have more! I expect they all have stall holders who wait for those daft enough and with money enough to pay over the odds for something old because they think it’s fashionable to buy ‘vintage.’

  10. Piggy says:

    Hey we checked out the Flea recently (autumn “09) and it ghuddammed started raining ten minutes before opening time, nobody seemed to be selling large umbrellas either so we were aced out in one. Why don”t the organisers of these events fix a date when they KNOW it isn”t going to rain?. Our inestimable weather projectionists give their golden words ofmprophecy freely, and there isn”t much that”s free nowadays. I blame the organisers for the weather, they should have done more research.

  11. Helen Lloyd says:

    Hello!
    I have just been to the Flea Market at Shepton. It was my first time and I had an almost identical experience. I will not be going again to buy as the prices reflected tose of the high street. My response to a man who wanted £70 for a pine shelf was your having a laugh. he then told me it was antique and he could get more than that in an antique shop. I havn’t laughed so much for ages!

    I did buy a pair of drawers for £50 which were nice and were a bargain. The man was genuine. Incidently I went to a furniture/chattels auction yesterday and the man who sold me the two chests of drawers was buying at auction for peanuts!
    Summed it up for me quite well really.

  12. Jan says:

    Late to this discussion, found it as I am a dealer looking for a new venue and wondering about doing the Shepton Fleamarket. Will visit the July one and make up my mind from there but, in the meantime, I feel compelled to leave a comment.
    I think there is a gulf of misunderstanding between dealers and the public which is summed up by the last comment left. Anyone who is cynical about a dealer buying ‘for peanuts’ at auction and selling for a profit doesn’t begin to understand that a dealer has to make a living. Not only that, every purchase is a gamble inasmuch as that particular piece may not find a buyer for some time, in which case their money is tied up until it does.
    Think of it this way. The dealers buy at auction, then set up their stalls so that you can come along, see what you want, buy only that, and leave the rest behind. It really is a finding service you’re paying for, as well as the item itself, and that service takes a lot of knowledge, research, petrol, time, pitch fees, shoe-leather, sweat and, sometimes, tears so that you can come along, pluck out what you want, and go.
    Besides all of which, no-one’s forcing you to pay the price a dealer is asking. Just walk away. It’s them who will suffer if their prices are too high. But, please, have a heart and don’t ruin a fair’s reputation. Plenty of good, honest people rely on them to make a crust.
    Come October, I might be one of them. :)

  13. Jan says:

    Of course, dealers also need to buy cheaply because they have to carry a lot of stock, all the time. That represents a lot of money tied up, all the time. There are easier ways to make a living, believe me, most dealers do it because they love the things they buy and sell, not because they’re making loadsamoney.
    I have no idea how much 1970s plastic tubs are ‘worth’ but £12/£15 doesn’t seem like so very much if they’re in good condition and not common. Many will have been spoilt through use or thrown away, I imagine. The fact that your mother has some doesn’t mean they’re not worth what the dealer was asking. Pricing is a somewhat subjective thing. To an avid collector of all things 70s, that might represent good value for money. One man’s trash, etc.
    So, Helen, have we done anything to change your mind about dealers and the Shepton Flea? I hope, at least, that you and the other detractors here have had your eyes opened to the reality of making a living as a dealer. :)

  14. Helen says:

    Thank you for your comments. I find it funny that still, nearly five years after I wrote that review of the Bath & West flea market, that it is still my most commented-on post! I haven’t been back since 2008, so I cannot revise my opinions in any way. I am simply not your target market. I don’t spend my money extravagantly and am only willing to buy things which I think are worth it. You ask if my eyes have been opened to the reality of making a living as a dealer; well there is no need, because in many ways I am one. I recently bought a bundle of vintage and antique Christening gowns which I was able to get at auction at a good price. This enables me to sell them in my Etsy shop at a good price (’60s and ’70s under £10 and Victorian/Edwardian £15 – £24 depending on condition.) My customers clearly agree that this is a fair price because they have been my best sellers.
    Unfortunately a shopper doesn’t look around and consider that the price of an item is fair because the seller has to make a living. I also sell gifts at craft fairs. One person picked up a real leather bookmark that I was selling for £3 and remarked that they thought that was rather expensive. They don’t take into consideration that I first had to buy a blank leather bookmark; then draw out in pencil the celtic design, and then heat engrave it using pyrography – a process taking about an hour. And quite frankly I don’t think they should. Either she was not my target audience or £3 is too much for a bookmark. (Incidentally I have learnt not to bother with bookmarks – they are not worth the time and effort.) A shopper is a selfish being whose only role is to decide whether the price is worth it to them. The seller’s living is completely irrelevant.
    I had no intention of ruining the flea market’s reputation and I very much doubt my little blog has even dented it slightly. I’m sure my reaction would have been the same no matter which flea market I went to, and if you like flea markets, then you will go to this one because it is the biggest in the area – in fact I don’t know of any others. Flea markets are obviously not for me and I haven’t been to another one since. I may go again, especially if I’m after something in particular that I don’t think I can get anywhere else, or if I take up collecting postcards or something.
    I wish you all the best with your stall and hope it is successful :)

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