Skip to content

At Stephen Long’s Antique Shop

February 10, 2012
by the gentle author

David Milne, curator at Dennis Severs’ House, got in touch to tell me about the death of Stephen Long, an antique dealer who had dealt in early nineteenth century English china from a shop in the Fulham Rd since the nineteen sixties. This was where Dennis Severs bought much of the china that graces the house in Folgate St, he revealed – adding that by the end of this week the shop would be cleared out by an auction house prior to the sale of Stephen Long’s stock. But before that happened, there might be an opportunity to visit and photograph one of London’s last traditional antique shops, he suggested.

Until then, I had not quite noticed how the old school antique shops have been vanishing from the world. In Kensington Church St and in the Portobello Rd, in streets formerly lined with antique dealers – where once I used to wander, window shopping at all the beautiful old things I would never buy – such businesses are thinning out and becoming sparser. Similarly in Fulham and Chelsea, part of the accepted landscape of London is quietly dissolving away.

David and I walked through Brompton Cemetery to reach the quiet stretch of the Fulham Rd where Stephen Long had his shop, beyond the fashionable street life of Chelsea yet not proxy to the bustle of Fulham Broadway either. “I had no idea he was ill,” David confessed, “I saw his shop was shut and a glass panel was broken. Nobody could contact him, so in mid-December they broke in and found him sick upstairs, where he lived. And he died in hospital in January.”

In a fine nineteenth century terrace, only one premises had its original shopfront intact, still in architectural unity with the upper storeys where the rest had been crudely modernised at street level to discordant effect. The name of Stephen Long caught my eye at once in its classic typeface, above the elegant five-bay Victorian display window. And, even before we entered, I recognised the shop as of the familiar kind I had visited a hundred times with my parents, for the delight of admiring the wonders yet ever wary that we might break something expensive. There were colourful old plates on wire stands and other pieces of china formally placed in symmetrical arrangements, their decorum offset by the whimsy of artificial fruit and flowers, and cheerful coloured paper lining the shelves.

“Stephen used to sit behind a low desk at the back of the shop – so that you couldn’t see him from the street, there in the shop in the darkness with beautiful stuff  piled up around him,” recalled David, explaining how he discovered the connection with Dennis Severs, “I used to buy stuff from him and one day he told he knew a guy in Spitalfields.” Before Dennis Severs bought the house in Folgate St by which he is remembered, he lived in a mews in Gloucester Rd and gave rides around London in an open-top landau. Stephen Long told David, he remembered Dennis Severs parking the horse and carriage outside and coming in to buy things. Then, two years ago, Stephen Long visited Dennis Severs’ house at David’s invitation and when he saw the china, exclaimed, “I sold him all this!” At Dennis Severs’ House, the mass of china that decks the old dresser in the kitchen, the royal memorabilia in the parlour, the creamware and the teapots – it came from Stephen Long and his discreet price labels still remain on the underneath of the items to this day.

“What I loved about going into this shop, it was like stepping into the nineteenth century,” David confided to me as we entered the half light of the showroom, where most of the objects had been in stock for over twenty years but were now only resting in their former owner’s arrangements for one last afternoon. “In all the years I came to the shop, I never met anyone else in here,” David whispered, almost speaking to himself as he absorbed the atmosphere for the final time.

David told me Stephen Long was in his eighties, a quiet man, gentle, charming and of the old school, a dealer who knew his stuff. The shop was the manifestation of his sensibility and taste, after a lifetime of looking at things, displaying his eye for colour and form, and his playful delight in contrast and in gathering collections. “Like all the best dealers, he was a collector who only sold things to make room for the new,” said David and there it was, gleaming through the gloom – the last moment of one man’s treasure trove – just as he left it.

“He used to sit behind a low desk at the back of the shop – so that you couldn’t see him from the street.”

You may also like to read about

Dennis Severs’ Menagerie

Isabelle Barker’s Hat

Simon Pettet’s Tiles

David Milne, Curator at Dennis Severs’ House

Mick Pedroli, Manager at Dennis Severs’ House

The House of Silence

16 Responses leave one →
  1. February 10, 2012

    You show us such beautiful things. I really enjoyed browsing through Stephen’s wares. RIP Stephen. Thank you.

  2. February 10, 2012

    What an absolutely touching portrait of a man.
    Thank you.

  3. February 10, 2012

    What a superb shop, sadly soon to be no more. My magpye eyes flow over the shelves, noting to self ‘green tin’,’leaf plate’ &c &c. Just wonderful.

  4. Steve permalink
    February 10, 2012

    How terribly sad, it was a delightful shop, I went to school opposite and would gaze in the window on my way home.

  5. Ruby Kay permalink
    February 10, 2012

    A shop stuffed with memories and stories to be told…now falls silent. Out with the old!
    Super thanks.

  6. Chris F permalink
    February 11, 2012

    Enlarging the hole in the outer wall, Carter inserted the lit candle. “What can you see?” Carnarvan enquired impatiently. Momentarily allowing his eyes to become accustomed to the gloom, Carter replied, “Wonderful things”.

  7. Jenny permalink
    February 12, 2012

    Some of the photos here would not be out of place on a Vintage Designer blog. I think many old-style antique shops are re-inventing themselves for this type of popular market.

  8. Mark permalink
    February 12, 2012

    Fantastic photos, these are the kind of shops I love to meander through when visiting London, long may they carry on.

  9. stephen coates permalink
    February 16, 2012

    what a sad end for a woderful man, who had a superb eye. fascinating things and a shop always to hold one spellbound. He influenced my taste and so many aspectes of my life, for which i will always be grateful. Thank you, Mr. Long, you will always be remembered and missed. R.I.P

  10. Jonathan H permalink
    March 19, 2012

    I am sad to learn of Stephen Long’s death . He sold me a lovely set of six 19th c. Copeland plates with a tobacco leaf pattern and a huge cup and saucer from the same service only 9 or 10 months ago . I use them a lot and will always remember his quiet and delightful taste and manner and his intriguing shop . He was the very antithesis of “bling” .

  11. Nicky Cardoe permalink
    March 29, 2012

    What a lovely article – thank you. I too loved Mr long’s shop and have bought many a special present there – for family and friends. He was, indeed, a charming man – and ‘as sharp as a razor’ too… who seemed to love a bit of chivalrous bartering… always with a twinkle in his eye! I sometimes used to see a piece but not having enough cash on me would have to whiz off to the C&W to use the cash dispenser there – and then return… triumphant… to collect a beautiful new treasure. I am so very sad to hear that he has passed away and will miss whiling away the hours on a chilly or rainy winter’s day admiring his beautiful collection (in awe of his exquisite taste… I’m not sure that I ever saw anything that wasn’t either beautiful, charming, amusing or fascinating in there). He will be remembered. I will think of him every time I fill my heavenly jug (which I naughtily kept for myself… having HAD to buy it… it was so delightful) with roses from the garden.
    Thank you Mr long for some very precious memories – and quintessentially English treasures.

  12. Brian Wolstenholme permalink
    April 12, 2012

    For over 50 years a friend and for over 30 years my next door neighbour, Stephen Long
    gently dominated my eclectic aquisitions and oversaw their installation in an interior as
    totally personal as his own. Now in France, I have missed his almost daily letters and notes pushed into my box, and the hours of coversaation which so enriched my life – occasionally
    and wickedly at the expense of others! I should hate him for my odd tastes, but I can only
    admire him for his scholarship and friendship.

  13. Beverly permalink
    May 10, 2012

    Many times my husband and I would walk past this quaint little shop. We would gaze in the window..and it was always closed. One time we walked by and it was open… we were both a bit shy of going in, the reason being..not being wealthy people, we didn’t want to go in and hope to find an honest “bargain” and appear to be cheap or stupid.. Today as were both off for our wedding anniversary, we decided to be brave and have a good look and buy ourselves a treasure..we noticed it was all papered up and a piece of particle board in the door window.
    We both, disappointed and sad chatted about what happened. We hoped the owner had retired and was living happily in someplace warm and sipping exotic cocktails…but after looking this up..and reading this blog, we know the truth.
    I am sorry Mr Long, that we didn’t come in sooner to meet you and explore your shop.
    God rest your soul in peace.

  14. Dr Giuseppe Spoto permalink
    June 8, 2012

    I became aware that not all might be well with S Long after noticing the empty shop one day recently as I was driving past the shop.
    I often took a detour when driving around Chelsea in order to purposefully drive past the shop and I had down so again then.As a collector, the shop had always been immensely inspiring to me.
    I live in a georgian house in Camberwell and was drawn to Stephen’s shop like a magnet ever sice I discovered it ,entirely by chance .

    I have been a customer and bought a great many things from him over the years, mostly of course early 19C china ,and two pairs of Regency china dishes in particular face each other as they hang above two six panelled doors in my bedroom.
    I met Stephen in his shop ,and despite his retiring shy manner, I engaged in conversation with him a few times.Stephen lived above the shop in the most tastefully cluttered flat you can imagine!I once asked him if I could visit his flat but he briskly refused saying his apartment was private.
    Stephen Long wad a friend of the late John Fowler and a leading designer and decorator .His thoughts on the decorating style he advocated, essentially a very beautiful and tasteful variety of clutter,are available in print .Stephen’s article on the subject (which also has priceless pictures of his flat as well as the shop as they had been arranged by him in his time) can be found in a well known collection of essays on Interior Design also featuring other leading lights of the world of interior decoration such as N Haslam and others.
    I am greatly saddened to hear about his death but his work lives on in the collections put together by his loyal customers.

  15. sukey dunn permalink
    November 19, 2012

    i was worrying about stephen long and his shop and am very sorry to hear about his demise.

    is the auction still to happen?

  16. October 23, 2014

    Lovely article, I feel like I was actually in the store. It is sad to hear that these antique shops are vanishing. We are situated in an antique village and each year it seems the number of shops reduce.

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS