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Where Dennis Severs Bought His China

July 26, 2021
by the gentle author

The immersive tour of Dennis Severs House I created for the Spitalfields Trust, as a re-imagination of the tours that Dennis Severs gave in the eighties, commences this Thursday 29th July and booking is open until the end of November.

Click here to book tickets


One day, David Milne of Dennis Severs’ House, got in touch to tell me about 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 Stephen Long had died and within the week the contents of his shop would be cleared out by an auction house. 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

15 Responses leave one →
  1. Bernie permalink
    July 26, 2021

    How very sad! But also impressive.

  2. July 26, 2021

    Oh my goodness this post is just for me. I used to be in the antique trade and had my own Antique shop so, many of these items I recognize, such as the lovely Wedgwood pottery Salt glaze stoneware medicine bottles and jug, plus a Masons Ironstone China jug and some Imari Ware I love all antiques but the pottery was always my favourite. Thank you for sharing this wonderful post which brought back many happy memories for me.

  3. Dave Phillips permalink
    July 26, 2021

    Your blog is wonderful for armchair travellers… using oogle maps 3D one is able to (almost) peer into the window of Stephens shop. I searched for hours looking for the many stairways you mentioned to the Thames, and bits of the old London Wall. Thank you so much. Cheers! Dave

  4. July 26, 2021

    Dear TGA, while I was looking at the lovely photos of Highgate Cemetery, I was intrigued and excited by the very last photo – that of the grave of Anna Mahler. Research revealed that she was the 2nd daughter of Gustav and Alma Mahler, and that her old sister had died when she was aged 3 years Mahler when she was 6. After Mahler’s death her mother married Walter Gropius, with whom she was already in love before Mahler died. Anna married at the age of 16, the first of 5 marriages. This marriage lasted a few months, and this pattern recurred. She became a very skilled sculptress and lived in Hampstead for a couple of periods, including late in her life, while she was visiting her daughter, and died there, being buried in the Highgate Cemetery. I am so glad to have found this information.

    Btw, did Lucinda take the beautiful photos of Stephen Long’s shop?

    I hope you are in good health. Vb, Greg

  5. Penny Gardner permalink
    July 26, 2021

    Yes , I do remember . I used to walk from South Ken to work on Fulham Broadway , every weekend and passed his shop . couldn’t afford his china as the job paid £5.00 per day and had to cover my rent .

  6. July 26, 2021

    I enjoyed this little shopping expedition today, even though I am still in my pajamas and haven’t had my morning coffee yet. I’ve found the perfect thing. That little Gothic chair. I have to have it. I will put it in my bedroom, piled with a stack of books.

    Just imagine…….each object in these photos will eventually fall into admiring, appreciative hands. And the stories will continue.

    Thank you, GA.

  7. Sue permalink
    July 26, 2021

    Wow an Aladdin’s cave of beautiful antiques. I used to go to antique fairs just to look at the lovely pottery. Thanks for sharing your photos.

  8. Helen H permalink
    July 26, 2021

    What a shame, and thank you for sharing this. We lost a very old antique shop in our town due to redevelopment. On another note I remember Dennis Severs saying he bought some of the Delft pieces that sit in display above one of the fireplaces, from Schipol Airport! He was after all, the master of illusion!

  9. Linda Granfield permalink
    July 26, 2021

    Thank you for capturing that “one last afternoon”–this is a lovely eulogy for the man, and the shop that you rightly say is a business fast disappearing from streets all over the world.

    Toronto used to have similar delightful spots to window-shop (or actually shop) through history–now steel and glass condos are plunked down on those streets. No reason to look with wonder through those windows!

    The street-view of 348 Fulham Rd today shows that the ironwork Victorian frontage was replaced by ugliness. Just plain ugliness. It loudly shouts, ‘keep walking, nothing beautiful here anymore.’

  10. Cherub permalink
    July 26, 2021

    In German speaking Switzerland as well as antique shops there are also what are called Brockiehaus shops, which are akin to what we refer to in Britain as junk shops. You can get some real “finds” in them, a lot of things come from house clearances. I’ve spent many happy hours rooting through old china and glassware and have bought things I’ll take back to Britain when I retire. I just wish I could ship an old Swiss / Germanic cupboard back, some I see are beautifully painted, but they’re huge. I believe these shops also exist in Germany and France under the same name, they are a magnet for ex-pats looking to furnish a home cheaply.

  11. Gilbert O'BRIEN permalink
    July 26, 2021

    A very interesting — and timely, given the imminent opening of Dennis Severs’ house — article, although a bit confusing re the time frame, as Stephen Long died several years ago. I met Stephen Long a couple of times towards the end of the last century. He was a close friend of a close friend, the artist/photographer called John Vere Brown. They both had similar tastes, and had a strong influence on one another. John Vere Brown (JVB) was one of the first (if not the very first) people to photograph houses for Interiors (in fact he took the first ever photographs of Giverny when it opened to the public in about 1980) and later took extensive photos of Stephen Long’s flat which appeared in Interiors (perhaps by then rechristened The World of Interiors) in the (I think) late 90s. The photos — which presumably are available in the Interiors archive — have a look of the shop, only more so, and I would guess that the flat, as well as the contents of the shop, were an influence on Dennis Severs and his house. There was a great deal of casually worn expertise and knowledge exercised by John Vere Brown and Stephen Long, a combination of learning and taste and a quirky insight into the found treasures of market stalls. John Vere Brown (who I think was a few years older than Stephen Long) claimed to have originated the expression ‘shabby chic’ in the 1960s, although this was disputed by Min Hogg (founding editor of Interiors) who claimed she had started the expression in the 80s. Stephen Long was an ace representative of the style, and it is surely no accident that he would have known Min Hogg as well as John Vere Brown. They were all in their ways beholden to market stall sellers like the then famous Reg of Inverness Street in Camden Town. Reg had been on his stall (in reality two or three wall paper pasting tables) since the 50s I think — certainly he was established there by the early 60s. He was a totter who sold his house clearance treasures in the market on Thursdays and Saturdays. Mostly what one found went for tuppence or four pence ha’penny. He famously had an argument with a punter who found a piece of pottery (sic) and asked the price:
    ‘Tuppence,’ said Reg.
    ‘But Reg,’ said the punter: ‘it’s Meissen.’
    ‘Oh, aw right, six pence then.’
    It is via that lineage that the Stephen Longs and the Dennis Severs of this world have descended. (Geoffrey Fletcher, whose books have been written about by the Gentle Author, illustrated that world.) We have the benefit of their creative quirks, their gifts of taste and their abilities to assemble the crumbling bits of the past and set them out as a gift to us in this drab corporate age when the Chain is King and the small antique shops, as the Gentle Author notes, are disappearing from the streets. Dennis Severs house is a tribute to those people, none of whom would have expected their legacy to find expression in an old house in Spitalfields. We should be grateful they were there, all those years ago, doing ‘their own thing’.

  12. Judith permalink
    July 26, 2021

    His shop is a lovely tribute to the man . Thank you for posting this.

  13. Lizebeth permalink
    July 26, 2021

    Wow, your readers have most interesting comments. I, too, dealt in small antiques for a short while, and I mourn the death of most of the tiny and fascinating shops I used to go into and chat with the owners for hours on end. Why are we subjected to the uglification of everything these days? It seems Amazon is true to its namesake, and is taking over the world. Soon we won’t have any shops at all (the pandemic has not helped them, either). What I want to know is: what has happened to all this wonderful stuff? I never see it now. And I would like to have some of it!

    Thank you for your Blog — the first thing I turn to each day.

  14. Guillaume permalink
    July 26, 2021

    Another beautiful post, and so many interesting comments!

    I love the shelf and decorated table in picture five; well, I love all the pix. Love the draped lady in – what?- plaster. Regency? I imagine it had been some sort of lamp. Oil? Very early gas?

    I hate it that this lovely, layered interior will be ripped out. Or is the whole terrace doomed?

    Beauty, the flower under the foot.

  15. July 27, 2021

    A veritable Aladdin’s Cave! I wonder what happened to this treasure trove after Stephen Long’s sad passing? Growing up in Chelsea, I remember visiting what we children called a Junk Shop somewhere in that direction. There was a box inside the door, with lots of bits and pieces costing just a few pence. I now wonder if this was the place?

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