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Three Antiques Market Treasures

April 2, 2022
by the gentle author


Over all the years I have frequented the Spitalfields Antiques Market every Thursday, I have succeeded in buying almost nothing, tempering my acquisitive tendencies by writing the stories of more than two hundred stallholders instead.

Yet last week, I found this eighteenth century Sun Fire Insurance plaque and could not resist buying it. When I was a child, my mother used to point these out to me on old houses and all this time I have been searching for one of my own. Apparently, the insurance company adopted this symbol which had always been used traditionally on buildings to avert the evil eye. One day, I will nail it up high on the front of my house.



During the lockdown, St John Bread & Wine made wonderful pies every Friday which you could walk over to collect and take home to bake in your own oven. These weekly pies became emotional landmarks that sustained me through those trying times and I missed them so much when lockdown ended that I was converted into a piemaker.

Now I bake a pie every Wednesday as a mid-week landmark to counterpoint Sunday dinner each weekend. Of course, I needed a pie funnel and I was overjoyed to find this fine thirties’ specimen, designed by Clarice Cliff I am assured, for ten pounds in the Spitalfields Market.



Ten years ago, I walked through the market in the late afternoon of the last trading day before Christmas, calling in to exchange greetings with some of the traders. While passing the time in idle chatter, I picked a up a smooth prehistoric stone axe head, cradling it in my palm absent-mindedly. How well it sat there in my hand.

The axe head was of British origin and approximately five thousand years old, I was informed. It certainly was a handsome piece of granite that I held, deep slate-blue, finely worked and veined with subtle lines. Immediately, by running your finger along the sharp edge and by clutching the smooth curves, you were in contact with all those numberless others who held it and appreciated it, going right back to the one who made it. This was not an axe designed for use but to demonstrate the painstaking skill of the maker, and of value as a gift or token of high status. This axe had always been prized and I could not resist prizing it myself, as I found my fingers closed naturally over it.

There is a paradoxical intimacy that I feel with whoever made my axe, since I can share their delight in pure sculptural form without ever knowing anything else. Whoever made this axe is lost in the all-enveloping darkness of history, but I shall keep it safe for them in my desk drawer for my remaining years


You may also like to take a look at

Spitalfields Antiques Market 1

Spitalfields Antiques Market 2

Spitalfields Antiques Market 3

14 Responses leave one →
  1. Bob Beadman permalink
    April 2, 2022

    An absolutely wonderful inspiring piece of writing. Thank you so much.

  2. April 2, 2022

    That is wonderful. I too would have liked the Sun Fire Insurance plaque and would have taken it with me. — I can see that if we ever went to the flea market together, we would find the same objects!

    Love & Peace

  3. Alex Knisely permalink
    April 2, 2022

    Delightful, evocative, and a seduction into Commandment-breaking. I’m afraid it’s too late for me — “Thou shalt not covet” is already in tatters. Three times over, with your one post . . . Bravo, you tempter !

  4. April 2, 2022

    I loved your post today. The pie looks scrummy – are you sharing the recipe???

  5. April 2, 2022

    Objects from the past create imaginative historical connections and add so much to the value of our lives both culturally and aesthetically. You express this beautifully here. How great to have an orginal sun fire insurance plaque. We have had several modern sun plaques over the years, which we have hung on the back wall to decorate our back garden having no idea we were also protecting ourselves from the evil eye!
    The axe head is such a wonderful blue and so smooth. A real treasure.

    It’s a very long time since I baked a pie, let’s hope you inspire me.

    Wishing you and all your readers a good weekend

  6. Maureen permalink
    April 2, 2022

    How I love reading your fabulous postings. They really touch my soul. Thank you.

  7. Jane Berry permalink
    April 2, 2022

    Three envy inspiring acquisitions but I do have a lead casting of that fire sign in my garden.

  8. April 2, 2022

    Absolutely wonderful, I have one almost exactly the same. Mine is Cornish granite according to the British Museum and I love it, to think it 5,000 years plus. It will last for ever and I hope always treasured.

  9. Sue permalink
    April 2, 2022

    Three items that I too would be glad to own. I have a terracotta sun head that I made in pottery class many years ago that I take from house to house.

  10. April 2, 2022

    Bear with me as I pile on. About sun motifs, collecting, and more………… It was 1970, our very first overseas trip. To Spain. We were “unseasoned” as travelers, fully engulfed in the thrill of the journey. On our first day of exploration, we went to the Spanish “Rastro” or outdoor flea market in Madrid. Imagine the possibilities? Of all the things that we could have purchased that day — we ended up with a massive honkin’ cement face-within-a-sun plaque. Heavy, baby, heavy. Probably a fragment from a fountain. Anyhow — we had to have it. When reality set in (on our way back to the hotel) we realized “Hey, wait, this thing weighs a ton”. We had three more stops on our trip; Seville, Barcelona, Torremolinos; miles to go before we sleep. I think my husband ended up with one arm longer than the other, from lugging the thing around. But, it hangs outside on our southern-facing deck, we admire it regularly, and we’ve never regretted acquiring that beneficent sun.

    If you enjoy art research (who doesn’t??), look online at all the ways that artists have depicted the sun over the years. Calder! Picasso! Dali! Alexander Girard! Warhol!

    And now……..we can all enjoy the “protection” provided by the Spitalfields plaque.
    It’s a pip!

  11. mlaiuppa permalink
    April 3, 2022

    How lucky you are and congratulations on finally taking the plunge and buying something. You have made great purchases.

    I have a collection of Sun tiles and first stones. Some are on a fence I can view from my dining room window. Some will be hanging all along the south side of my garage where I can enjoy the from my garden. I don’t just have suns but also a few moons, compass and various animals.

    I have several pie birds. That may or may not be a Clarice Cliff (more research would need to be done) but it is a classic pie bird. I have at least one similar to it. I also have a Dolphin and something else I can’t remember. I don’t usually use them, I just cut slits in the top crust. I do applaud your dedication to baking a pie every Wednesday. I used to cook a lot and got out of the habit my final decade of working. I was just too tired at the end of the day. But I am retired now and I need to start making the time. I am slowly trying to go back to my really old habits; reading before bed, gardening, cooking/baking and needlework (sewing, crochet, knit, needlepoint, etc)

    If it is a Clarice Cliff it should have a registration number. 809138

  12. Genevieve Letellier permalink
    April 3, 2022

    Each time we come over to London we visit Spitalfieds market and on Thursday this very plaque caught our attention. On listening to the dealer’s explanation of what it was, I remember thinking it was the sort of thing you would like. I’m glad you’ve proved me right!

  13. Marcia Howard permalink
    April 3, 2022

    Wonderful writing and wonderful connections with us all over the centuries. In the town where I now live, there are two buildings still displaying their ‘fire’ signs – different from each other’s. I often look up at them to pay homage

  14. Susan martin permalink
    April 3, 2022

    Wonderful writing as usual. Thank you.

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