Today’s itinerary is a trio of shops starting in Old Town Hemel and ending in Berkhamsted. Along the way you’ll find a host of country pubs, a canal walk, castle ruins and plenty of High Street boutiques and cafes.
This day out includes: High Street, Eating Out, Walking, Historical Sights
Travel: By car. If travelling by train skip ahead to Swan Antiques.
N.b. This article was written shortly after lockdown lifted and will be revisited in the future when cafes and other venues have fully re-opened.
A suite of furniture
If you’re on a serious search for antique furniture and accessories, you’ll want to start the day with a diversion – a little way north of Hemel, along some country roads to Stags End, the home of Bushwood Antiques.
With over 25,000 square feet of showrooms and warehouses, a ‘suite’ of furniture feels like an inadequate collective noun to describe their offering. A flock of furniture? A herd of furniture? Either way, where else can you “choose from 20 linen presses in a row next to 100 sideboards of every shape and design”? They also provide a full restoration and polishing service on site.
A stack of pretty plates
Our itinerary starts in earnest at Jordans Antique Centre in Old Town, Hemel. Old Town is a short historical high street and whenever we visit we’ve been able to grab one of the free parking spaces on the street. If you visit on the first Sunday of the month you’ll be able to enjoy the Sunday market that takes place opposite Jordans, officially described as “a selection of locally produced baked goods, hot food, craft items, preserves, artisan gifts and much more.”
Jordans Antique Centre is a quintessential antiques shop, complete with a cute old fashioned shopfront and a selection of wares outside to draw you in. Jordans’ advert in CC prefaces your visit by saying that “our Mr Grumpy has been to Mr Happy lessons!” We can’t say whether it is true that owner Michal has ever been the former, as he’s always been friendly and welcoming on our visits there.
Jordans sells all sorts but is particularly good for china and teasets (and indeed was our first point of call when searching for some suitably pretty cake plates to gift Justin’s mum). It is entirely possible we turned Mr Happy back into Mr Grumpy when we left with a set of plates that had been nicely displayed on an old wooden cake stand by Michael a mere half an hour before our visit! Oops.
At this point, before moving onwards to our next stop, you may like something to eat or drink and you’ll find a number of pubs and an independent coffee shop all a short walk downhill from Jordans.
A solitary swan
Our second stop is a short drive away, en route to Berkhamsted. Swan Antiques is housed within a grade 2 listed forner pub standing on a junction. It has its own, decent-sized, free car park and is a short walk from Hemel Hempstead station.
Swan has a bright and welcoming entrance area with a couple of sofas in case you’re in need of a rest, or perhaps you wish to peruse the latest issue of CC! There’s also a number of cabinets here filled with jewellery and smaller pieces.
Swan’s traders are spread out over two floors in a series of rooms, as expected of this type of building. You’ll find everything from books to ceramics to art deco radios and everything in between. Outside is a patio area with a good selection of garden antiques – all the things you’d expect and want to see in an outside area – stone statues, planters, galvanised troughs and buckets, wagon wheels, bistro-style patio sets, gardening cans etc.
On this particular visit to Swan Antiques we happened across a 1930s leather motoring coat hanging upstairs, wonderful condition and a perfect fit. I got to experience the thrill of finding something that felt like one of those ‘meant to be’ moments and the slight shock of unexpected expenditure! It was a good price though, I can’t complain. I’m almost looking forward to winter now.
A herd of stripey cows
From Swan Antiques we drive onwards to Berkhamsted (or travel one stop by train). Just after departing you may be lucky and see the stripey cows in a nearby field. Well, I enjoy seeing them as I’ve never seen stripey cows anywhere else. Google says they are Belted Galloways, but I’m happy calling them stripey.
As you drive along London Road you’ll pass by four country pubs of which two (The Three Horseshoes and The Old Mill Berkhamsted) are canalside. Of these our choice would always be The Old Mill Berkhamsted, but bear in mind we are non-drinkers so can’t comment on the quality of their alcoholic offerings!
There’s a couple of car parks in Berkhamsted or if you’re going on Sunday then there’s free parking on Castle Street which is convenient for all of the places we’re going to point you towards.
A colony of inspiration
In Berkhamsted we visit Home & Colonial, a 5-storey building on the main High Street. It’s described as having “antiques, interiors and inspiration” and you’ll find all of that in abundance. You’ll notice from our photos that each trader’s area is beautifully curated, both in its products and its decor. In fact, I want to say each trader’s “room set” because you’re definitely going to get a feel of how to place those antiques within a space. It makes for an enjoyable browse because it doesn’t feel like your lost in an endless sea of antiques. Of course, there is the danger that instead of buying one thing you like, you’re going to buy that and the three things stood next to it! There was one section on the ground floor that if Justin was to win the lottery, I’m pretty sure he’d arrive with a large van and take the whole display away.
At Home & Colonial you’ll find furniture, prop/decor antiques, vintage clothing (including a range of kimonos at our time of visiting), and a range of modern-made traditional toys and household pieces. I have to give mention to the amazing display of dusters, brooms and brushes – which would totally suit my style of housework: Pretty brush, hang it up, don’t use it! Said display is on the staircase leading up to the top floor Black Goo Cafe, which post-lockdown was still closed on our visit but it looked like a lovely spot for a sit down, a drink and probably a bite to eat too as their menu looks rather tempting.
An array of endings
After visiting Home & Colonial, the antiques part of our day is concluded. From here you might like to take a walk along the High Street (it’s just under a mile to walk the whole length and back) to visit some of the independent shops or you can head round the corner and down Castle Street to take in a bit of the countryside.
If you visit on the first Saturday of the month you might catch the bi-monthly book fair held at the Court House (located right behind Home & Colonial). Check out our fair listings for the next date.
We crossed over the Grand Union Canal, under the railway bridge, to visit Berkhamsted Castle. It’s an English Heritage free-to-visit site. They describe it as being the “substantial remains of a strong and important motte-and-bailey castle dating from the 11th to 15th centuries, with surrounding walls, ditches and earthworks.”
When we visited it was a wonderfully sunny Sunday and there were plenty of families picnicking with children enjoying all the slopes to run up and down and walls to hide behind. There is a visitors’ centre with a display about the history of the castle, sadly closed when we were there. I would have appreciated being able to see some on-site imagery showing the castle and complex in its entirety.
I have to admit, it was only recently I found out Berkhamsted had a castle, so I was fairly impressed to find it was home to some very recognisable names from history including Thomas Becket and the Black Prince.
On a good day it is nice to walk along the Grand Union Canal and stop off at some of those canalside pubs. Vintage parasol optional.
If you’re still in Berkhamsted as evening approaches then consider treating yourself to a proper cinema experience at restored art-deco cinema The Rex, and/or drinks & fine dining at The Gatsby restaurant below. The Rex is a 1938 beauty. To quote its website, “it is better. It is civilized.” The last film I saw there was The Book Thief, but I would love to see a classic film on their golden proscenium surrounded screen… a Hitchcock, a Katharine Hepburn screwball comedy, a MGM technicolor spectacular. What a treat that would be.
Bushwood Antiques, Stags End, Gaddesden Lane, Hemel Hempstead HP2 6HN
Jordans Antiques Centre, 63 High Street, Old Town, Hemel Hempstead HP1 3AF
Swan Antiques, London Road, Boxmoor, Hemel Hempstead HP1 2RA
Home & Colonial, 134 High Street, Berkhamsted HP4 3AT
At time of publication all are open seven days a week.