‘To start with this house had hardly any furniture. The men who moved us in were so shocked they left us the tea chests, so we used them for a year at least.’ This is the story of Gretchen Andersen, chatelaine of the famous Lacquer Chest antique shop @lacquerchest in Kensington Church Street,  and the old house in Sussex that she found with her husband Vivian in 1959, told in her own words, mostly.

‘When we first moved in the end house was condemned , unfit for human inhabitation. There were brambles going inside it and a tiny bit of electricity and 3 outside loos  –  they’re still there. That house is very, very old, it was a hall house. We did a lot. It took us ages!  We got it in September and by April 4th we’d moved in. In those days there were still proper builders who didn’t charge the earth. 
Viv said, We’ve got to fix the roof! We used to buy the clay tiles second-hand.’

’‘It had been part of the Petworth estate since the C13th, 1365. Three different families had lived here but only Mr. Francis was left when they printed the auction catalogue. Most people hadn’t wanted this house because it had a tenant – then he fell off his bicycle and they gave him a one of the council houses.
When the rates came, it was called Old Manor Farm, but it wasn’t properly recorded in the Petworth archives. Then the archivist discovered that this was in fact the manor. It used to have 300 acres.’

‘We’d just had Emily. We were horrified when we rang a hotel and they wouldn’t have us because we had a baby! Viv said, We’ll have to buy our own country house. We had a little money because I had this bad car accident and got compensation. We rushed around and decided we’d spend £700 . I went to bid at the auction in a marquee at Petworth House but it went for £1,700! I remember being terrified, but Viv said, I’m sure we’ll manage. We had the £700 in cash, we’d sold out house in Hammersmith and we needed a bridging loan but we couldn’t get one –  and Ove [Arup, her late husband Viv’s employer then] lent us the money, sweet man.’

The conservatory running along the back of the house was built from glazed partitions that Viv salvaged from a printers, the West Sussex Gazette in Arundel, along with the parquet floor. A wren is nesting in the clematis now.

Cane daybed in the Conservatory

‘Mr Clare who lived down the road was very good at growing dahlias – I used to talk to him for hours, he told me everything  – and I never wrote it down! He was said to be the illegitimate son of Lord Leconfield. He’d be about 140 now.’

‘A wonderful man, Mr Wells, used to live in this house with his aunt when he was a boy. And he was terribly fond of it. He used to come and paint the rooms when we were in London. Quite often, he painted the wrong room the wrong colour, because he hadn’t heard properly! I was so sorry when he gave up painting.’ Viv’s collection of C18th and C19th walking sticks.

Georgian and Victorian ceramic drainers

ecclesiastical putto, child-angel

‘This kitchen is very 1970s. It has an oil lamp hanging over the kitchen table and a dresser full of china.’

I’ve always liked John Minton, in this one he’s drawn a  tiny little nude man.

“They were rebuilding a whole town down Hampshire way – Basingstoke. Everything was being chucked out by the builders.
This was the baker’s table. Viv used to go every week to the tailors, the bakers, and take everything. I was an obsessional cook. I used to make huge meals for far too many people, so my old friend and neighbour Barbara who was 70, Viv, and me, we got this huge table in through that window.’

Delicious lunch, cooked by  photographer @andersenemily_photography, Emily Andersen, Gretchen’s daughter, The 1956 Creda cooker was bought second hand for £18 in the 60s, above it is the single remaining carved wooden Salmon of 26 that were found and sold in @lacquerchest by Viv

‘At the tailors there were hundreds of breast pockets with crests on, for little boys school uniforms. My mother sewed them together and made clothes for  all the children!’

‘When we were here in the summer we’d have a list of jobs, Toby and I  (not so much Ben, he was too little) – Polish the table, wash the windows, saw the wood! We didn’t have a television set and we used to go over there to the neighbours to see Dr Who.’ – Emily Andersen.

‘A dealer in Pulborough was very supercilious. he called us Cobweb Castle.’

rubbed brick, entrance hall floor

downstairs lav, collection of foundlings

Pie shop sign, little back staircase

Salt-glazed pottery in the entrance hall

little study cum sitting room

‘Everything is such a long time ago, you just can’t imagine what it was like. Oh, we had such adventures! Once I was so ashamed, one night we’d been out  – I was probably pursuing a sale – and came back a bit late and I saw Emily’s footsteps in the snow! She was carrying her little brother, she was only 4, and they’d gone off to see Miriam our neighbour.’

‘When Emily was 2, I took her to a furniture sale at Chichester and she disappeared. I rushed and told a policeman – and he found her on a bus!’
‘I remember getting on, it was a bit like a dare’ – Emily Andersen
‘Now you’d get the most terrible choking off!  None of that in those days – he was so sweet, the policeman.’

Emily Andersen – ‘We could do what we wanted in our bedrooms. In London, you took us to David Oliver and we could choose our wallpaper. I do remember moving furniture around, often. And we had old toys, lead soldiers. A rocking chair painted green that you could go from one end of the house to the other on –‘

Emily Andersen – ‘You were working all the time. You went out on a Saturday – we’d go with you sometimes  – and you wouldn’t get back until about 3 or 4. I quite enjoyed it. There was one very frightening dealer on the road to Petworth, Mrs Bate. But you found amazing things there – ‘

‘You have to have heating on here in winter. We used to have a tiny little anthracite boiler in this chimney place. We rang the boiler man when it broke down and he said, Mrs Andersen are you going to die cold in your bed in the winter. with money in the bank!? He came down and put in central heating for us.’

‘I got the shop  [@lacquerchest] in ’61. Viv was much better at it than I. Viv would go up to the shop for one or two days. I’d go on the other days. Viv used to come down here from London on a moped, we came by car. I think he would have liked to live here. ’

‘It’s a hugely friendly business, not like any other, dealers all know each other.’

lovely sofa found in a house clearance

corner cupboard

‘Everyone was modernising. When Lyons Corner House was closing we went in. Back when the Savoy hotel was modernising they called us in, and they had wonderful, wonderful old things!’

On the court cupboard, two little wooden dolls heads carved by the brilliant artist and poet David Jones during his time as a brother in the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic with Eric Gill at Ditchling

I’d known the lady at the big house here, she was an art student, they were Irish aristocracy, her husband inherited it. They were getting rid of everything  – and we bought things of such good quality!

Jugs and David Jones

‘Two old ladies in Lewisham, spinsters –  they’d lived in their house with their father since well before the war- and Viv bought masses from them, fancy dresses and all sorts of things, and the last day he went, one said, There’s some frames downstairs in the cellar, father put them down when there were bombs.’

bomb survivor

‘He brought up about 20 of these pictures completely black, covered in soot. He sold one and the others we kept.’

‘These are Marly tiles on the floor, I wanted this because I thought it looked like an old Dutch interior.’ The staircase is carpeted in kelims that did not sell in the shop, the fairground horse came from the groovy Troubadour cafe in the Brompton Road.

Narwhale tusk at the turn of the stair

attic stairs…

More stock waiting for the big reveal

pictures on the upstairs landing

Glass paintings from c.1800 in a bedroom, religious subjects that did not sell in the shop

Emily Andersen –  ‘This is a shot of my parents in ’87. When I first started as a photographer I did some fashion shoots. Nick Ashley  [Laura Ashley’s son] and I and my brother Toby were all in the same school at Holland Park, we’re the same generation, doing the same sort of thing. Then I was photographing for the New Musical Express.’ This photo copyright Emily Andersen

Corner of Gretchen’s bedroom

Jug by Eric Ravilious for Wedgwood

Saving the best til last – the ‘Fablon’ sticky back plastic imitating Delft tiles, and manufactured in the 1960s, the most brilliant piece of  trompe l’oeil.

‘I just bought it, –  because its so good!”

NB 2-bar electric fire suspended from the ceiling,  a nifty solution

bathrooms pot stand

bedroom in the medieval house end

snow shoes?


‘That’s Dunkton Hill behind, the last of the South Downs.’

The later, C17th end of the house

‘The wild deer from Petworth park come down and jump over the fence.’

The early medieval end of the house


from the garden

‘It’s very unusual to find a house which has been lived in this long and not altered. ‘


Mexican daisy

‘A man in the village came round and said – You mustn’t destroy that, that’s a Tudor dovecot!’ Until the war it was the village cider press, then the roof caved in and  when we came it was full of trees.’

‘Cut off the legs and paint it white – That was the secret to everything in the 60s.’

The Lacquer Chest – advertorial back in the day

My favourite Fablon shot and ….

My other favourite shot…

Very many thanks to Gretchen Andersen and Emily Andersen. All photographs copyright bibleofbritishtaste. Excerpts may be used as long as clear links are supplied back to the original authors and content.