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ANF Blog

Bennie Gray - Alfies Antiques Market & Grays Antiques

We talk to Bennie Gray in our series People Behind the Portals - but this is a rather loose description of a man who has for fifty years reinvented and reinvigorated the antiques trade across the capital.  Alfies Antiques Market in Church Street, Marylebone and Grays Antiques in the heart of Mayfair are testament to his judgement.  He tells us a little about starting these iconic landmarks of the London antiques map but also about the famous Antiquarius that stood in the heart of the King's Road when, in his words, "the King's Road was the epicentre of the world of cool!"

Bennie Green back in the day

For those who didn't know it then, it's hard now to imagine what Swinging London was like and in particular what the eastern end of Church Street, Marylebone was like before Alfies Antique Market opened in 1976. But the man behind Alfies, Bennie Gray, remembers it well. "The place was semi-derelict," Bennie recalls, "half the shops were boarded up and there was a terrible problem with vandalism."

Alfies Hypermarket

Now, Alfies (formerly Jordan's department store) has a strikingly executed Egyptian-style art deco façade, a rooftop café and around 100 antique dealers trading there. And the adjacent part of Church Street has some 20 shops selling twentieth century antiques. Many of these shops started life in the Alfies, which is the largest antique arcade in the country. As well as Alfies, Bennie owns Grays Antiques in Mayfair and he is the founder of the Custard Factory, Birmingham's arts and media quarter based on the 10-acre site that was once the Bird's Custard factory.

Pearlie Kings and Queens outside Alfies Antiques Hypermarket

Bennie's appetite for a challenge is clear and he's been involved in many projects over the years, usually involving the re-use of ageing and dilapidated buildings in which he has an uncanny ability to spot regeneration potential. A foray North of the Border was a fruitful journey for Bennie when he discovered the captivating Ardanaiseig estate which he has transformed into a luxury hotel in the Highlands, described by Lonely Planet as "encircled by snowcapped bens and thick woods, Ardanaiseig is as remote as it gets - and all the better for it.

The other key ingredient is his passionate belief that small businesses and business start-ups are the lifeblood of a successful economy, both locally and nationally.

Finally, where does the name Alfies come from? Bennie tells us: "That was my father, a brilliant jazz musician, but sadly, not a great antique dealer."

Antiques Hypermarket Alfies

ANF: How did you come to open your first antique centre, the Antiques Supermarket in Barrett Street?

BG: I had just failed as an aspiring concert pianist and was casting around for something to do and something to make a living. I got the idea of bringing a group of Portobello antique dealers to the West End.  The rest is history. 

ANFTell us about Antiquarius on Kings Road..

BG: It had been a car showroom.  It went bust and at that time the Kings Road, Chelsea was the epicentre of the world of cool - quite unlike the corporate sausage machine it has since become.  Given the chance, opening another antique market there was a no-brainer.

shopping at Alfies Antiques Market in the 70s

ANF: Did you grow up in an antiques context - what inspired you to get into antiques?

BG: I was obsessed by the beautiful waif like girls in pre-Raphaelite paintings from the virginal age of 13.  A visit to the Tate was infinitely more exciting than any bar mitzvah.

ANF: What was your first collectable?

BG:  An exquisitely beautiful Italian racing bike, which I owned when I was 15  - I used to hang it on the wall like a sculpture.
     
ANF: What are your most treasured possessions?

BG:  My Bechstein piano is by far my most treasured possession.

ANF: What is the one thing you would love to own? 

BG: A time machine.
Alfies Antiques Hypermarket

ANF: If you weren’t you, who would you like to be?

BG: A story teller - Steven Spielberg or William Shakespeare would do.

ANF: What is the biggest threat to the antiques trade at the moment?

BG:  Apart from the dominance of the auction houses I see no real threat.  Done right, the internet can definitely be made to serve the trade.

Alfies Aniques interior
ANF: Why have Alfies and Grays outlasted your other markets, and what is the future for them?

BG: What can I say?  Perhaps because you feel good when you are there.  The future will be like the past; nice and cosy and full of gossip and nostalgia.

A musical past for Bennie Gray Alfie Gray, father of Bennie Gray back in the band days.



Antiques News Blog

Bennie Gray - Alfies Antiques Market & Grays Antiques

We talk to Bennie Gray in our series People Behind the Portals - but this is a rather loose description of a man who has for fifty years reinvented and reinvigorated the antiques trade across the capital.  Alfies Antiques Market in Church Street, Marylebone and Grays Antiques in the heart of Mayfair are testament to his judgement.  He tells us a little about starting these iconic landmarks of the London antiques map but also about the famous Antiquarius that stood in the heart of the King's Road when, in his words, "the King's Road was the epicentre of the world of cool!"

Bennie Green back in the day

For those who didn't know it then, it's hard now to imagine what Swinging London was like and in particular what the eastern end of Church Street, Marylebone was like before Alfies Antique Market opened in 1976. But the man behind Alfies, Bennie Gray, remembers it well. "The place was semi-derelict," Bennie recalls, "half the shops were boarded up and there was a terrible problem with vandalism."

Alfies Hypermarket

Now, Alfies (formerly Jordan's department store) has a strikingly executed Egyptian-style art deco façade, a rooftop café and around 100 antique dealers trading there. And the adjacent part of Church Street has some 20 shops selling twentieth century antiques. Many of these shops started life in the Alfies, which is the largest antique arcade in the country. As well as Alfies, Bennie owns Grays Antiques in Mayfair and he is the founder of the Custard Factory, Birmingham's arts and media quarter based on the 10-acre site that was once the Bird's Custard factory.

Pearlie Kings and Queens outside Alfies Antiques Hypermarket

Bennie's appetite for a challenge is clear and he's been involved in many projects over the years, usually involving the re-use of ageing and dilapidated buildings in which he has an uncanny ability to spot regeneration potential. A foray North of the Border was a fruitful journey for Bennie when he discovered the captivating Ardanaiseig estate which he has transformed into a luxury hotel in the Highlands, described by Lonely Planet as "encircled by snowcapped bens and thick woods, Ardanaiseig is as remote as it gets - and all the better for it.

The other key ingredient is his passionate belief that small businesses and business start-ups are the lifeblood of a successful economy, both locally and nationally.

Finally, where does the name Alfies come from? Bennie tells us: "That was my father, a brilliant jazz musician, but sadly, not a great antique dealer."

Antiques Hypermarket Alfies

ANF: How did you come to open your first antique centre, the Antiques Supermarket in Barrett Street?

BG: I had just failed as an aspiring concert pianist and was casting around for something to do and something to make a living. I got the idea of bringing a group of Portobello antique dealers to the West End.  The rest is history. 

ANFTell us about Antiquarius on Kings Road..

BG: It had been a car showroom.  It went bust and at that time the Kings Road, Chelsea was the epicentre of the world of cool - quite unlike the corporate sausage machine it has since become.  Given the chance, opening another antique market there was a no-brainer.

shopping at Alfies Antiques Market in the 70s

ANF: Did you grow up in an antiques context - what inspired you to get into antiques?

BG: I was obsessed by the beautiful waif like girls in pre-Raphaelite paintings from the virginal age of 13.  A visit to the Tate was infinitely more exciting than any bar mitzvah.

ANF: What was your first collectable?

BG:  An exquisitely beautiful Italian racing bike, which I owned when I was 15  - I used to hang it on the wall like a sculpture.
     
ANF: What are your most treasured possessions?

BG:  My Bechstein piano is by far my most treasured possession.

ANF: What is the one thing you would love to own? 

BG: A time machine.
Alfies Antiques Hypermarket

ANF: If you weren’t you, who would you like to be?

BG: A story teller - Steven Spielberg or William Shakespeare would do.

ANF: What is the biggest threat to the antiques trade at the moment?

BG:  Apart from the dominance of the auction houses I see no real threat.  Done right, the internet can definitely be made to serve the trade.

Alfies Aniques interior
ANF: Why have Alfies and Grays outlasted your other markets, and what is the future for them?

BG: What can I say?  Perhaps because you feel good when you are there.  The future will be like the past; nice and cosy and full of gossip and nostalgia.

A musical past for Bennie Gray Alfie Gray, father of Bennie Gray back in the band days.