Charlotte's passion for all things vintage and her countless forays to vintage fairs across England, were the catalyst for her ambitions to hold her very own vintage fair. She just loved organising things - her wedding had been a masterpiece of vintage styling from the sweetly mismatched tea-cups to the original 1920s cricket pavilion where the reception took place - and was determined to style her event with similar panache. Plus, she reckoned that the money she made would subsidise her addiction to purposeless but pretty bric-a-brac and crumbling old furniture. With all the enthusiasm of a young Labrador, Charlotte rushed ahead with her plans for the very first Stately Home Vintage to be held in Russetshire.
Her vision of a pastoral setting, with a fluttering vintage marquee housing oodles of pretty stalls, dozens of genial customers, a pack of friendly stallholders and enthusiastic locals was perhaps a touch optimistic. Charlotte however, was not a girl to be daunted by any sensible advice given by well-meaning friends.
Her greatest friend, Amanda, another vintage fanatic was roped in to provide help, support and lots of cups of coffee during the planning process. Post school-run, both ladies would convene at Charlotte's kitchen table for yet another planning meeting. This was perhaps a generous description of what usually turned into a marathon bitchfest about the other school mummies fuelled by Tassino coffees a-plenty. However, progress was made and the grounds of Dandridge Towers in the ancient village of Lower Bogsborough secured as the venue for the first Stately Home Vintage fair.
Dandridge Towers was a monument to the Victorian Gothic, with its lavishly turreted facade, lancet windows and excessive crenallations. The fair was to be located in the vast gardens which had almost been lost due to post-war neglect and decay, becoming overgrown to the point of wildnerness. Lord Jasper Dandridge's millions, the result of a stratospheric career in the City and clever investment into hedge funds, had been poured into their restoration. The Guinea Pig Lawn was to be the site of the main event, with the "pop-up tea shoppe" sited in the old Gardener's Bothy and parking on the old tennis courts and pony paddocks. Visitors to the fair would also be able to visit the famous Blue Garden (Gertrude Jekyll) and the recently refurbished Sunken Garden, complete with its Italianate Singing Fountains. This was to be the vintage event of the summer.
Lady Dandridge, who had been Lord D's PA, was quite thrilled to have a vintage fair in her very own grounds. She had never quite fitted into the County Set with their obsession with shooting, dogs and horses. She had already began to "shabby chic" some of the rooms in Dandridge Towers, much to the disgust of her very traditional mother-in-law. It was expected that her address book would be plundered for potential customers.
Charlotte was keen to invite only the creme de la creme of the vintage circuit traders and immediately set to work issuing invitations to those that had made the grade. Unfortunately, this led to some ill-feeling amongst the local vintage dealers who were not invited. Certain smart vintage businesses were "must-haves" if the fair was to have any credibility - this elite group would be given premier stalls at the front of the vast marquee. After much haggling and negotiations on a par with the Middle East Peace Talks, a final list of 30 favoured stalls and traders was in place. Meantime, Charlotte and any friend she could rope in, were littering the countryside with fliers and posters for the event. No corner store, bus shelter or antique centre was left untouched. Endless Facebook posting and Tweets reminded everyone in Charlotte's social circle of the event.
Come the day, Charlotte's nerves were in shreds. A key stallholder had cancelled at the last minute, leaving a prime space empty involving a major re-think on the site plan. The parish council in Lower Bogsborough had taken offence at the multitude of signs posted all over verges and fences and an over-zealous councillor had removed them to a location unknown. The operators of the "pop up" tea room were not answering any phone calls or emails, due to their involvement in a major society wedding the week before. Her phone was red hot with endless calls from anxious stallholders "now you will put me next to Hetty, won't you" and visitors "are there any coaches laid on from the railway station". Charlotte was ready to explode but luckily, Amanda her stalwart lieutenant was able to shield her from some of the more irritating individuals.
Despite issuing strict instructions on set-up times - "no-one before eight am please" - many stallholders were sitting in the car park before Charlotte was ready. A manic two hours was to follow, with worker ants carrying their loads to the marquee and other worker ants unpacking as fast as they could. Gradually, calm was restored and amazingly, elegant and tempting displays emerged from the clouds of tissue paper and bubble wrap.
Charlotte was thrilled when a queue started to build at the entrance point, champing at the bit to race one another to the bargains and hidden gems they felt sure were to be found. No-one baulked at the £5 entry fee, to include a voucher for a tour of the gardens and a complimentary cup of tea. Once started, the buzz of excitement was evident with stallholders doing brisk business with their customers. The slightly boggy ground and the freezing gusts of wind were soon forgotten as traders subtly counted their takings.
There were a few hiccups, of course. The Portaloos were blocked and a massive queue formed for the only working loo available. The tea rooms ran out of scones and sausage rolls, to the disappointment of many husbands looking forward to their special treat. Charlotte was on her knees with exhaustion, her face stiff with a rictus smile adopted for the day. As numbers dwindled, traders were stealthily packing away their wares, despite the anxious entreaties to remain in place until the closing time of 5 pm.
Once closed to the public, the scene was one of chaos and confusion as all 30 traders attempted to bring their vans and cars as close to the marquee as possible. Grumpy husbands, roped in to help, were found staggering under the weight of furniture or piles of packing crates. Stock was jammed into car boots willy nilly in the great rush to depart. Finally, all were gone leaving only some shreds of of paper and bubble wrap wafting around in the breeze. Charlotte and Amanda were last seen sitting in Lady Ds kitchen, knocking back large glasses of Sauvignon and already planning their next event. After all, it had been "such fun".