Do­nated items from our Work­shop Shop al­ways in high de­mand

Bath Chronicle - - OPINION - Ralph Oswick was artis­tic di­rec­tor of Nat­u­ral The­atre for 45 years and is now an ac­tive pa­tron of Bath Com­edy Fes­ti­val

Sad to hear about the demise of Rolfey’s, the bric-a-brac cum an­tique shop that has graced Bear Flat for more years than I can re­mem­ber. I’m pretty sure that al­most ev­ery­one I know has a prized pos­ses­sion or quirky item of in­te­rior décor that they ‘dis­cov­ered’ in this true Aladdin’s cave of trea­sures. Bath used to be par­tic­u­larly rich in this kind of em­po­rium. I used to help run one in Wal­cot Street, the fa­mous and long-gone Work­shop Shop. It was a fundrais­ing en­ter­prise and peo­ple used to do­nate en­tire house clear­ances in sup­port of the Arts Work­shop com­mu­nity projects. In re­turn, we would get rid of the rub­bish and leave the premises spick and span. Some­times there was a deal more rub­bish than there was sell­able goods, the canny donor hav­ing gone in first and creamed off the more de­sir­able items. But mostly peo­ple were in­cred­i­bly gen­er­ous and some­times even paid a fee on top in or­der to see the last of grandma’s big old side­board, wob­bly din­ing chairs and rick­ety com­mode. Brown fur­ni­ture was still de rigueur in those days and I re­mem­ber re­pro­duc­ing the fa­mous Sel­fridge’s cat­a­logue by fit­ting out our shop win­dow with an en­tire flat of brown items, car­pet and all, for less than £100. The only con­di­tion was you had to buy the lot. It sold af­ter only one day! There were sev­eral sim­i­lar shops in the street in those days, but none were cheaper than the Work­shop Shop. A com­bi­na­tion of the myr­iad prop­er­ties be­ing cleared for ren­o­va­tion and the kind­ness of lo­cal cit­i­zens meant that our big pink and lime green van and its hir­sute crew, known as King Kong Trans­port, would be buzzing to and fro all day. The van’s ar­rival out­side the shop would be greeted by a scram­ble of ex­cited deal­ers with an eye for a bar­gain. Tir­ing of this melee we adopted the pol­icy of stop­ping in a layby on the way back from clear­ances. Armed with a felt pen and a roll of sticky la­bels, we’d price ev­ery­thing up be­fore pro­ceed­ing to the shop. Even then I re­mem­ber one par­tic­u­larly ea­gle-eyed Love­joy spot­ting us as he passed through the suburbs, screech­ing to a halt and prac­ti­cally climb­ing into the back of the van in or­der to get a pre­view of our spoils! If there was too much stuff to squeeze into the shop at open­ing time at the Hat and Feather, the ugli­est wardrobes and the wormi­est din­ing ta­bles would be left in the side al­ley. A cer­tain vicar who rented out cheap rooms to stu­dents would often be seen lurk­ing. And sure enough, by next morn­ing the al­ley would be clear. I pity his ten­ants: we left out some hor­ren­dous items. This gave rise, when­ever some­thing to­tally un­sellable turned up, to the phrase ‘Oh, just leave it out­side for the vicar.’

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