Furniture spills out of the front door of Re-Furnish and across the corner of Mina Road and York Road in St Werburgh’s. Even the other day, when inclement weather has forced the majority of the stock inside, an odd and vast assortment of tables, chairs, guitar stands and other curiosities line the street on either side of the entrance.
Inside, proprietor Stephen Freeman is huddled in a chair against the wall, crammed between the front window and an enormous wooden cabinet that stretches to the roof (how it got in there is anyone’s guess). There is a heater at his feet, and he is hemmed in at all sides by all the second-hand objects imaginable. Landscape paintings in frames are leaning precariously near his feet, porcelain dolls and plates line the shelving unit in the window. Parts of things cover every shelf, bench and surface available.
The back wall of the shop is completely indiscernible through the dense maze of tables and chests of drawers. It’s impossible to see everything, or even to tell how big the room is. There’s nothing to indicate how much anything costs. It’s bizarre, brilliant and a little like walking into the front room of a compulsive hoarder.
“The shop has been open for eight years and I have had it for about five, maybe six,” Stephen explains while perched on a light pink bedside cabinet opposite his chair. “I had a removal company for 30 years, but I’ve always been in the antiques trade. I started as a furniture restorer when I was 19. It was in a shop on Whiteladies Road that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s now a restaurant opposite the cinema. It used to be a huge furniture shop back in the 70s.
“Of course, there is no antiques trade anymore. You tell me where there is an antiques shop in Bristol. There’s only second-hand shops now like this one really. The younger generation have put an end to it really. They aren’t interested in antiques.
“Bath has always been the place for antiques, and for some reason it has never ever carried on to Bristol. The dealers seem to come down the M4, from London get as far as Bath, and turn around. It has always been that way, in the 40-odd years that I’ve been doing it. Don’t ask me why. I’ve got no idea.”
For Stephen, the sheer variety in the stock he keeps is the whole point. “What we sell is very general,” he explains. “With the antiques trade having died, specialising in one thing now is the kiss of death: you’ve got to do anything. I do anything possible. I move things for people. I restore things. And I supply general household goods, beds and things that people need.”
With many of his wares scattered on the street, the shop – next door to The Cauldron restaurant, some of whose tables and chairs came from here – is certainly conspicuous.
“For me, being on the corner here in St Werburgh’s is ideal,” Stephen says. “At the end of the day, if you have a specialist shop, then it doesn’t really matter where you are because people will come and find you. If, however, you are a general shop like this, you want to be where you can be seen.”
However, in the years Stephen has been here, Mina Road has changed. “It’s become more food-orientated,” he says. “Everyone says around here that what we lack are normal ordinary general shops, like a hardware shop. We used to have one, but that closed down a year ago. Now if you need a hardware shop you’ve got to go all the way to Gloucester Road. As for St Werburgh’s, I’m the only shop here that doesn’t sell food or alcohol.”
An elderly lady comes in out of the cold and chats to Stephen about her latest request. They are on comfortable first name terms and seem to know each other well.
“We’ve got an old people’s home just up the road there, so I move all their furniture around for them. I just help out when they need it. I’m the local furniture bloke, aren’t I? So I’m the one they come to,” explains Stephen after she leaves. “It’s just what you do, innit. Second-hand shops have always been about that. A second-hand shop is where you go to get things done!”
Re-Furnish, 100 Mina Road, St Werburgh’s, Bristol, BS2 9XW
07407 701 533