Retail therapy of the vintage sort at Grays Antique Market in London

Grays Antique Market

The Purple Passport

The medical world, it seems, is poised to tread upon the territory of shopping as fertile soil for newly coined disorders.  “Oniomania” is the term doctors use to label the compulsive need to shop, and the American Psychiatric Association is debating whether or not it should be inscribed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual as a certifiable disease.  Not to belittle the suffering of those afflicted, but what’s next?  Popping a pill every time you feel the urge to reach for your gold card?

Joking aside, if there’s any “diagnosis” I might receive for myshopping habits, it would be “Type A shopper.”  Even though I’m someone who thrills to the spontaneity of travel, when it comes to shopping, I can be goal-oriented to a fault and impatient with browsing for browsing’s sake.  That’s part of why I love Grays Antique Market, a quirky antique and curio bazaar in London’s posh Mayfair.  It’s sort of like extreme “exposure therapy” for Type A shoppers — it practically forces customers like me to throw any shopping agendas out the window.  You have to totally let go because you truly never know what you’ll find here.  It really could be anything.  Anything.

Allow me to explain.  The eccentric jumble of 200 tiny stalls housed in a 19th-century red-sandstone building is crammed-to-bursting with curiosities including but certainly not limited to fine antiques, jewelry, rare books, and period clothing.  The range of specialties is startling:  you can find everything from ancient busts (dating back to 40 B.C.!) to vintage flapper fashions and 21st-century collectibles.  It’s a great place to buy an unusual gift or home décor item; vintage jewelry is a clear highlight.  But if you come with something specific in mind, it will most likely elude you.  Come with a completely open mind, on the other hand, and you’re bound to leave laden with treasures.

Sure, after I leave Grays I’m bound to snap into my Type-A shopping ways again at some point, going on a relentless hunt for, say, the perfect occasion dress.  I’m not saying it’s a total cure.  But at least for one blissful afternoon, Grays helps me live in the shopping moment.Freud himself would practically drool over the symbolic layers of history here.  The building was the original home of John Boling and Son, a 19th-century water closet (yes, toilet) manufacturer that was in direction competition with Thomas Crapper (let the bathroom humor begin!).  Grays Antiques occupies this former WC showroom as well as the adjacent Mews.  In the Mews, you’ll find something perhaps more curious than even the antique wares: a tiny slice of the Thames (an underground tributary called the Tyburn) oddly enough runs through the basement!  You can even cross the goldfish-filled stream over small arched bridges. Given that water is a symbol for the unconscious, there’s definitely something therapeutic going on here.

Rachel Levin contributed to this story

The Purple Passport

Grays Antique Market


Jennifer Garcia-Alonso is a New Yorker living in Abu Dhabi. She writes about travel, hotels, spas, food, shopping and unique experiences. She is a Co-Founder of The Purple Passport, a chic collection of online city guides that tell you everything you need to know to experience a city in style. When she is not scouting and writing for The Purple Passport, Jennifer enjoys taking short breaks to new ...(Read More)

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