Alastair's place is a popular stop for TV antiques stars
By Martin Paul - Senior Reporter
WEST Auckland may not seem an obvious place to set up an antiques shop, but for Alastair Donaldson it is the perfect spot.
A combination of being near the busy A68 and in a village steeped in history makes the dealer believe his decision to move there from Willington four years ago was the right idea.
His antiques shop, aptly named Antiques On The Green, which incorporates Molly’s Tearoom, is a veritable treasure trove – its seemingly endless rooms chockablock with furniture, clocks, vintage toys, military memorabilia, ornaments, pottery and countless other objects.
That and its cosy atmosphere has made it an ideal stop for the BBC television programme Antiques Road Trip. Show experts Paul Laidlaw, Anita Manning and Mark Stacey have all passed through Mr Donaldson’s front door.
He said: “All the profits go to Children in Need and that is why we do it. Anita is great when she comes in, she talks to everyone.”
He recalled how between filming for one episode she sat outside on a vintage cart having a cigarette, chatting to everyone who walked past.
Among the more memorable items he sold to the programme’s experts was a giant mallet which was on sale for about £60. Ms Manning bartered him down to about £25 and eventually sold it for about £90 at auction, making a good profit for charity.
Another interesting item was a coin that appeared to be gold, but had not yet been researched. After a discussion with the owner, the antique dealer sold the coin to Mark Stacey for £40.
Darlington auctioneer Thomas Watson completed the research and discovered it was a gold token. It too made a tidy sum for Children In Need.
Mr Donaldson’s interest in antiques was sparked in early childhood because the family farm was home to a Victorian bottle tip. He would dig up the bottles and sell them at Durham market.
He said: “We used to get wrong off our dad because we would dig too big a hole and he was worried it would fall in on us”
It wasn’t until the birth of his daughter Molly, while taking time off from his work as a driving instructor, that he opened his first shop, in Langley Moor.
Since then he has honed his skills through research, learning from other experts and even small time collectors, who have become experts in a particular field.
Mr Donaldson said: “They have dedicated a lot of time to it, so you learn as much from local people as you do from someone in the trade for 30 years.”
But it is the internet and the digital age, he said, that is revolutionising the antiques world.
Certainly, it makes research easier.
Mr Donaldson said: “It gives us the confidence to offer a good price for an item.
“We can find out how many have sold and at what price. It gives us the opportunity to give the best price we can.”
The big thing in the antiques world now, he said, is social history and items such as photographs are extremely valuable.
For Teesdale and its surrounds, that includes mineworkers, steel workers and railway workers – the three industries which Mr Donaldson believes forged modern Britain.
In a recent visit to Oxford he came across a box of postcards, among them were cards of West Auckland, Bishop Auckland, Barnard Castle and even a Hartlepool building which had suffered severe damage from the shelling of a German flotilla during the First World War.
He bought the small collection for £40 and believes they are worth about £1,000.
Mr Donaldson said: “It is a moment in time and it is important.”
West Auckland has a rich social history, which he worries is being missed by many villagers.
He points to it having the first World Cup winning football team, it boasting the longest village green in Europe, it was home to the first George Stephenson iron bridge to use a lenticular truss design and the village was home to the infamous murderess Mary Ann Cotton.
He said: “It is steeped in history and local people seem to be scared of it.
“If this were London it would be quite an attraction.
“I think local people are a little bit frightened about it,” he added.
For those coming in from the outside, however, it is deeply interesting and Antiques on the Green and the accompanying Molly’s tearoom is doing its bit draw them in.