A Peculiar British Phenomenon – The Car Boot Sale

These incredible events – car boot sales – occur all over the British Isles every Sunday morning throughout the summer months – and we have a great selection throughout Kent and Sussex.

One person’s junk is another’s treasure.  Nowhere is this saying more applicable than at a good old British car boot sale.

Even confirmed ‘night owls’ seem to convert to early birds at the prospect of attending a boot sale, which is just as well because the best bargains go quickly.

The sun dawns over a large car boot sale site in Sussex
The rising sun reveals an array go riches at car boot sales everywhere

I’ve attended several, both as seller and buyer.  The first time I bought a ‘pitch’ to set out my stall and display the riches I had to offer, I was stunned (and somewhat frustrated) at the number of people who appeared to be lurking to pounce on us stallholders before we’d even set up.  As I was attempting to create a Harrods-worthy display of my goods, these people went through my stock like a tsunami, drowning me with questions from all directions “How much is this?” “What d’you want for that?” “I’ll give you a fiver for all three.”

Gimme a break!! It’s not even 6.30am and buyers aren’t due until 7!!  But what I didn’t appreciate was that these were fellow sellers aiming to secure some good deals.

Walking around the site a little later, I did several double-takes as I noticed items I’d sold that morning marked-up and available to purchase on other stalls.  I learnt from that experience.

mannequin dummies at a car boot sale
The Weird and the Wonderful… this is the weird

You never know what you’ll find at a car boot sale.  From the weird and wonderful through the bizarre and baffling to the creative and cute.  I’ve seen tables full of broken toys, a pile of mannequins stacked on the grass (headless, naturally), clothes that wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of ‘Stranger Things’ and many, many items that took me right back to my childhood.

And this is part of the attraction.

Even if you’re not there with the intention of buying, walking round a car boot sale can be like stepping back in time.  You’re bound to see things you used to have – crockery from the set your parents were given as a wedding gift, remnants of Subbuteo games, platform shoes just like the first pair you ever owned.

It’s not all rubbish, of course.  It’s the hope of every attendee that they’ll happen upon a tarnished Faberge egg or a dusty but original Renoir.  Don’t laugh, it’s happened.  The egg cost £8,000 (admittedly, more than most car boot items) but was valued at £20 million while Renoir’s 1879 painting ‘Paysage Bords De Seine” made a £50,000 profit over the £5 it cost for the box of assorted items it came in.

Even if you don’t manage to secure your pension walking round a field on a Sunday morning, there are several highlights.

misshapen donut served at a car boot sale Sussex
Donut Gone Wrong

There’s the food.  Nothing remotely healthy in sight.  We’re talking cheesy chips, burgers, donuts and coffee.  One of the most fascinating things is watching the fresh donuts being made.  Speedily pressed out like edible bullets from a long, metal tube, straight into the hot oil and flipped with a skill that’s clearly taken years to perfect.  From the oil to the sugar to the bag and within minutes, you’re chowing down on fresh, hot, chewy dough.  But it’s okay, you’ll work off the calories wandering around because some of these boot sale sites are HUGE!  Luckily, there’ll be seating for sale that you can stop and try out.

person rests on a wooden bench at a car boot sale in Sussex
When it all gets a bit too much…

People-watching can be a fascinating activity at a car boot.  Some come equipped with wheelie trollies – all the better to cart around the bargains they’ve nabbed.  Some items simply don’t fit in bags and have to be carried in full view.  I remember a heavily tattooed, 6ft+, bouncer-type walking round with the biggest teddy bear I’d EVER seen tucked under his arm.  Well, as Australian poet, Pam Brown said: “Bears need people. People need bears.”

There’s always a fabulous array of dogs – as a dog lover who’s not allowed one (find my Glaucoma article somewhere), it takes me longer than most to get round the site because I simply MUST stop and pet every dog I happen upon.

You’ll be sure to witness a wallpaper table collapse during your visit.  These are the favourite display tables of the car-booter but they’re prone to refolding themselves in the middle if loaded with a whisker too much weight.  Every so often, you’ll hear a crash followed by a few choice phrases.  It’s a guaranteed event at least once at every sale.

Come rain or shine, the boot sales go ahead.   You’ll either see plenty of wellington boots and brollies or be able to pick out those who surely won’t sleep through their sunburn that night.

Such is the phenomenon of the boot sale that in the early 90s a guy called Bill released a single imaginatively titled ‘Car Boot Sale’ on the Mercury Records label.  Most of the lyrics were “car boot sale the car boot sale car boot sale the car boot sale (and repeat).”  Yes, it was very tongue in cheek but it enjoyed some mainstream radio play and created an ear-worm that comes flooding back to those unfortunate enough to hear it again (click the link below at your peril – you have been warned!).

By lunchtime the number of buyers is thinning out, some sellers start shouting out that everything on their stall is now 50p/£1/£2, depending on their wares.  Others pack things away carefully intending to repeat it all the following week, probably adding whatever they bought from fellow stallholders THIS week!

If you’re visiting the UK, make sure you spend at least one Sunday morning at a car boot – the bigger the better.  Oh, and take your false beard – haggling is de rigueur.

Car Boot Sale Directory:  http://www.carbootjunction.com


Car Boot Sale song:  https://youtu.be/TaHqAHrnKjE


  • Maria Bligh

    Maria Bligh is a journalist, published author, professional speaker, singer and artist now settled in Sussex, UK, having previously travelled extensively throughout the UK and overseas, including a period living in Geneva. Married to a successful musician and with a background that encompasses working in the music industry, finance, sales and presentations training, she maintains a diverse existence. Her interests encompass travel, nature, animals and the arts: music, theatre, painting, writing and philosophy. Maria now writes for online and print magazines. Having once maintained a regular full page in “A Place In The Sun” magazine, travel is an obvious interest, but her articles also cover a wide variety of subjects. She bills herself as “an observer of the human condition and all that sail in her.” Maria has frequently appeared on radio & TV as well as in print. Her humorous style has seen her travel the world addressing audiences throughout Europe, Asia and Australasia and as a cruise-ship speaker with P&O and Fred Olsen.

2 thoughts on “A Peculiar British Phenomenon – The Car Boot Sale

  1. Oh dear, I listened to the Car Boot Sale song. It should come with a health warning. Now it’s stuck in my brain & I’m worried it will stay there all day & maybe longer. Aagh, here it comes again – Car Boot Sale, Car Boot Sale. Help me someone!!!!

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