Kay’s Flying Start To Life

Written by Nicky Smit

Born Kathlyn Canning Barnes in 1922, Kay was brought up at a boarding school convent in Aliwal North. In 1939, at just age 17 she joined the WAAF, the Woman’s Auxiliary Air Force, and tried out the aptitude test for pilots. Obtaining one of the highest scores, she was allowed to train as a pilot and with 4 others were the first women in South Africa to get their wings. She was stationed at Vereeniging base where she taught new recruits on simulators before they were sent back to the UK to fly over to Europe. I can only imagine the fun they had being so few women amongst so many men and feeling ‘the bees’ knees’.

She met my father Stan Derriman, a cockney Englishman who had been stationed at the base in Vereeniging where they were married in 1945. After the war ended, they went to live in the UK for a year before returning to Cape Town. My brother Peter was born in 1949 and I arrived in 1953.

Kay Derriman in her uniform with her wings.

Stanley & Kay Derriman

A picture of their wedding at the airforce base with dog called Pilot in tow.

Kay Derriman

Into Business

In 1960 my mother was left £100 by an aunt in the UK. She decided she wanted to start up a bric-a-brac shop. Kay’s Nic-Nax, opened in Ralph street in Claremont.  She steadily built it into an antique business and moved to Station Road Claremont.  Kay loved going to auctions. Auction sales were very exciting in those days, taking all day or even a few days, and items were sold by the table full. She often had to go back 4 or 5 times to collect her loot, sometimes from quite far afield. She also went upcountry, having to make sure everything would fit into the car. She was one of only 2 women antique dealers at this stage. It was not easy in a man’s world, but her vivacious personality always got her through.

She used to do at least 2 trips to the UK to buy goods, flying on Trek airways, which meant a 2-day journey. She would stay 2 weeks each trip, traveling all over, buying, packing and bringing back numerous desirable items. When we met her at the airport, she would have copper and brass hunting horns draped around her shoulders and be carrying copper kettles and coal scuttles. What a sight to behold!  Our home was always crammed with goodies that had just been bought and had to be cleaned and sorted and priced. My dad became a master silver and brass cleaner. Once we had a large carved pear-wood 4 poster bed in the lounge that had to have the paint stripped off – this took weeks to do. Peter and I were often roped into help, which we did, albeit with lots of muttering.

1960 – Kay and Stan Derriman opens Kay’s Antiques.

Gloating over their loot after returning from an overseas buying trip.

The three of us together just before they returned to the UK.

Helping Hands

In 1963 my father joined the business which was a great help to my mom. That year they were founding members of the South African Antique Dealers Association (SAADA), still in operation today to monitor the code of ethics in the business. At this stage the shop dealt in furniture, brass, glass, copper, carpets, China and of course jewellery. The shop then moved from Station Road in Claremont to Main Road in Claremont opposite Saint Saviour’s church.
I finished matric in 1969 aged 16, not knowing what I wanted to do. I was asked to help out at the shop in the December holidays and when the assistant on sick leave failed to return, I ended up staying on. At this stage I had no real love for antiques but gradually the bug bit especially with the jewellery. I loved the China too – decorative figurines were all the rage at that time but so often were damaged. Consequently, in 1970 I did a three-month porcelain restoration course and was apprenticed for 18 months to Bill Curran, a highly gifted, self-taught restorer.  When Bill retired, I continued with the restoration, working half day at the shop (where I also took in repairs) and working in my studio for the rest of the day.

A New Era Begins

The shop in the link Claremont where we were for 3 months. Notice all our new cabinets.

I was married in 1975 but continued with the restoration work which was in high demand. I even gave classes in restoration until 1981 when my parents announced they wanted to move back to the UK. At this stage my oldest son was 2 years old and my youngest 2 months old, so I was devastated. They were keen for me to take over the business and while I was horrified at the thought, I have always been up for a challenge. My mother’s adventurous spirit, I guess!   I was immediately accepted as a member of SAADA, their youngest member at the time, but I soon decided to do away with furniture and bulkier items. Not only did I not have enough interest in them but without help they broke my back. So, I concentrated on silver, China and jewellery which was my first love.

A Challenging Time

The shop was then in Belvedere Road, Claremont and life was a challenge. I was juggling 2 young boys with no family back up and running the business alone as I couldn’t afford help. I managed to grow the shop bit by bit until 1983 when my landlord offered me R7,000 to vacate the premises as he wanted to start a restaurant there. I took a small shop in The Link shopping mall in Claremont and ordered beautiful new cabinets for the shop with my money. (They are still in use today after several revamps.) I faced the future with great trepidation as I had to cope with a 100% rent increase.

Nicky and her father Stanley.

Kay’s display at an Antiques Fair.

J & B Met Display Windows.

To Cavendish

Three months after moving, the centre manager at Cavendish Square offered me a perfect shop in a wonderful position which might never be offered again. I got permission to sublet my 3-year lease in the Link and moved across to yet a further rental hike. It was worrying times but luckily I had a very supportive husband with a stable job who believed in my abilities. The shop grew from strength to strength and I was able to employ assistants to help, especially important with the longer shop hours.

At this stage I was doing 2 buying trips to the UK aided by my dad when I got there. In 1989 my parents decided to move back to SA and my father came to work for me part time in the shop. He was a really old school gentleman whom the customers adored. He was blessed with a wealth of knowledge, in silver particularly.  My mom Kay was enjoying retirement when I enlisted her help with the antique dolls I was selling. She was a wonderful needle woman and she set about acquiring antique materials and lace and old doll patterns. After we restrung and bewigged the dolls, she dressed them up. Sadly, we no longer trade in dolls.

More change

In those days we did many antique fairs in Cape Town and Johannesburg but later on, as crime got worse and worse and insurance on jewellery became astronomical, we had to stop going. By the 90’s antiques had become very costly and difficult to get hold of and out of the reach of so many people. I therefore decided to look into the reproduction market for a cheaper option for people who couldn’t afford the real thing. I wanted goods made up not only in gold but in silver too and by a long process of elimination found the source in Thailand.

At first none of the factories there would deal with me as I was a single business wanting small quantities. By sheer doggedness I persuaded them to give me a chance and we still have wonderful relationships with all these companies. Most have become our friends and treat us with warmth and respect. We go over to Thailand twice a year to look at their new designs for the next order, show them designs we want made up and collect orders from the previous trip. We also source our packaging there. Thailand sometimes feels like a second home.

Christmas window displays is always something special at Kay’s.

Our Current shop

In 1992 Cavendish Square underwent major renovations for 18 months and we were moved to our current shop and had to start from scratch with the decor. We are now at the entrance to Woolworths which affords us a high volume of foot traffic.

One of the most important aspects of the shop has been display. The window displays are the first port of call to draw customers in. Having always been quite artistic, I have always had great fun doing the windows, agonizing over every little detail especially for Christmas windows. We have entered many national window display competitions and in 1988 I won a trip to Scotland by winning the J & B Met window competition. I also won the World Cup Cricket and Rugby window and a further 15 J& B Met windows. I pay a lot of attention to detail and I am rewarded by so many people coming to tell us how they come especially to see our windows.

In 2001 Dad died suddenly at the age of 77 which was a great loss to the antique world. I then employed David, a 24-year-old full of passion and enthusiasm. He absorbed knowledge like a sponge and was soon a great help on the buying side. Since then, he has done all the trips to Thailand for the modern jewellery and to the UK for the antiques. He manages the shop and is very popular with customers who really appreciate his wealth of knowledge, gift of the gab and insight into what people are looking for. He often gives lectures on silver and jewellery and has now been with the shop for 21 years.

Mom died at the age of 94 in 2015.

After 52 years in the business I am now taking a well-earned break in Hermanus, leaving the shop in the capable hands of David and our great staff, including a very close friend who was once my tennis partner, Sally, a super-efficient business manager who has been with us for 9 years.

While I’m still very much around, Kay and Stan’s spirit is very much embodied in the rich traditions, knowledge and love of antiques found in Kay’s Antiques.

Current pictures of Nicky and Adré Smit and family.  One with their two sons, Aidan and Matthew and Matthew’s two daughters and the second one with the two grandchildren.

Inside the shop – Then and Now

Pictures of the many dolls that mom dressed and restored.

Window display with the dolls.

In The News

Three months after moving, the centre manager at Cavendish Square offered me a perfect shop in a wonderful position which might never be offered again. I got p