The Real Knightsbridge

Knightsbridge is renowned for the famous people that pass in and out of the area, but little is said about their possessions. Seth Rowden speaks to a London company specialising in moving fine art, rare antiques, and some extraordinary privately owned items

Hedley’s Humpers has its roots in the area of Knightsbridge and Chelsea, where it was started by Steve Hedley in the early 1970s on the King’s Road. Their distinctive blue and yellow lorries are now a familiar sight in the area, and they operate offices in London, Paris, Avignon and New York.

Judy Mercer, sales manager for Hedley’s Humpers, explains how it all started. “Steve knew people on the King’s Road. Forty years ago, there were lots of antiques shops like Antiquarius and Furniture Cave. He had friends who owned antiques shops and then one day someone casually asked him if he could get something over to France.”

The King’s Road was buzzing with antique dealers in the 1970’s, many of whom were selling to overseas buyers. Hedley’s Humpers, exploring this emerging market, soon began shipping rare antiques all over the world. “In New York, and all across America, there were shops selling European antique furniture,” Judy says. “They would come here and they would buy up from all over the place — France, Italy, England — and we would pick it up and ship it back for them.

Hedley's Humpers

Shipping from France to New York is what Hedley’s Humpers is best known for. The labyrinth of Parisian flea markets still offer collectors a unique opportunity to find undervalued antiques, and the Marché Paul Bert is the best of them all. Here collectors can browse at their leisure while the blue and yellow lorries wait until the end of the day before collecting clients’ purchases ready to deliver back to them.

As antiques went out of vogue with mainstream buyers, Hedley’s Humpers began to adapt and changed direction to become leading experts in the care, transportation and installation of fine art and interior design projects. Offering such a bespoke service means that it is difficult to pin down the parameters of their business activity but, in an attempt to, Judy explains, “The main objective is to get the thing from A to B, with no damage, in the best possible way, at the best possible price.”

Hedley's Humpers Delivery

Hedley’s Humpers work for almost all of the major galleries in London and have delivered and installed some of the most significant pieces of art to have been exhibited in the world. “We did a few shows for Saatchi Gallery and that can involve moving almost anything. Sometimes we do the installations as well, which means taking the piece apart and putting it together. When you are dealing in the art business, you have to work with the artist.”

One such notable project they worked on was the delivery and installation of an enormous sculpture for an exhibition in New York. The sculpture was so large that it had to be transported on an open top container with special structures built to keep it in place. That sculpture was by Joseph Beuys — arguably the greatest German artist of the 20th century.

Joseph Beuys

Their work with interior designers has given them access to prime property all around the world, especially in Knightsbridge. Their work with Candy & Candy resulted in Hedley’s Humpers playing a significant role in the delivery and installation of the interiors for 1 Hyde Park. “When they are working on a project, they will go out and purchase lots of things and we will collect it, bring it back, photograph it and store it. When a project is ready, we will deliver and install it.”

Hollywood’s rich and famous are also on the client list, although Judy is discreet when it comes to names. One of the most remarkable anecdotes she shares with me is the story of a wealthy client’s urgent phone call to request that Hedley’s Humpers remove a collection of rare art from his burning French château. Hedley’s Humpers were there before the fire brigade, removing precious collectables. It is rumoured that the world’s largest Jade collection was lost in that fire.

Hedley's Humpers - burning French chateau

For Knightsbridge clients, Hedley’s Humpers now offer a white glove service. “If someone buys something from Harrods or other places in the area, we will pick it up and bring it in wearing white gloves and covers for the feet, place the purchase where it needs to be, and then remove all the debris. We do that for anything from art, antiques and modern furniture.”

However, they also do this for more unusual items. “We did do a quotation recently for a giant Superman,” Judy says. “Oh, and in the warehouse we recently had two giant stuffed giraffes. They were beautiful. They were real, you could see the bullet holes where they had been shot.”

This begs the question: what other rare and wonderful objects travel in and out of Knightsbridge, behind the veil of Hedley’s blue and yellow lorries?


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