Chances are if you've driven along the outskirts of Cardiff you've spotted The Pumping Station.

With its glass ceilings, red and beige brick facade and iconic Victorian structure, the former sewage pumping station - sitting proudly on the bank of the River Ely - is difficult to miss as you drive down the A4232.

But behind closed doors, against the backdrop of city skyscrapers, for decades the Grade II listed building has been home to one of Wales' biggest treasure troves.

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Fronted by a modest emerald green entrance, from its cellar to its ceiling, The Pumping Station Antiques Centre - all 32,000 square ft of it - is filled with trinkets.

And as the saying goes, "one man's castaways are another man's treasure", and whether it's an original victorian painting, snakebite kit or a retired Barry Island log flume you're after - there are hundreds and hundreds of hidden gems to be found.

Just one part of the cavernous interior

Pete White's toy shop, nestled in the basement of the Victorian building, has been keeping children and collectors alike busy for 19 years.

Specialising in Star Wars memorabilia, toy figurines, model cars and board games, Pete at P & R Models is one of the centre's longest-running traders.

Now 72-years-old, Pete took on the shop from a friend almost two decades ago, and even now says he is still surprised at some of the things that come through the door.

Pete White from P & R Models has been in the Pumping Station for 19 years

"It’s fun, that’s the whole thing - it’s fun. You get a bunch of stuff in, you sort through it, and you think ‘that’s nice’, and that’s the fun of it," he said from behind his desk, surrounded by new items brought in that week.

"What used to happen is that you went to auctions or toy fairs to find items, but once you’ve been here a while and the word gets around then people start coming to you and bringing stuff in.

"The beauty of it is that you don’t know what’s going to come through the door next. I don’t go anywhere, it all comes to me."

However there is a downside, where Pete has to give the crushing news to people that their 'antique' is in fact worth not much at all.

Pete White specialises in toys

"You can’t blame people - in a lot of cases it’s somebody’s deceased fathers or something like that but unfortunately it doesn’t work like that.

"The one thing now is, if you’re a collector and you buy one of these things [Star Wars figures] and think ‘i’m going to keep it in its box and it might be worth something in 20 years’ - it won't be because there’s 500 or so of them out there and everybody is thinking the same."

The retired insurance claims manager, who now mainly stocks figures of favourites like Dr Who and Marve,l used to specialise in Model Cars and Rare Star Wars memorabilia but says the collectors market is changing.

He's one of two traders in the centre to sell rare and historical Star Wars memorabilia - something Pete says has always been a firm favourite among many collectors.

"I started with cars and lorries etc, but as the older generation is dying off, and the youngsters are not interested in that anymore, the market is reducing. You then have to go into Dr Who, StarWars, Marvel, Monsters - everything the younger generation are into," he said.

"The rare-est thing I used to do was vintage Star Wars. The Market in vintage Star Wars has gone absolutely through the roof, but because of 3D printers and all the rest of it there’s fakes everywhere. So I got out of that market completely. Some of those can be worth 1000s of pounds. But nowadays I just do the modern stuff, mainly post 1996, and I don’t have to deal with the fakes and all of that.

"If you don’t diversify, you won’t be selling a great deal anymore. It’s obvious isn’t it, once the people who collect these things get older and older the basis reduces, it’s as simple as that."

Pete's 'competitor', although a friend would be a better observation, is Evan Walsh, one of the owners at Walsh Collectables who also specializes in rare toys.

Whereas Pete has left rare Star Wars in the past, it's still very much a big part of Evan's business - who he runs with his dad Martin.

Evan, 26, started the shop six years ago, when walking through the Pumping Station as customers, he noticed an empty stall.

"I was a hydraulics engineer before and it was basically an apprenticeship and I did that for about two or three years before I decided it wasn't for me.

"When we first started we only had very few cabinets. We had a laminated sign and just very few pieces in here."

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Since they first opened, with a handful of StarWars figures from their own collection, the pair have now expanded their stall twice to meet demand and have broadened into other collectables.

"The vintage Star Wars is the most popular toy in this shop. We do see other collectables doing well too - for instance victorian poison bottles and historical bottles is one of our new ventures for us.

Evan Walsh from Walsh Collectables specialises in toys and victorian bottles.
Evan specialises in victorian bottles.

"We started off with Vintage star wars because that’s sort of our thing and then that started coming off and people started to know where we are so we expanded from there and built a reputation that way," said Evan.

We started it off originally with a bit of overspill from our own collection and then we were buying bits and pieces we could from anywhere and everywhere really. And actually people were really interested. We had people sort of waiting while we were painting the walls asking “when are you going to be in?”

"Since then we’ve expanded into other things like enamel signs, antique bottles, stoneware."

Evan said that running the shop is "the best job in the world by miles" and that he considers his regular customers an "extended family".

And while it's obvious from walking around the centre, Evans says that the 45-odd traders who hold coveted spots in the Pumping Station are "characters."

"Anyone who comes in here feels like they’re coming into my living room. We’ve built a nice little community," he said.

Some of the Star Wars figures in Evan's shop
Evan has run the shop with his dad Martin for 6 years

"We’re all one big family. It’s a pleasure to come into work every day. I really think you could write a sitcom about The Pumping Station.

"It’s fantastic, everyone is a character, everyone has their own personality. It’s amazing, everyone has their different walks of life about how they have ended up here."

And while some traders have called the station their home for years, others are much newer additions to the "family".

Richie Dillon, 55, only started trading from The Pumping Station four months ago, and in that time has already amassed three stalls worth of treasures.

Unlike others, Richie doesn't specialise in one type of collectable or item, instead, he has a collection of things that caught his eye - from taxidermy animals to 60s inspired furniture.

"My background is bicycles, believe it or not, in terms of what I know most about. But I suppose, you could say that a little bit about a lot of things is me," said Richie.

Trader, Richie Dillon, has three stalls at the Pumping Station

"I have a bit of everything. I find that works for me, I’ve got a wide variety of stuff. I’ve got bits ranging from two or three quid ranging up to several hundred quid. I just find that works for me.

"The main thing for me is that I like buying the stuff, owning the stuff and the consequences of that is selling stuff. That's really as simple as it comes."

And undoubtedly Richie has gathered quite the collection of "anything and everything", from snake bite kits to an orchestra conductor's baton for Cardiff's Post Office band in 1894 that he found at the bottom of a wardrobe in a clearance

Richie said he started attending antique auctions as a child because his grandfather was a dealer.

"I've been going to auctions since I was a little kid and I've continued to do so. But this, the actual retail game, I'm relatively new to. I had a stall at the flea market at Tremorfa and a couple of the traders there had stalls here and said I should come down.

Some of the antinques on display at the Pumping Station
There are over 45 traders at the Pumping Station

"Initially when I came down people said ‘it’s a big stall, are you going to be able to fill it?’ and I said ‘trust me!’ and now I’ve got three."

Richie said one of the benefits of trading at The Pumping Station is that the owners take care of any sales while the traders are away from their stalls.

"I just enjoy it. I enjoy the people, the owners are really nice and it’s really well run. It’s just a nice way to be, it's a nice existence.

"The advantage of the Pumping Station is that people can come in and buy something when I’m not here and the desk will deal with it. You’ll always sell more when you’re here, but if you do want a week off, you’re still trading as such. And you’ve got all the other traders here too."

Despite it being an antique centre, nestled in the back of the building, next to the modest cafe, is Tracey Coles, 49 - a spiritualist and Tarot Reader.

Tracey opened her stall at the Pumping Station two years ago just before the coronavirus pandemic and said that she hopes she brings something different to the centre.

Tracey said she has always been able to give "messages" to people through her spirituality and decided to take it on full time after taking redundancy from her previous role.

Tracey Coles is a tarot reader at The Pumping Station

"I love it here because it’s a little family place. We all know each other and work as part of a team - and that’s half the battle of any place you work," she said.

"I get all sorts of people. It’s always better when someone hears from you through someone else, through someone who’s been to you. Some people will come here to see my and will find the pumping station, and it's the other way around as well."

Tracey said she also enjoys working at the station due to its links to the past.

"This place takes you back in time - you see things and you think ‘that was in my nannas’ - it’s like a walk through time, there’s so much history about It"

One of the first stalls you come across when you walk into the Pumping Station is Caple Antiques, run by Mark Caple. And even had it not been near the entrance, with his selection of items, Mark's stall would be difficult to miss.

From the retired Barry Island log flume, a huge blow-up football from the Champions League Final held in Cardiff in 2017, to lockers used by Olympians at the 2012 Olympic games, Mark undoubtedly has some of the most extravagant items available.

Despite only being part of the station for three months, Mark's collection is already one to behold.

Unlike other stalls who know their collectors, Mark said he knows his products are waiting for a very specific customer.

Mark Caple has only been trading at The Pumping Station for three months

"The thing is, a lot of what I get are slow burners, they’re not a quick sale, it’s something very specific that only a certain person will want," said Mark.

"The log flume can’t go on another log flume, it’s at the end of its life. So it's about who wants that and what they are going to use it for.

"I like something a little bit different. I’ve got a lot of props, recently got a lot of things from His Dark Materials.

"For example, the company who supplied this for the champions league final, once they have it and use it, it just goes into storage. And storage costs money so they eventually get rid of it. So they either throw it away or they sell it to someone like me.

"Well I retired when I was 55, I had been working for the same company for 25 years as a project manager in accountancy, so I just wanted to do something a bit different, less boring.

"I used to watch storage wars and all that, I did a couple of Car Boots and used to like interacting with the customers, they’re characters.

"It’s a bit of beer money for me, I couldn’t make a living off it if I’m completely truthful because what I buy doesn’t sell quickly - they’re more slow burners."

Like many other traders, Mark started at Cardiff's indoor flea market, but there was no room to expand there so he opened at the pumping station, where he said there were also different customers.

"It’s nice here. It’s full of genuine people."

Sue Ashill, and her family have run the Pumping Station for 30 years

Running the show, and putting all of the colourful characters in their place, Sue Ashill - one of the owners of The Pumping Station. The grade II listed building and the business has been in her family for over 30 -years.

Now proving so popular, Sue said they have a list of traders waiting for a spot.

"It’s a very eclectic mix here. It’s not just antiques, it’s so many different things," said Sue.

"It’s good to draw different people in who wouldn’t necessarily come into the Pumping Station. So the tarot reader, and the fabrics that brings another type of person in which is great.

"You go from the medieval stuff, right through to a big football, you never know what’s going to come through the door next which makes life really interesting. It’s different every day.

Picked from top to bottom with over 32,000 square ft of stalls and over 45 traders, Sue oversees the general running of the centre.

"My mum, my dad and my brother got involved and bought it over 30 years ago now, so it’s been in my family for years. My dad has passed away and my brother is involved with the drum depot next door so my mum and I sort of look after the running now.

"At the moment we’re full which is great, but we always have a little list of traders wanting to come in.

"It's a really really unique place."

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