‘Oi! Where you going?’: kooky stories from Derbyshire town’s ‘longest reigning shop’

“I've got to know such a lot of people with being in here. Everybody knows me around town. I walk along town and people always say ‘Hello John’.”
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John Shaw runs Alfreton Sales and Exchange with his wife, Wendy. The shop, a fascinating mish-mash of antiques and collectables, jewellery and oddities, sits on New Street, a quiet off-shoot from the main road buzz.

“I think I’m the longest reigning shop in Alfreton,” says John. “And I’ve seen everything change in Alfreton over the years. This street at the time was a busy street. It was a cut-through to the bus station at the bottom.”

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“And where I built those shops across the road, there was a wooden shack there, with a cobbler in it. And a watch-maker. They eventually left and I bought the plot.”

Wendy and John behind the counter at Alfreton Sales and ExchangeWendy and John behind the counter at Alfreton Sales and Exchange
Wendy and John behind the counter at Alfreton Sales and Exchange

The plot to John’s story feels as eclectic as the shop. “I started in 1969. It was a do-it-yourself shop, and I was a joiner by trade. Then up to 1976 I was building. We had three shops.”

“It was like a depression time. We went bankrupt. I still had this shop, so I started selling second-hand, antiques, house clearances. It was a time when antiques were on the rise. You could sell it as fast as you could buy it.”

“Chairs, wardrobes, wall clocks, bedroom suites, jug and bowls, wind-up gramophones, you name it. And then we started buying and selling computers. That’s where it all changes, when computers come in. Now it’s a mixture of everything.”

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John and Wendy’s shop is a mixture for sure. Three floors connected by a winding staircase, this old building dripping with history, and it’s not just the stock. “John’s got a lot of stories… about this building too,” laughs Wendy.

Alfreton Sales and Exchange, New StreetAlfreton Sales and Exchange, New Street
Alfreton Sales and Exchange, New Street

John nods. “Yeah. At the bus station there was a little cafe called Bill’s Cafe. Going back a good forty years. Bill came in here one day and said ‘Do you know, I lived in here when I was a lad. My mam would do all the washing in the cellar.’”

“There’s a flight of stairs, but two families lived here. And they shared the stairs to go to bed. One family lived in this side, and one family lived in that side. And there’s four rooms upstairs.”

John adds that someone once told him the building used to be a monastery, the cellar an arched refuge. It seems everything in here has a kooky backstory. John looks to Wendy, says “Wendy was a singer”.

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Wendy smiles. “97 we got married. I was a singer for about thirty years. I was in bands, duos, solo. I was in a band that did Belize. Sang for the army.” John adds “Wendy was also on a ship, singing. The Oceanos. It sank.”

John with a model boatJohn with a model boat
John with a model boat

Wendy eggs John on to tell more stories. John pauses, then says “I had a big Luton van, and I used to be buying cookers and three-piece suites. I went in one house and I’d agreed on buying a particular item, and I said ‘I’ll just go and fetch my trolly out the van’.”

“So I fetched my trolley, and it was a pair of houses, identical semis, and I went in the wrong one. But having just left the house, I just walked straight in. As I walked through, there was all these folk having their dinner. And I though ‘Christ, they’ve been quick’.”

“The chap in there was spitting his dinner out, shouting ‘Oi! Where you going?’ because I was going through to the front room where I’d bought this thing… and I was ‘Oh sorry! I’m in the wrong house!’.”

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Laughter fills their already full kooky shop. Wendy nudges John on again.

A Spiderman statue, upstairs at Alfreton Sales and ExchangeA Spiderman statue, upstairs at Alfreton Sales and Exchange
A Spiderman statue, upstairs at Alfreton Sales and Exchange

“I went to pick up a prescription for my dad from the doctors which is on Limes Avenue. I’d never been to his doctors. I went in, opened the door, and there’s one chair at the bottom of the stairs. I thought ‘Christ, this is a small waiting room’.”

“So I’m sat in the chair, and the door was ajar into the kitchen, and I could see this woman washing the pots. Then I noticed motorbike pictures on the wall. I got up, and it said ‘Bill Lomas, TT racer’… and I thought ‘Oh. I’m in Bill Lomas’s house here…’ so, I sneaked out.”

John explains Bill Lomas was a world champion motorbike racer back in the day, who lived in Alfreton. And for a man who has a habit of opening wrong doors, John’s shop certainly has a steady stream of folk coming in to browse, chat and buy very particular items.

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Wendy describes their customers as “Different ages. As I say, we’ve had people coming in for years. And young people come in and they’re like ‘Wow!’ And a certain age group now, in their forties? Buying the retro games.” John nods. “Yeah, they’re all wanting their old games back.”

And is it hard to sell things that Wendy and John like themselves? John shrugs. “If there’s anything I wouldn’t sell, it’s at home. I have had things come in that I can’t part with because they’re just too nice. One thing I bought, it’s a model of a steam yacht. It’s a boat called the Topaz.”

“Models is my passion, wouldn’t you say Wendy?” Wendy nods. “Oh yeah. Jewellery is my passion, really.”

Wendy and John in their shopWendy and John in their shop
Wendy and John in their shop

And do this kooky couple who have been running this kooky shop for so long have any advice to give? “Just keep going,” says Wendy, John adding “Keep plodding on”. “And keep your interest in stuff,” nods Wendy.

Alfreton Sales and Exchange is certainly a place of interesting stuff.