John's memories of 30 years in Ludlow antiques trade

They were the days of Aeroplane Bertie from Clee Hill, The Explosive Ferret Club near Knowbury – with a hilarious stand-up comic – and John Clegg and others who played their part in making Ludlow a regional hub for the antiques trade.

John Clegg, who writes the book under the pseudonym John Dodds
John Clegg, who writes the book under the pseudonym John Dodds

Now the story of those times has been told in a new book called It's All Part Of The Game, which describes Clegg's 30 years in the antiques business in Ludlow.

Written under the pseudonym John Dodds, it is full of local characters like Tater Davies and Aeroplane Bertie, and anecdotes from those times, including the buzzing days of the Ludlow Festival when he would get to know some of the players in its centrepiece Shakespearian production.

The star of the 1976 performance of Hamlet, Lesley Anne Down, bought a brass-bound camphor trunk from him and another in the cast, the actor Tony Head – later to become a familiar face thanks to his role in a Gold Blend coffee advert – invited him to the end of festival party.

Then there was the affair of Michael Heseltine's stolen lead balls.

Looking in the window of a local shop John spotted a pair of fantastic garden ornaments surmounting a pair of generous lead balls.

A trader stopped him in the street later and told him that the police had been round to the premises as it had turned out that they had been stolen from Michael Heseltine's garden wall.

Heseltine was one of the most prominent national politicians of the day, a one-time deputy prime minister who famously challenged Margaret Thatcher for the leadership of the Conservative party.

The stolen items were, says the book, put in an auction in another Shropshire town, where the unsuspecting Ludlow dealer had successfully bid for them.

John (with moustache) and his then wife Anne on the left at an evening gathering hosted by Gerald and Ann Acton in Broad Street, Ludlow, in about 1985. John says: "Far right is Roger Evans, who has become quite renowned in farming circles for his quaint and amusing publications regarding agriculture."

According to the book despite being a relatively small market town, Ludlow had once been the most important urban antiques centre in the whole of the Marches, putting the likes of Shrewsbury, Hereford, and Chester, in the shade.

John, who was born on the Isle of Man in 1948, came to England aged two and went to Ludlow Grammar School.

"I had a succession of three antique shops in Ludlow, trading under my own name, and closed the final premises in Old Street in 2004," he said.

"Everything in the story is based on tales told me or on personal experiences, with a slight dash of artistic licence thrown in. If a person is mentioned favourably in the book, then they bear their real name. If less than favourably, they’ve been given either just a first name or an invented one.

"I spend most of my life in Croatia and no longer have anything to do with antiques," he added.

"My book is available on Amazon and other online outlets, plus good old-fashioned shops like Castle Bookshop, Ludlow."

It's All Part Of The Game by John Clegg

A key event which set in train the closure of his shop and his departure from Ludlow was the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which had a great impact on the antiques trade.

"What made Ludlow an antique hub was probably diligence and talent. The reason the job imploded nationally was 9/11, as so much of the top-end trade had been geared to American demand.

"Without the upper echelon of the British antique trade relying on places like Ludlow for their stock, none of this story would have happened. If you didn’t have trust and understanding with top-end traders and were not willing to sell lucrative creations privately, there was not enough business in out-of-the-way places like Ludlow to keep a large shop going. Small bric-a-brac outlets, yes, but not a shop geared up for £1 million per annum turnover.

"Most of my turnover went to English dealers who then sold to American clients, flying in for the prestigious antique fairs.

"Once I realised the antique trade, whether dealers stocking up for trading at fairs, or shipping to the USA, would no longer be relying on shops such as mine, I knew I had to get out as soon as possible. Which I did and haven’t looked back."

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