So Long, Des & Lorraine’s Junk Shop
Yesterday, Des & Lorraine closed the door on their legendary junk shop in Bacon St after more than thirty-five years of trading. Rent increases forced the move and in future you can find them at Unit 14, Cromwell Industrial Estate, Staffa Rd, Leyton, E10 7QZ. Call Des on 07553 345852 for opening times to discover the cheapest and most interesting collection of junk in London.
Portrait of Des by Simon Mooney
Des & Lorraine’s junk shop in Bacon St was sandwiched between a secondhand catering equipment dealer and a tattoo parlour, so you might not even have noticed the discreet entrance if you did not know it. You could easily be unaware of the wonders that were contained behind this unassuming frontage.
Des led me through the low-ceilinged narrow passage lined with old wardrobes into the shop itself. At first, as you entered this shadowy antechamber, you realised the ceiling was higher and hung with things which gave the feeling of being in a deep forest with heavy branches overhead. Then you found yourself in an old stable with a cobbled floor, a corrugated iron roof and spaces opening up on all sides, each crowded with furniture accumulated in the gloom, giving way to indeterminate darkness.
This is where Des & Lorraine dealt in junk for over thirty-five years. Without windows, the chill was tangible, and I understood why Lorraine was commonly seen wrapped in a hat and scarf, and whenever possible sat in the car outside during the winter months. They are busy people by nature and custom, fugutive figures constantly coming and going, collecting and delivering. Consequently, it took me several days to get an opportunity to speak to Des yet even then he was hovering, as customers came and went throughout our conversation.
I was impressed that Des describes himself as dealing in ‘junk’ because, while antique dealers may consider themselves superior within the hierarchy of professionals, for the inquisitive customer ‘junk’ possesses the greater interest. With antiques there is an implication of higher monetary value but with junk it is all about the intrinsic poetry of the items. So to my mind, it is to his credit that Des is unapologetically a junk dealer.
Wherever I looked in Des & Lorraine’s magnificent junk shop in Bacon St, the detail was overwhelming – with a panoply of old stuff hung above, creating the impression of an eccentric galaxy of objects in a frozen moment. Des certainly likes to collect, especially old toys and other curios that looked good hanging overhead. The airplanes and vehicles created the sense of motion in Des’ cosmos while the other items, like the signs and musical instruments, the gas mask and the giant potato peeler imparted a surreal quality to his strange universe. Gazing up into this thicket was like looking into a dream, yet Des appeared to be a down-to-earth fellow.
“Certain things I like to keep. Most of this stuff here is from childhood. A lot of people ask to buy these things but they are not for sale. It’s all stuff that’s become collectible. It’s stuff I bought, except the horse which belonged to my kids and they left it out in the rain.” he explained to me, as he surveyed his marvellous collection with proprietorial satisfaction.
Seized by an idea, “Let me show you one of the strangest things I ever found,” Des said and, visibly excited, began burrowing through a stack of old boxes. Pulling out an old holdall, he produced a slim booklet and held it open to show me a photograph of a mermaid. I scrutinised his mild features for any hint of irony that might reveal he was pulling my leg, but his brown-eyed gaze was without concealment. I was baffled. “You’re kidding me?” I said, but he shook his head. “Where did you get it?” I asked. “I found it in the course of my work,” he explained dispassionately, “This was while ago, but it cost me quite a lot of money at the time.” I was disarmed. Des continued, “It has a spine running the length of its body and some scientists from Cambridge University verified it by carbon dating as over two hundred years old.”
As the conversation spun into the unknown territory, towards a weird place familiar only to Des, I asked, “Where is it?” Pre-occupied with sorting rusty old spanners, he indicated a dusty corner casually,“I used to have it set up there but now it’s at home,” he said, “I’ll send you picture from my phone this evening.”
Willingly consenting to the notion of a mermaid photographed by a mobile phone, I gave Des my number and said goodbye. The picture you see below arrived that evening, Des’ mummified mermaid in a glass tank sitting upon his dining table. I shall leave you to draw your own conclusion upon its authenticity as a mermaid, but from this picture I do believe it is an authentic specimen from a nineteenth century display, a cabinet of curiosities or a freak show, and that itself is good enough for me.
Des & Lorraine were always happy to allow customers to rummage in their shop, as long as they asked first. It was the last outpost of the mysterious kingdom of junk.
Lorraine with Viscountess Boudica (photograph by Colin O’Brien)
Des & Lorraine, Unit 14, Cromwell Industrial Estate, Staffa Rd, Leyton, E10 7QZ Telephone 07553 345852
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