The Place In London Where You Literally Buy Stuff Off The Back Of A Lorry

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 78 months ago

Last Updated 11 December 2017

The Place In London Where You Literally Buy Stuff Off The Back Of A Lorry

Since this article was written, Wimbledon car boot has sadly closed, and is looking to relocate.

The forecast said drizzle. But it's easy to forget that drizzle is just as wet as rain. Wimbledon Car Boot Sale — one of London's best-loved — is a thrice-weekly thing. And of all the days in all the weeks in all the year, we've come on this one. Well done us. Well done us a lot.

Some (fool)hardy souls have rocked up: those willing to navigate Plough Lane Greyhound Stadium's car park, which is approximately 85% potholes; those who don't mind the contents of a cloud dripping down their neck, as they rifle through boxes of old football programmes; those who don't mind their antique swords rusting away in front of their very eyes.

"It's usually absolutely packed," says stallholder Tricia, confirming our suspicions that we've picked a rotten day to do this. "There's another bit through the gates there that's usually open. We call it the graveyard because it's always cold down there. That's usually packed out as well."

"Hello!" she greets a fellow stallholder, before adding, "I must be mad..."

"I've sold wigs to men, thongs ... people will buy anything": Steve

We get the impression people like Tricia relish a challenge. Not only is she battling the weather, she's trying to flog some serious esoterica. Next to two 19th century pewter salvers, going for £10 each, is a big rubber pink doll's head with dead eyes. "I actually got that from China, because I thought it's really grotesque. But so far people are hating it," she shrugs.

Someone will love it, we suggest, although we're doubtful it'll be today, possibly this year.

As we say, some of the stuff is quite esoteric

Not everyone's having such a slack day. Melvin's plants are getting a free watering; he's a regular at Wimbledon on a Wednesday, selling off the leftovers from his stall at Old Covent Garden. There's a rush on his daffodils at 50p a bunch, potted hyacinths for a quid.

One punter's struck lucky too, scoring the Mona Lisa off the back of a lorry.

That's no exaggeration, either (the lorry bit, anyway). A lot of the items are literally off the back of a lorry — patio furniture, front doors and bundles and bundles of clothes. Some of the scenes recall victims in the middle of a flooding crisis being handed dry clothes, rather than a car boot.

The rain's adding to what's usually a brisk pace anyway. Stallholders are willing to shift their stuff for less. No one wants to be hanging around in this.

Before we find somewhere to dry off, there's someone else we must talk to. Mary — who we find leaning against her van, Magic FM coming from the radio — has been selling here since the early 1980s. That was around the time Wimbledon car boot got going, and when Mary had six kids to feed.

Mary, one-time seller of a death mask

"I got up one day and had to get dinner on the table," she says, "I sorted out the cupboard and got on the bus actually, the trolley. I come here on the trolley and I set up on the floor and I made £12. That was worth it to me."

Everything about car boots, Mary finds addictive. "If you say five, they say three. You say three, they say two," she grins, relishing the idea of a good haggle.

"I like rummaging and I like things that are cheap. I don't really buy nothing new anyway. I just don't believe in it." Like others here, she sells some stuff so she can buy others. One man's junk and all that.

From a family of 10 children, Mary's never short on donations. All the stuff she sells comes from friends and family. What's the strangest thing she's flogged, we wonder? "A wax death mask," Mary replies, "And it was on a fox, funny enough," she continues, with a straight face. "The mask came from Belgium."

That certainly gives Tricia's doll's head a run for its money. And, suddenly, standing here in the wet and cold, we feel vindicated for turning up — now we know that someone, right here in this very car park, once bought a death mask attached to a fox.

Lovely day for a picnic
More esoterica
Melvin's oranges