A Really Good classical CD shop in the heart of Shropshire
Yarborough House, Bishop’s Castle
York used to be a place of pilgrimage for classical CD collectors and music lovers. For me York meant Classics and Jazz and the Blake Head Shop on Micklegate. This in much the same way that Brighton and Hove means Fine Records in George Street Hove and Hay on Wye means Hancock & Monks. Each is known for its secondhand classical CD stock.
A recent visit to York with my son and his wife revealed that Classics and Jazz and the related Blake Head shop are no more. They have gone the way of so many under the influence of property values, ebay and Amazon. Yes, Banks Music Shop is still there but they have no secondhand department and of necessity their new CD range is very limited though there is a generous selection of Naxos in dedicated shelving. Other secondhand CD shops can be found in York but they do not serve the classical market. As for HMV they have been a dead loss everywhere for at least a decade except perhaps Oxford Street – it’s a long while since I was there.
Researching the market revealed Yarborough House in the Shropshire town of Bishop’s Castle. It looked a promising prospect at roughly two hours drive from Widnes. Chris and I visited by car one sunny-rainy April Saturday.
Parking is free and I chose the one near the cattle market at the bottom of town. There are public toilets and public maps of the town streets and footpaths. With the sun shining but slightly chilly we walked up the steepish main street and found Yarborough House at the top.
They sell only secondhand stock - books, CDs and LPs and then only classical: 4000 CDs; 2000 LPs. As far as I could see there was no brand new stock. Prices are pretty good with most in the range of £3-6 for one CD. Mostly the premium CDs are priced at £5.00. I hope that they keep the prices like this. It’s all organised alphabetically by composer which some of you may think takes away a little of the fun. They have a coffee shop as well as part of the store and a good selection of cakes.
After some discreet click-clatter riffling through extraordinarily well organised composer-alphabetical racks I needed a break. We went and had coffee and scones at the Poppy House just across the road and I then went back and completed the ‘stock check’.
There’s one section of say six shelves where you can find all the boxed sets. I was delighted to track down there the DG-Decca Complete Messiaen Edition in great condition for only £65.00 (32 CDs boxed in paper sleeves with an immaculate 378 page booklet with full texts and translations). Alerted to it by Patrick Waller’s informed and enthusiastic review I had kicked myself for missing it when it first came out. Now you can see it on ebay and sometimes on Amazon for as much as four or five times what I paid.
Other treasures tracked down included the May/Fleischmann and Fernström chamber music on Marco Polos (£3.50 and £3 respectively), Cristobal Halffter’s violin concerto 1 on Auvidis Montaigne (£3), Shchedrin’s Enchanted Wanderers (DG), Persichetti Symphonies 3, 4, 7 (Albany), Ernest Pingoud orchestral music (Ondine for £5), the Franz Schmidt 4th symphony (Mehta, Decca Enterprise), Hoddinott Symphony 6 (Chandos), Coates Four Centuries (ASV, £3), Strauss’s Josefslegende conducted by Wakasugi (Denon), Schuman Symphony 7 (Maazel, New World, £2), Maxwell Davies Salome (EMI, Janos Furst), Dring piano music (Cambria, £3), the original version of the Rochberg violin concerto from Stern and Previn (Sony) and Lex Van Delden’s orchestral works on Etcetera (£3).
Stock unsold for 3-4 months is migrated from the main shelves into two big plastic boxes and the price marked down. That’s where I found Ned Rorem’s Miss Julie opera marked down from £9 to £5 and a few other things. The Rorem should make an interesting contrast with William Alwyn’s version on Lyrita. The prices are such that you can risk some exploration though you can also ask to borrow the shop’s portable CD player – try before you buy.
The ones I didn’t buy but which caught my eye. Some discs of Bolcom orchestral and Thomson works and quite a few sets from French EMI’s ‘operette’ series. Plenty there to interest most classical enthusiasts regardless of specialist interests.
The journey there and back was to the tune of Tudor’s new CD of Hans Sommer’s voluptuously romantic songs with orchestra, Hänssler’s Montsalvatge collection and MSR’s magnificent new disc of Vittorio Giannini’s exultantly romantic Piano Quintet and Piano Trio.
We broke the return journey with lunch at the National Trust’s Powis Castle just outside Welshpool and walked the sharply inclined south-facing terraced gardens in brilliant sunshine – then coffee and a wander around the Moreton Park Garden centre and shopping complex just five miles from another National Trust treasure: Chirk Castle – the home, at one time, of Lord Howard de Walden. It was one of Joseph Holbrooke’s watering holes during his salad days before the Great War.
Yarborough House does have a web presence http://www.yarboroughhouse.com/ but do not list their stock there nor do they do online sales. A visit is de rigueur. The proprietors told me that some of their customers visit weekly such is the speed of stock turnover. I can well believe it.
Bishop’s Castle is within easy striking distance of Shrewsbury and the M54, of Housman country and Ludlow and in my case of the A483 A490, A489 and A488.
If you know of a good classical CD shop you would recommend then do email me with the name, details and your impressions and we will add your recommendation to the list.
I am now planning a visit to Carlisle to see another secondhand classical CD emporium, Bookcase of Carlisle. I might well report further after that visit.
I was very interested to read your article on MusicWeb International
about these shops following your visit to Bishop’s Castle.
It is a few years since I went there but it has always made
a good impression in the past.
I admit to buying more secondhand CDs nowadays than new ones
and any Oxfam shop is usually worth a quick visit even if it
is fruitless. The Carlisle shop that you mention is certainly
to be recommended although it is not cheap.
A shop that I can recommend is Gramex near Waterloo station,
London. They have a large stock with a quick turnover –
many CDs are strewn across tables and never get as far as the
shelves. Prices are modest and an endearing trait is that if
you buy, say, two CDs at £4 each the staff will usually
respond “4 plus 4 is £7, thank you”. Gramex
have been advertising in Gramophone for many years and the proprietor,
Roger, seems to be an expert on 78s. It has become a regular
port of call for me on my occasional trips to London –
they will usually give you a cup of tea although you may have
to wash your own cup!
There is an aspect of these shops that you do not mention –
how generous are they when it comes to buying the CDs that the
public offer them? The presence of a large stock appears to
suggest that they have bought them from somewhere but they may
have paid only a £1 or so for each item. I understand
that the Bishop’s Castle shop is very choosy about the
books that they will accept and the result may be disappointment
if you set out with a pile of books and CDs in the hope of creating
more space for the next round of purchases.