Where welterweight meets paperweight

Boxing fan, bookshop owner and octogenarian Derek Millward shares a bit of wisdom

Hardbacks are spilling over the top of the drooping shelves at the bookshop in Wood Street, Walthamstow. There is more stock than space, but the proprietor, east Londoner Derek ‘Dell Boy’ Millward, is resourceful and methodical. He’s left enough space for customers to browse freely without tripping over something.

Derek turned 80 on 2 April. Although he officially retired some years ago, he continues to trade at Non-Fiction Second Hand Bookshop. He’s an active part of the community, chatting to regulars in between my questions.

After leaving school, Derek joined his friend and friend’s brother “mending metal objects and welding at a small business down by the canal”. The business grew, and Derek remained there for 30 years. While working as a welder, he also retained stalls at Brick Lane and Walthamstow High Street.

So what does he feel has changed since he began working in the market?

“In the old days, everybody helped one another. Really helped one another. It was a different atmosphere altogether.” He speaks of the tremendous support he received from stallholders at Walthamstow market after a family tragedy had occurred.

“Everybody really looked after me then.”

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“I was known as Dell Boy well before Only Fools and Horses, so he was named after me,” jokes Derek, who earned his nickname as a young boy. His old bookshop on Francis Road, Leyton was eponymously named.

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A big boxing fan, Derek sparred for a few years at Repton boxing club and in Roman Road.

“I was never any good,” he confesses. But, in an amateur match, a member of Derek’s family was the only person to ever beat Welsh Joe Calzaghe – although that person would rather remain nameless. There are prints of famous fighters on the shop walls and an extensive selection of magazines and books on the subject.

Derek looks well for a man who was born before the outbreak of the second world war.

“I do a lot of walking,” explains Derek. “I go for long strolls by the reservoirs and look at the wildlife.”

And what advice would Derek give to people younger than himself?

“Give everybody a chance,” he says.

“And look after other people, because one day, they might be looking after you.”

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 The Non-Fiction Second Hand Book Shop is at 118 Wood Street, Walthamstow, London, E17 3HT

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