ANYONE who's ever been into Bishopgate Antiques at the top of Bishopthorpe Road will know it's not easy to classify the contents. Owner Robin Wetherill has tended to buy anything that catches his fancy. There are some lovely pieces of furniture; old clocks and watches; Chinese vases; tea caddies, umbrella stands ...and, on at least one occasion, a stuffed tunafish.

A tunny, he called it. And he tells a lovely story about it in Bishy Road: A York Shopping Street in Time, the book brought out by members of the Clements Hall Local History Group last year.

"It was huge... you can imagine how huge because it was on eight legs," he says. "I thought, I'll have to find out somewhere to put this. Because I think it was about seven foot long." He seems to have decided to display it in the shop window. "And (one day) there was such a crash. A bus had stopped, and this man was so busy looking at the stuffed tunny fish, he ran into the back of the bus." Unsurprisingly, Robin decided he'd better move the fish...

Now he's moving himself. After almost 54 years in the business, he has decided to call it a day and retire to Poppleton for a bit of peace and quiet. He's holding a closing down sale at the shop...and then the area's longest-standing independent trader will be gone.

He'll be sad to go, in a way, he admits. But he's got some great memories. And he is now 74.

That was brought home to him recently. He has long done business with a friend in Sweden, who is a month younger than Robin himself. "He turned 74 in November, and he's the young one!" Robin says. "That was telling me something."

Actually, when he started out in the antiques trade, it was at the York Bargain Centre, which was on the opposite corner from his present shop - just across Darnborough Street, at 2 Bishopthorpe Road (now the Angel on the Green and Cycle Heaven workshop).

He didn't own the place, but managed it. "We used to sell – it was all kinds of things that were fun, really," he says in A York Shopping Street in Time. "But, for instance, we bought a mountain of what we called the 'Yard of Brylcreem'. Which was - they were commercial, and they were in plastic packets, and you got four, which was a yard. And of course people transferred them into a jar.

"We also bought I think it was six or eight thousand pairs of nylons. Because we hadn't invented tights. And we bought them for tuppence and sold them for sixpence. A rather pleasant thing for me, in a way, being at that time about 21, was the girls from Terry’s used to try them on."

After about eight years he and his young wife Glynis bought the business - and then bought the shop on the opposite corner, where Bishopgate Antiques now is, a few months later.

He has seen enormous changes down the years. In his early years, the main road ran right past the shop. That was noisy - but it could also mean the promise of passing trade. "People asked you the way. And of course, if you were lucky, you also sold them something!"

In the 1960s and early 1970s there was the threat of demolition hanging over many properties in the area - there were plans to bring an inner ring road through Clementhorpe. That ultimately never happened. "We didn't get the inner ring road," Robin says. "I slept well that night!"

More recently, there has been a real upturn in the street's fortunes. He doesn't much like the term 'Bishy Road'. "I'm rather old-fashioned and I quite like it being Bishopthorpe Road. Because of course it is the road to the palace." But it's not a big deal, he says. And there is no doubt that the street now is vibrant and alive. The Tour de France was 'quite something', he says.

Fellow traders in Bishopthorpe held a retirement party for Robin and Glynis last week.

The pair will be much missed, admitted Susan Major of the Clements Hall Local History Group, who was at the party.

"It will be a sad loss to the street," she said. "The window has always been full of antiques - an attraction for such a long time."

What the next chapter will be in the life of the shop Robin and Glynis are vacating we don't yet know.

But Susan has compiled a brief history of the businesses that were there before Robin moved in all those years ago.

In 1881 it was a grocer, John Crosby. By 1885 it was occupied by grocer and china and glass dealer John Berriman. And in 1895 the shop was recorded as being occupied by William Almond, bootmaker.

A photograph from about 1900 shows the building as XL Supply Stores (which had another branch on the corner of Butcher Terrace). In 1913, meanwhile, corn and seed merchant John Garnett traded from the shop. In his time, there was a rail outside for horses. His business was there for about 60 years until Robin took over the shop.

As to what will come next ... watch this space.

Meanwhile, we wish Robin all the best in his well-earned retirement...

Stephen Lewis