Ray Davies was onto something when he coined the expression ”Muswell Hillbillies” – there’s a subset of society who were born into privilege and to these it stays throughout their life. There’s a further subset who dwell at the opposite end of the spectrum, and these people retain their bleak, disaffected attitude. Likewise, there’s a subset of the population of London that are born into Muswell Hill. Overshadowed by Alexandra Palace, educated at Fortismere, and geographically aloof from the upstarts like Crouch End, the Muswell Hillbillies sit in their castles and clique together.
This means that you get certain themes running through the locale’s charity shops. For instance, more than one stocked Umberto Eco; biographies of Marie Curie were found in several, the tat on the bric-a-brac shelves is just that little less tatty. As with so many (I’m looking at you, Highgate), there’s a tendency towards overpricing: £2 is a secondhand bookshop price, not a charity shop price. Nevertheless, the bookshelves are well-stocked, the clothes are well-made, the array of oddness is, as befitting such a location, quite spectacular.
For the sake of convenience, we’ll start at one end and work our way down: in this case, we’re starting on the part of the Broadway that later merges into Colney Hatch Road. Here you’ll find a typically expensive, but also typically well run and wellstocked Oxfam. Conveniently located opposite Costa, Art for Art’s Sake (sadly now sans termite-mound-esque decoration) and Woolies, it’s a good start: a large bookshelf, and a fantastically ambiguous earthenware pumpkin/onion/garlic type affair.
Follow the Broadway round and you’ll find that the shops you require are all on the one side of the road: the other side is all boutiques, award-winning fish’n'chips and yummy mummy, pushchair-friendly cafes. Next stop, the first of two Cancer Research shops (a la Epping) is fairly unremarkable. The Sue Ryder shop in between the two is a bit more ramshackle and chaotic, satisfyingly and amongst these three you’ll find loony ethnically-unidentifiable shop assistants, Victorian board games, pointy shoes, silvery jackets, and much more.
Round the corner, and opposite Muswell Hill’s art deco Odeon is the final gem, the North London Hospice. This is a great place for a bargain as it’s so much the preferably priced: books range from 75p to £1, CDs a pound, and so on. They also have almost our entire collection of VHS’s now, so if you want Memento, Grosse Point Blank or a bunch of Coen Bros films, go check it out.
Find: Muswell Hill at Google Maps
Transport: Highgate Station on the Northern Line, or buses 43, 134, 144, 299, W7.
Consume with: if you can afford it (I can’t) go mad for the stunningly artistic cakes in Maison Blanc
Visit: Ally Pally – duck ponds with rentable pedalos, views of the whole city to rival anywhere, and a literal Victorian palace.
Overall rating: three stripy shirts