Today, you’ll find Stourbridge as the westernmost compass point of a sprawling West Midlands conurbation, butting right up against some glorious Staffordshire/Worcestershire/Shropshire countryside. But it wasn’t always so: the Black Country isn’t like London with its endless 1930′s ribbon developments radiating out from the centre; rather, each town is a definable centre, each with a purpose (at least, orginally). Cradley is called the home of chain-making, Walsall’s famous for its leather trade, Wolverhampton for its steel. Stourbridge is no different and became, particularly during the nineteenth century, a world centre for the glass industry after significant Huguenot in-migration. The twenty-first century is a very different era and the Black Country is becoming a post-industrial society – though certainly not out of choice. Stourbridge retains an artisan-led glass quarter (around Kingswinford and Amblecote), but today finds itself as much a dormitory town for Birmingham, just the other side of the M5.
Stourbridge holds a particularly happy place in this blogger’s heart, however: it’s where he and his Charity Shop Partner (slash wife) have just moved, so chances are you’ll be hearing plenty more from the West Midlands and its environs over the next few months. Its location right on the edge of the countryside makes it a very appealing place to live – as accessible for the urban delights of Birmingham as for the craggy heights of Shropshire or the Malverns. If we fancy a breath of fresh air these days, we don’t have to drive to a gloomy Essex coast or wander through a crowded Epping Forest: we can ascend the overlooking Clent Hills and have our breath removed by a view spanning to Wales or the Cotswolds.
But that’s enough about me – more importantly, this is a charity shop shopping blog and has its priorities. Happily, Stourbridge punches pretty well. In a less touchy-feely era of civic government than our own, a Nascar styled ring road (see below) was built around the town centre and it’s within the ring road that you’ll find the bulk of the town’s shops. Note though – there are other charity shops scattered around, notably a couple in Wollaston that I may or may not touch on another time. Within the pretty attractive town centre I count a good nine charity shops as well as various other amenities and local shops. You wouldn’t come to Stourbridge for a day’s shopping experience any more, as you wouldn’t go to Dudley, Brierley Hill, Halesowen, or any other community within the catchment area of the monolithic Merry Hill centre, so be warned of that.
There’s a stretch of charity shops on the High Street including a pretty sweet and not-too-expensive Oxfam: we located a pile of cheap Jo Nesbo books and, happily, three Granta magazines for £1.50, which are now populating the landing bookcase. Having brokenheartedly sold several hundred books in the move, we now appear to be doing our best to counteract that. There’s also Barnardos, Marie Curie, Acorn’s Hospice and British Heart Foundation, and best of all the huge Mary Stevens Hospice Shop, fundraising for the hospice which is located in Stourbridge itself. There’s a second huge Mary Stevens shops in Victoria Passage, a sneaky cut also containing cafs, restaurants and little boutiquey shops. This Mary Stevens, as with the main one, sells plenty of furniture as well as clothes and books – the one on the high street has an entire upstairs bookshop. Look out for cast iron fireplaces and patio sets. On Lower High Street you’ll find Cats Protection League, just up from King Edward VI college – educators of Robert Plant and Samuel Johnson, no less. Then back up Market Street to find Happy Staffie Rescue and Scope. That just leaves the very mid-century Ryemarket Centre where you’ll find Waitrose and Smiths and the like, as well as PDSA and Salvation Army.
While Stourbridge is hardly remarkably beautiful or noteworthy, it turns out that it’s a very pleasant place to wile away some time. It’s a bustling little town centre with some gorgeous buildings – King Eds, the Town Hall and St Thomas’ church are all very attractive. It makes a great stop on a day out to the country as well – it’s only a short hop from here to Bridgnorth or the Wyre Forest. Best of all, a whole heap of charity shops – if this was the Grandstand vidiprinter, that would be 11 (eleven).
Find: Stourbridge @ Google Maps
Get there: Plenty of buses end at the bus station, and you also have the shortest branch line in Europe terminating at Stourbridge Town with its funny little trains.
Consume with: There are plenty of coffee and food places around – there’s a Caffe Nero, and The Well looks quite nice. If you’re willing to expand your horizons, there’s many pubs doing a wallet-friendly £3.69 carvery (The Old White Horse), some doing some lovely food in a lovely location (The Vine, Kinver) and of course, plenty of curry (I recommend Balti Bazaar in Lye).
Visit: The Glass Quarter is full of museums and things to do – the Red House Cone is basically a big red cone for making glass, and if glass is your thang, you’ll find plenty of interest at Broadfield House or the Ruskin Glass Centre. If not, take a wander along the canal or to the lovely Mary Stevens Park.
Overall rating: five antique fireplaces