It was with some trepidation that we headed out for a stroll along a soggy Walthamstow High Street this Saturday past. Not because of the usual fears, that the vast hordes of market shoppers would infuriate and aggravate us, or that we’d have so much choice of bowls of fruit that our heads would explode; rather, this being the first time I’d ventured out for a proper shop since I broke my hip in May, that I would keel over from fatigue before scenting the perfect bargain. It didn’t happen, obviously, but Walthamstow is at best a proposition and a half on a Saturday. The mile long market (the longest in Europe) becomes a magnet for the bargain hunters of the whole of East and North London and whether you’re after knock-off perfume, fabric, fruit’n'veg or rare reggae, you’re bound to find it here between Tubby Isaacs‘ jellied eels and various roti or kebab stalls. Diamondgeezer‘s not keen, but I have to confess I find the place kind of fun, when I have the energy – there’s not many places like it.
With my limited mobility, we only perused the top half of the market, which was still enough for me – from Palmerston Street up to Walthamstow Central station and back. If you’re interested, there’s a huge Asda and a huge Sainsburys up here, but Walthamstow High Street is really about the little independent shops – there’s relatively few large chain stores (outside of the mall in Selborne Walk), and a lot of these are your Percy Ingles, Greggs variety. For such a lengthy stretch there’s also relatively few charity shops, and you won’t get a proper review of the whole lot here for the simple reason that I didn’t go to them all. There is a couple worth a mention though, so we’ll continue.
First up is YMCA, a beast of a shop with (I notice now) a ramp in the middle. There’s a good selection of clothing here, and I came away with a short-sleeved summer shirt (Primark, I think, which probably means YMCA are selling it for more than it was originally…) and an Idlewild album. At the top end of the High Street (approaching Walthamstow Village, which I still have a hard time believing exists), there’s two British Heart Foundation stores: one a normal, well-stocked shop (if nothing worth buying), one a vast furniture and electrical emporium. These places are always worth noting: this shop has beds, suites, and all sorts of furniture as well as a range of white goods and electronics, TVs and hifis, you name it. At this juncture it seems appropriate to mention the Sally Army Thrift Store on Forest Road: a bit out of the way for a trek along the High Street, but again a furniture shop, as well as plenty more besides. It’s up opposite the William Morris gallery.
At the end of the High Street is Hoe Street, and there’s an Islamic Relief shop there: I’ve not been, so we trek back down the market to the other side of Palmerston Road and we have a couple more, which I didn’t get to this time round: there’s a Scope, Help The Aged and CREST, and a slightly forlorn Oxfam right at the bottom.
While Walthamstow is not generally for the fainthearted, especially at the weekend, for the brave/foolhardy there’s plenty to see here, or come just for the experience of such a huge, bizarre market – with plenty of thrifty choices as well as coffee shops, you should be able to grab a bargain too, which always helps.
Find: Walthamstow @ Google Maps
Consume with: There’s plenty of cafs and coffee shops, but for something a little more traditional, I might recommend the aforementioned Tubby Isaacs for jellied eels, or Manzes for pie and mash.
Visit: The William Morris gallery is worth a look: set in the former home of the painter, decorater, writer and social reformer, it’s mostly dedicated to Morris‘ famous patterns.
Overall rating: four old bits of underwear