I didn’t know much about Abingdon before visiting: the refrain, town hall on stilts, town hall on stilts was all I heard, to the point that I attributed this factoid to everyone who’s mentioned the place, or even talked to me at all in the last few years. As it turns out, it was the obvious candidate, the formerly-Oxford-dwelling constant companion, and it was with her that the trek to this Oxfordshire outpost was made.
As it turns out, it was well worth it. Abingdon’s a proper old English town with a feast of roots and connections, and historic architecture from the Saxon (Abingdon Abbey) era, Norman (Henry I was educated at the School) era, medieval (markets, fairs, bridge and almshouses) era, and a market hall (the famous town hall on stilts) designed by a protege of Christopher Wren. Residents have included 10th century Archbishops of Canterbury, Radiohead (who met at Abingdon School) and, um, Tom Hingley of Inspiral Carpets.
The first charity shop was a suitably beautiful Oxfam on Stert Street – a bit tucked off the main thoroughfares, but nonetheless inviting. The building was formerly Langford & Sons Corn & Coal Merchants, and it’s overhead lettering and large, yet cosy interior, are a winner (photo). Sadly, as per Oxfam, it was overpriced and I didn’t leave with anything (though I could have had any number of scientific manuals, or £8 gravy boats).
Better priced were the trio on Bury Street – a slightly less salubrious feel to this seventies shopping arcade, but bounded on one end by the market square, on the other by the abbey ruins, it’s all relative. British Heart Foundation coughed up the novel used as inspiration for Hitchcock’s Vertigo, and the first of many baby clothes purchases of the day. Next door is YMCA, a bit more ramshackle, and not a little eerie, for some reason. Furniture available here. Then finally, Cancer Research, proudly celebrating 15 years of service to the community, sits on the end of the short street.
The remaining emporia are worthy of note. A little way down Ock Street, the Helen & Douglas House Hospice continues the classier vein of charity shop, as seen in Beaconsfield. Nice fittings, a coffee machine (with suggested 50p donation, an excellent touch) and a nice range of just about everything. We picked up yet more baby clothes here, and a Betjeman anthology of radio talks. Finally, a Sue Ryder – though manned by a somewhat surly lady assistant, this spacious shop sold nothing but furniture and homeware. Some interesting tat here – I was particularly enamoured of a nice looking wing chair, until I sat on it and it began to give way.
Abingdon is an extremely pleasant place to while away a couple of hours in chitchat, coffee and charity mooching. It’s a bit of a hike to make it a regular affair for me, London-based as I am, but I’m certainly going to be making the effort to return.
Find: Abingdon @ Google Maps
Transport: Radley station is a couple of miles away, so you’re best off with the regular buses from Oxford.
Consume with: Plenty of nice looking cafes here: we went unadventurous, with macchiato from Costa
Visit: start with the museum: in the stilted town hall, natch.
Overall Rating: four elusive gravy boats