I’ve skirted around Blackheath once or twice before, but it was good to get stuck in to the shops on this last weekend. I first visited to sample the delights of the Breeders at 4AD’s 25th anniversary bash, and most recently swung by here on the way to lunch on a field trip. That’s an interesting journey, by the way: try navigating your way from the monolithic ferro-concrete towers of the Ferrier estate in Kidbrooke, just the short distance to the leafy, villagey Blackheath: you’ll find it more difficult than you might imagine.
Once emerging from the mansions and private roads, Blackheath Village awaits. Named for the black heath (it’s not really black) that sits above it, this really is as ‘urban village’ as one might hope for: enter from the opposite direction, from the A2 (the old Roman Watling Street) and you’ll descend the empty space of the heath until the village church hoves into sight and the shops and houses fill out below. You’d almost believe you’d left the metropolis, but face the other way, into Greenwich Park and you’re staring at the temples of capitalism that now inhabit the Isle of Dogs.
This village is really the South London equivalent of Hampstead: an exclusive countryside retreat that well pre-dates London’s sprawl, but has remained exclusive. Shops here are cared for and cared about, and the very active residents association ensure that every inch of heritage is accounted for. But uniquely for any wealthy enclave in London (that I’ve come across), Blackheath is really quite welcoming. If you look hard enough, there’s even a proper car park (try parking in Hampstead), there’s an attractive train station, and a selection of shops from the useful to the swanky. Plenty of organic cafes and fancy pubs, but also hardware shops and chippies. And charity shops, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing.
Sadly for us, only one was open when we visited: we just missed Cancer Research on Montpelier Row. We did get to Oxfam, however, on the wonderfully named Tranquil Vale. As with almost every Oxfam, it’s worth visiting. The upstairs room is full of books of all sorts: some fancy first editions, as you might imagine, and plenty of others.
While there’s few charity shops here, I’d recommend a poke around Blackheath anyway – it’s one of few reasons to visit South London, and you might just find yourself wistfully for a life in the shires.
Find: Blackheath @ Google Maps
Consume with: The Princess of Wales gives good grub.
Visit: romp over the heath and through the gates to Greenwich Park for a dose of ancient royal hunting ground, then keep going to the Royal Observatory and one of the finest views in London.
Overall rating: three first editions.