Harborne

Harborne Farmers Market, from Pete Lewis' photostream under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

Harborne Farmers Market, from Pete Lewis' photostream under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

Harborne is, I suppose, the West Midlands equivalent of Muswell Hill or Crouch End, or multitudinous other gentrified districts. More ethnically homogenous than, say, Bearwood or Smethwick just up the road, your typical Harborne resident is more academic from the nearby (and huge) University of Birmingham, or medical staff from one of the several large hospitals close by, those that can afford a little classier than Selly Oak. Harborne town centre is fairly innocuous and unambitious – Waitrose territory for certain – but take a quick detour into surrounding residential streets and you’ll soon see the appeal.

My auntie lives in Harborne, in a large house with a large garden, a drive and a garage, on a wide, quiet road. But if I lived there, without drifting into being an estate agent blog, I’d fall for one of the very red-brick Victorian terraces. They’re very distinct to this part of the country (believe me, I have spent enough time studying Victorian terraces of late), a burnt, dusty brick in cottage style. I’d be fairly content setting up shop there, I think. The high street is less inspiring, though not without merit, and certainly not without charity shops.

We visited a very healthy seven of the eight charity shops open on a snow-and-ice infested Harborne High Street, three days before Christmas. I say very healthy in that it was fairly miraculous that we escaped with no broken legs – apparently Birmingham is not a city that prides itself on snow clearance. But healthy and wealthy they were, most notably in the very well-stocked, very academic and literate Oxfam bookshop – overpriced as normal, but nevertheless painfully tempting. Most of the rest are, if you will, chain charity shops: British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research, Barnardos, Marie Curie and PDSA. Not that this is a problem: none was a wasted visit, with a goodly number of Stephen Kings purchased to feed a growing fetish, and a wide and varied array of tat (I say this in a friendly way: by tat I mean bric-a-brac; collector’s items; etc.).

Headway was closed, leaving only the most interesting of the bunch, Birmingham Settlement. This is a large, long shop, filled with not just cheap paperbacks and the usual assortment of clothes, but small furniture at the back, lots of picture frames and stacks of Playstations and the like. Good for a rummage.

Harborne is a pretty posh area and has a high-standing reputation as such. Many such places frown on charity shops, but Harborne seems to have embraced them, and quite right. As a result: thoroughly recommend a swoop by.

Find: Harborne @ Google Maps
Consume with: Nero as usual, but there’s the whole gamut of easy-to-understand coffee here.
Visit: The Birmingham Botanical Gardens are just down the road, and they’re plain lovely.
Overall rating: four Christmas trees

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5 Comments

Filed under 4/5, West Midlands

5 responses to “Harborne

  1. sounds like an eventful trip!

  2. Chris p

    I wouldn’t have called Harborne gentrified, as it has always been the preserve of the relatively well-to-do, ever since it stopped by a farming village and started being a suburb. I know there are some older terraced bits near the centre which are a bit down at heel (or at least were down at heel in the 1980s) but it’s not really genuine rent-gap territory in the way that (say) parts of the Jewellery Quarter were in the early 2000s. But you probably know Harborne well enough anyway!

  3. Aw – would love to see your ‘hauls’ from these shops – mainly because I’m really nosy!
    I definitely find charity shops that are particular to the area more interesting than the ‘high street charity shops’. If that makes any sense?

  4. ohsimone

    Ah, rent gap. My studies in Neil Smith come flooding back. I based my history on here so I may be wrong, it seems to suggest a less than posh background.

    I’m just learning Birmingham really, so my knowledge probably isn’t as well-sourced as I’d like!

  5. Pingback: Alresford | Charity Shop Tourism

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