My visit to Halesowen was somewhat unusual for me: an edgy, nervous visit, which was nothing to do with the town itself; and stranger still, a solitary excursion. My loyal wedded wife would normally accompany me everywhere and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But the reason we were anywhere near Halesowen at all (hardly a glamorous destination itself) was for an interview for her and that involved me exploring the area and doing plenty of pacing around.
Fortunately, I know how to entertain myself around charity shops, and Halesowen has a whole slew of ’em. These are focused on the (very) 1960s pedestrianised shopping precinct which hardly does justice to Halesowen’s history: at the time of its mention in the Domesday Book Halesowen was larger than Birmingham and was known as Hala until it was gifted to David Owen (not the SDP one) in the twelfth century – hence Halesowen. It grew from a market town to a thriving industrial centre on the outskirts of the Black Country coalfield, being particularly noted as a centre of nail manufacture (not quite as thrilling as Cradley, home of chain-making, just up the road, but still good). It remains very much in post-industrial no-mans-land: a new bus station development and Asda hardly make up the ground in this bleak, concrete outpost of the West Midlands.
The conglomeration of charity shops makes sense then. First to be noted are Age UK and Beacon Centre for the Blind, opposite the churchyard. Fairly standard in appeal, the shops set the tone for the town: the produce is reasonably priced, the shops are reasonably busy and the staff are reasonably friendly. Very reasonable. I parked above Asda and found these two first because I didn’t really know where I was going, but it’s a fair way to enter the town: turn right down the slope into the precinct for the full slew. On your right will be Cancer Research (closed on the Thursday morning of my visit) and to the left Acorns Hospice and British Heart Foundation. Further along the street you’ll find a large and well-stocked British Red Cross shop, near the entrance to the ugly Cornbow Centre which dominates the town centre. The remaining trio of charity shops are on Peckingham Street, all in a row: Scope and Mary Stevens Hospice bookend a large Save the Children, the best of the bunch in Halesowen (and I’m not just saying that because the aforementioned wife used to work there).
It’s a pretty bleak outpost, as I say: Halesowen reminded me of, say, Basildon or Waltham Cross, with the epic range of charity shopping and painfully dated architecture of the latter, in particular. If you have an hour to spend it’s probably a profitable place to sniff out a bargain, as long as you’re not in it for quaintness…
Find: Halesowen @ Google Maps
Get there: Old Hill station or many buses
Consume with: various shoddy delights – my cappucino in Coffee2 was OK, or thereabouts
Visit: nothing much in Halesowen, but make a break for the Clent Hills, just down the road.
Overall rating: three Stephen Kings