It is not enough for a man to disapprove of Pimlico: in that case he will merely cut his throat or move to Chelsea. Nor, certainly, is it enough for a man to approve of Pimlico: for then it will remain Pimlico, which would be awful. The only way out of it seems to be for somebody to love Pimlico: to love it with a transcendental tie and without any earthly reason.
GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy
Pimlico today has something of faded gentility about it. The broad streets are lined with magnificent Regency stucco, yet a closer examination reveals that there’s more than a touch of mutton dressed as lamb about it. Pimlico, as GK suggests, is not Chelsea; nor is it somewhere one would love for earthly reasons. Yet this slightly shabby, fusty uncle of a neighbourhood seems to harbour much affection among bargain-hunters, and more than once has been recommended to me for its charity shops. I have to say, I don’t really see the appeal.
The land which now houses Pimlico was, until the early nineteenth-century, a marshy emptiness. That was, until Cubitt got his hands on the development contract and the bogs were filled in by dirt from the recently excavated St Katherine’s Docks, and the grid of townhouses were constructed. Nash‘s Buckingham Palace was completed nearby, as were the Houses of Parliament and Victoria station, and the locale became quite the address. But despite its pretensions to nobility, Pimlico has had a checkered history – by the late 1800’s when Rev Gerald Olivier (with his son Laurence) moved to the area, they were entering, essentially, a slum. Today, Pimlico is a very central address, and has house prices to match – yet even the swankiest look out on a mixture of glorious Georgian townhouses (many housing slightly seedy-looking hotels) and Westminster LHA housing; boutiques and market stalls; gastronomic cheese emporia, and burger vans.
Central London has few treats for the charity shop enthusiast (see, just a couple of posts from town, although Marylebone is still to be reviewed), but here is a genuine cluster of six. They’re not all good; they’re mostly a bit weird truth be told, but a haul nonetheless. Two FARA shops are notable: the first, on Tachbrook St is a children’s specialist (a good selection of buggies particularly, but the clothes were too expensive compared to other specialist shops like Shooting Stars in Whitton); the second is the most boutique-y charity shop I ever did see. Black walls and shocking pink trim, some very suave looking assistants and some pretty chilled dance music on the stereo. But initial appearances are deceptive: the clothes were really very little different to any other charity shop, the music turned out to be ear-clutching smooth-boy of UK garage, Craig David, and the downstairs part of the shop was decorated in, well, tatty paint and bookshelves.
There’s also a pretty standard Oxfam and Sue Ryder, not much to write home about there, and the most charity shop-ish of all these, Trinity Hospice. This was actually the most fruitful, as although it was too tightly packed to be comfortable, and almost derelict in its decoration, I came away with two books, the only purchases I made that afternoon.
Perhaps the most community-specific shops were CrusAID and Hospices of Hope. The latter was, though on the fashionable side again, perhaps the most uncomfortable charity shop I’ve been in. Here are not the social grannies of Epping or the chirpy hippies of Totnes – here you’re stared at on entry and throughout your visit, as you peruse far too many new items, and too few bargains. The former shop was more interesting, and certainly more cheerful, mostly because of the bawdy cashier berating the world about its football predilections. This is a stylish charity shop, though: candles burn; LPs play like its a DJ bar; the book snug is named The Library; the clothes are vintage and attractively laid out; and though the bargains are few, there’s enough odd surprises (earmuff/headphones were fun) to make it worthwhile.
I don’t really recommend this part of town, unfortunately. I understand why it’s been recommended to me, and I give a half-decent rating for the sheer quantity of shops, but I am a man of simple tastes and have never been able to describe myself as fashionable, so I feel I stick out like a sore thumb in this sort of arena. More for me the tatty high streets of Essex or the rolling identikits of London suburbia. I can’t cope with the trendy.
Find: Pimlico @ Google Maps
Consume with: There’s several gastro affairs, including Gastronomica, where “cheese never sleeps”. We went to Nero.
Visit: well you’re in the heart of Westminster, take your pick.
Overall rating: three over-priced candles