Category Archives: London Central


columns, under creative commons from andrewpaulcarr's photostream

columns, under creative commons from andrewpaulcarr's photostream

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. 
well you’re in the heart of Westminster, take your pick.
Overall rating: three over-priced candles



Filed under 3/5, London Central

Central London (West Central, Pt. 2)


Bloomsbury Backstreet, under creative commons from J_D_Macks photostream. Click pic for link.

Bloomsbury Backstreet, under creative commons from J_D_Mack's photostream. Click pic for link.

Our journey picks up at the large Oxfam bookshop on Bloomsbury Street. Here you’ll find literally stacks and shelves of books, and it’s definitely somewhere worth visiting if you’re looking for something particular. It’s quite appropriate to the literary air of Bloomsbury: if you’re in the mood for bookshops there’s plenty here for every fancy. My personal recommendations are the tiny Griffiths opposite Gt Ormond St Hospital; the London Review Bookshop on Bury Place; and the Wellcome Collection bookshop inside the museum, on Euston Road – the museum’s also completely worth it, and free. I’ve also heard much recommendation of Judd Books and Persephone, and talking of free, to go with the academic air of the vicinity, why not pop into the British Museum (large scale) or the Petrie (very much small scale). 


Or better still, just go for a mooch. That’s my favourite thing to do in this learned district, just to wander around the leafy squares, the curiously named streets (Lambs Conduit Street; Malet Street; Judd Street; they roll off the tongue in Betjemanian fashion), the bookshops scattered hither and yon, coffee shops and universities, churches and trees. It’s very lovely, at least until you reach the less pleasant Euston Road. Turn back! Perhaps if you’ve wandered up through the Western side, come back down through the Eastern, perhaps via Mecklenburgh Square, and make your way towards the rarified Grays Inn, one of the four Inns of Court. From there, you head towards another, Lincoln’s Inn, stopping at its eponymous neighbouring square, and wandering around the splendid halls and chapels of the Inn.

Cut through to Carey Street, where you might want to stop for a bite or a pint in the Seven Stars, curated by the inimitable Roxy Beaujolais and be-ruffed  cat Tom Paine, and where the rules include ‘no hassling the wenches’ and ‘no sandwiches‘. 

That brings you back down to Fleet Street, and though it’s not technically WC country any longer, it’s well worth a quick gander at Inner and Middle Temple, the remaining Inns of Court, on your way down to the Thames.

So: not much in the way of charity shops sadly, but plenty more besides, of a free nature.

Find: WC London @ Google Maps
Transport: the area is amply served by the Piccadilly Line, Central Line or Circle/District lines.
Consume with: any number of coffee shops around – the best is Monmouth Coffee House (Monmouth St)
Visit: for free things to do: British Museum, or listen in to a trial at the Royal Courts of Justice
Overall Rating: two used Virginia Woolfs


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Filed under 3/5, London Central

Central London (West Central, Pt. 1)


From Martinos_doodles photostream, under creative commons. Click pic for link.

From Martino's_doodle's photostream, under creative commons. Click pic for link.

A slightly different approach for a moment. Central London is not a veritable treasure trove of charity shop hauls, but if you know where to look, you can find some thrift here, as well as seeing the sights that make the capital what it is.


We kick off in the WC postcode area, broadly taking in Bloomsbury, Holborn and Covent Garden, but stretching from Kings Cross in the North, to High Holborn and the borders of the City in the East; down to the Thames in the South to Embankment, then up to Leicester Square and up to St Pancras along the West. The North of the area was built up by the Russell family in the 17th and 18th centuries into what’s now Bloomsbury, and the Southern and Western parts developed as the ancient city spread West to meet the growing town of Westminster, encroaching East. The merger of the two is now the heart of the West End, theatre country, office country and, apparently, chugger country.

There’s but two charity shops in WC London, both Oxfams. We’ll take a tour to see the best bits, kicking off at the bottom corner, by the grandiose gothic horror of the Royal Courts of Justice. That’s the original Twinings shop over there, and that’s Somerset House down there – skip behind them both for the Thames. Around Aldwych (fancy a coffee yet? stop at the LSE Garrick; it’s supposed to be students only, but the entrance on Houghton St is free-for-all, the coffee’s good and cheap for these parts) and past Dirty Dancing

You’re best circumventing the tourist-heavy Covent Garden piazza, although you certainly want to take a detour to Stanfords, my favourite shop in the world, I think. Head over Long Acre to the more interesting side and you’ll find the wonderful Monmouth Coffee House and lots of arty shops. You can safely ignore Leicester Square and instead head back East to Drury Lane to find the first Oxfam. Today I found it closed from lack of volunteers, but I’ve found books, records and clothes in this most central of charity shops. Nothing spectacular here, but worth popping by. Head up and cross over High Holborn now and, after avoiding the touristy shops and expensive cafes, poke around various artisan board game shops, camera shops, and best of all the London Review Bookshop, before ending up on Bloomsbury Street.

To be continued, on Thursday…


Filed under London Central