Category Archives: Surrey


Which Way To The Town Centre? under Creative Commons, from foilman's photostream. Click pic for link.

Which Way To The Town Centre? under Creative Commons, from foilman's photostream. Click pic for link.

I do my research intensively for this blog, as I’m sure is apparent. *cough* Now that my Athens log-in has expired I tend to head to the trusty Wikipedia first, and so I did for Farnham – here is one healthy wiki. Someone clearly has an interest, and I have no need to look any further for history, climate information, local newspapers… It even mentions my lovely charity shops, and I quote:

Farnham is also known for its numerous secondhand charity shops (Oxfam etc.) which offer plenty of high-quality items, especially clothes. 

I wouldn’t dare argue. Lying on the river Wey, Farnham sits at the edge of a swathe of well-heeled market towns that have become commuter magnets for the glittering conurbation on the horizon. It’s the edge of War of the Worlds territory – when HG Wells’ alien pods landed on the Surrey heathland and marched inexorably towards London, they pre-figured the daily lives of so many on the Waterloo line. I lump it in with Woking and Chertsey, Guildford and Farnborough; you could just as easily associate with David Brent’s list of alternative working towns, Bracknell or Aldershot, Maidenhead or Slough. It’s a town of which the residents are proud, even though they work in the City.

Socio-geographical over with, and onto the charity shops of which there are, truly, an abundance. The town’s main drag is West Street/East Street/The Borough, depending whereabouts you’re standing, and it’s along this strip that the thrifters make their way. From East to West there’s RSPCA (which yielded up some overly tempting Agatha Christie hardbacks and some vampire trash), Oxfam (entirely less trashy, entirely too tempting – I had to pull the wife away from some 30’s-ish pitchers), British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research and Age UK. Down Downing Street (not that Downing Street) there’s the two hospice shops: Phyllis Tuckwell and the Downing Street Charity Shop.

Despite knowing full well that we have to move house in a few weeks, we came away from Farnham with armfuls of charitable, eco-friendly, pre-loved stuff, and could have purchased much more. It’s one of those towns where the charity shops display that rare combination of both the wealth and taste of its residents, and you’d be well-advised to have a good rummage.

Find: Farnham @ Google Maps
Get there: An excellent rail service between London (obviously) in one direction, and Alton, Southampton and Winchester the other.
Consume with: While there’s no doubt plenty of good places to eat, we saved our money with the reduced counter at Waitrose. You’d better ask someone else
Visit: There’s a castle, and by nature of it’s being a castle, is a good place to visit.
Overall rating: four random crockeries


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Filed under 4/5, Surrey


Surbiton Station, by Martin McDonald under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

Surbiton Station, by Martin McDonald under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

The name ‘Surbiton’ might have been created especially for the massive boom in suburbanisation of the 1930s, as the suited hordes poured out of inner London into freshly-minted speculatively-built housing with matching lawns, drives and decorations on the front door. The area has a unique and instantly recognisable place in British culture as the home of such suburbia, primarily because of The Good Life (probably more specifically, Felicity Kendal’s bottom) but also Stella Street, Monty Python and the like.

It would be easy to presume that Surbiton sprung entirely in this era: Paul Barker describes the process in Kenton of housing, followed by transportation, followed by commerce in the 1930s. In fact, records of Surbiton as a community in its own right start c.1178, although this was basically a farm which happened to become the location of an early phase of railway expansion, when the mainline was rejected from Kingston and a site had to be found further south. Today’s station is very much not from 1838, but is a monument to the art deco stylings of the 30’s, even more so than Charles Holden’s epic Piccadilly line stations, like Arnos Grove. After the advent of the railway, the community found itself growing, and received visitors and residents of the stature of Thomas Hardy, Enid Blyton, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt.

Today’s Surbiton, the gateway to Esher, is the archetype of London suburbia. An entirely different ethnic composition than I am used to, a community based entirely around its proximity to London, and a high street dominated by chain stores. Nevertheless, there’s good charity shopping to be had in Surbiton, even late in the afternoon on a cold February Saturday. British Heart Foundation was as overly-displayed (and thus overly-crowded) as any, and Princess Alice Hospice and Oxfam were closed (earlier than stated, in the latter case, so watch out for that…). There is also, Google Maps informed us later, a Fircroft Trust shop tucked away on St Andrew’s Road – I can’t comment on that, but it is there on the Trust’s website.

That leaves a good but unmemorable Cancer Research and next door, an excellent Fara. The latter are consistently good charity shops in this part of the world (cf. Whitton and Richmond, particularly), and this was no exception: a basement level contains a good spread of menswear and a sizeable wedding dress section, while the upstairs has an entire section devoted to party dresses. It does what it says on the tin: it’s actual grown-up party dresses, of the like you’ll more often see on a Disney princess or a little girl. I managed to resist, although I did break my fiction embargo with Gutierrez’s Dirty Havana Trilogy.

The best in Surbiton was probably The Children’s Society. A somewhat camp extravaganza of feather boas and masquerade masks awaits you in the window, alongside antique sewing machines and a wicker elephant, and these are complemented inside by some, well, fabulous Tiffany-esque lamps. Some good stuff to be found here.

Surbiton’s a bit of a cliche to most, but it’s actually a very pleasant stop-over if you’re in the general Kingston direction, and I heartily recommend you to visit.

Find: Surbiton @ Google Maps
Consume with: a quick stop in the area meant that only Caffe Nero was sampled… 
you’re in the vicinity of the Western-most point of South London’s great swathe of green, running from Bushy Park, through nearby Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common, right through to Blackheath in the East. Richmond is definitely worth a visit, larger than Hampstead Heath and entirely enclosed by wall.
Overall rating: four feather boas

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Filed under 4/5, Surrey

Epsom & Ewell

Epsom High Street, under Creative Commons from fsse8infos photostream. Click pic for link.

Epsom High Street, under Creative Commons from fsse8info’s photostream. Click pic for link.

The gurus of homebuying, Kirstie and Phil, conduct an annual survey of the best – and worst – places to live in the UK. In 2008, Epsom & Ewell (the two are always inextricably linked, the blame probably lying at the feet of estate agents) came third in the entire country, slipping from first place in 2005. This year, it comes below only Edinburgh (certainly a future stop off for Charity Shop Tourism) and Winchester (been there, done it) as the most desirable location to set up home, based on crime, education, employment, environment, lifestyle and health. Clearly I have different expectations  for what I consider desirable: my beloved Haringey, whilst improved from bottom ten in 2007, still makes the twenty worst places to live.

I say: pah. Haringey has cultural attractions, vim, variety, and vigour. It has beautiful parts, interesting parts, bargainous parts, posh parts. Epsom (and its surrounding area) has… well, nothing as far as I can make out, except a great heap of bland.

There’s something to be said for calculating desirability on an immutable set of discrete, quantifiable statistics, but it misses the human element altogether. What on earth is the attraction? In the hub of Epsom, you have a scrutty, run-down market – better to go to Romford, or Hitchin. You have a shopping centre – a Mall, same as Wood Green, or Walthamstow. You have chain stores as per anywhere in the country. And that’s about it. In the outlying regions, you have a few shops and a co-op in Ewell, a cluster of local stores around the crossroads in Cheam, and, um, Chessington World of Adventures. There’s just plain old nothing here except for a heap of traffic and lots of annoying people.

The charity shops aren’t worth the crush. There’s a fairly plain Oxfam and a Cancer Research. There’s a British Heart Foundation which provided the only moment of excitement of the afternoon – an actual Nintendo GameBoy, with games. I dithered, I went away and came back in ten minutes… and it was sold. A lesson in the evils of procrastination, and the importance of impulse in charity shopping. There’s two Hospice shops (Queen Elizabeth and St Raphael), both with their own distinctive odours. Little was bought, a couple of books here and there.

There are lies, damned lies, and statistics. Trust any at your peril.

Find: Epsom & Ewell on Google Maps
Transport: Epsom station, on Southern trains to Victoria
Consume with: ours was a McDonalds in the Ashley Centre, bu you might be able to do better.
Visit: Chessington World of Adventures, of course. Don’t hurl on The Galleon.
Overall rating: two missed opportunities



Filed under 2/5, Surrey