Tag Archives: london


AH Dunn, under Creative Commons by Ewan-M. Click pic for link.

AH Dunn, under Creative Commons by Ewan-M. Click pic for link.

Battersea, home of the power station, the dog home, the flower market… These places aren’t really the Battersea I visited – they’re Nine Elms, so full disclosure, I’ve been to the power station but won’t write about it today. I did have a bit of a look at Battersea fairly recently though – it’s a classic case of gentrification (I cite Tim Butler) and is home to a charming housing estate, built for the working classes by well-meaning Victorians, both subjects I have pored over at length. It’s a textbook gentrified inner suburb, for sure, and vies with Crouch End to be the definition of yummy mummy territory – all artisan bakers, Starbucks and pushchairs – christened Nappy Valley by Will Self. And cheese shops; I’m pretty jealous of the cheese shops actually.

As you’d imagine, this is home to a certain type of charity shop. Northcote Road, the centre of Nappy Valley, is the hub of the inner-suburban leisure mum, and here are the more expensive charity shops: Trinity Hospice and a Fara kids’ shop (of course). There’s not a great deal to them though: some expensive tat, a selection of slightly intellectual books, the odd over-priced secondhand pushchair.

For a wider selection, cross the sweeping bar and cafe route of Battersea Rise to the semi-pedestrianised St John’s Road. Here you’ll find British Heart Foundation, Scope, Cancer Research, Traid and the frankly slightly odd Ace of Clubs, which I’ve never come across before. While none yielded any magnificent bounty, a smattering of objets made it a worthwhile diversion, and with that sort of population, you just never know.

Find: Battersea @ Google Maps
Consume with: plenty of options for frothy coffee or artisan fish.
Visit: if you can sneak into the power station somehow, absolutely do.
Overall rating: three coasters



Filed under 3/5, London South

North Finchley

North Finchley, under Creative Commons from John Keogh's flickr photostream. Click pic for link.

North Finchley, under Creative Commons from John Keogh's flickr photostream. Click pic for link.

There’s little to distinguish North Finchley as a place worth visiting. Like it’s southerly cousin, it’s somewhat nondescript, a trait I find to be common to great swathes of the diagonal corners of London. For some reason the North-South and East-West axes of London seem to retain more character: for example in North London, the central band of areas such as Camden, Islington, Holloway, Highbury, Muswell Hill, Tottenham, Winchmore Hill, etc. are quite notably their own places. But the Finchleys and places like Edgware, Colindale, Pinner, Harrow and the like are very obviously massive swathes of period suburbia, matched in the North-East by the bland expanses beyond the North Circular, Chigwell, Barkingside, the Woodfords and the like. Maybe it’s just me.

Psychogeography aside, North Finchley’s worth a brief stop, but that’s about it. There’s five charity shops to pick from: none are useless but none are outstanding. The pick of the bunch is probably North London Hospice, which is usually good for a bargain – on our most recent visit we found plenty of interesting looking books, tape sets of Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy, and other odds and ends. That’s at the top of the high road – we then make our way down to Cancer Research, but not without stopping at the wonderfully odd Tiger, a sort of Ikea meets Muji of absolute randomness with conveniently calculable prices. Cancer Research has an excellent selection of books usually – we have picked up paperbacks by Richard Sennett, John Updike and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and even Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, which has apparently spawned an entire subgenre of classic novels revisited in horror style. Weird.

Across the Tally Ho corner (I’m guessing a hunting cry, there’s no specific reputation for ladies of negotiable affection here) past the Artsdepot is very standard British Heart Foundation, then back up the road for Barnardo’s and a very scruffy but occasionally bargainous Romanian Relief store.

I can’t really ply you with dramatic anecdotes and local ephemera because there isn’t much about which to waffle. North Finchley’s local to us, which makes it a convenient after-work mooch, but while you may find bargains, there isn’t much more to commend it.

FindNorth Finchley @ Google Maps
Consume with: Coffee Republic has something of the interior of an unloved indie club, but isn’t too shabby – better than Starbucks at least. Cafe Buzz is to be commended for its carrot cake.
Visit: maybe the Artsdepot, which has pretty much loads going on.
Overall rating: three tape box-sets


Filed under 3/5, London North

Church End, Finchley

The Dollis Brook Viaduct, under Creative Commons. Photo from IanVisits' photostream, click pic for link.

The Dollis Brook Viaduct, under Creative Commons. Photo from IanVisits' photostream, click pic for link.

Finchley Central is two and sixpence/from Golders Green on the Northern Line/and on the platform, by the kiosk/that’s where you said you’d be mine.

Ask most locals where Church End is and you’ll probably draw a blank. At least since the New Vaudeville Band sang about the pre-decimal journey up from Golders Green in 1966, the locale has been more commonly known after its tube station: Finchley Central, on the Northern Line. It’s suburbia up here: the outer side of the North Circular, surrounded by more Finchleys, Mill Hill and Whetstone, tree-lined avenues of semi-detached homes, with garages, and a Conservative MP. At the very least, that’s how it’ll be remembered: the now abolished constituency of Finchley is most associated with the 32 year occupancy of one Margaret Hilda Thatcher, aka the Milk Snatcher, aka all sorts of crude things. In these pre-election days, the re-arranged Finchley and Golders Green constituency is Labour held, but with boundary realignments is Tory voting, and is a top target seat for old smarmy Eton boy.

Today, the ward is little more than a local shopping strip built along Regents Park Road/Ballards Lane: the top of Gravel Hill shows something of what the older villagey Finchley must have looked like, with some beautiful houses and an olde church, but progress past the tube and it’s supermarkets, grocers, local amenities and of course, charity shops. Our  visits to charity shop locales have become somewhat single-minded of late: stripped of disposable income in the latter part of my Masters course, I have to tread very carefully around the fiction sections of charity bookshelves at the moment, occasionally lingering to pick up a bargain in the politics or geography sections. There’s no space in my head for much fiction at the moment, excepting the occasional holiday, but I’ve found that toning down my usually pretty cerebral tastes to something a little more popular helps me to unwind a bit. The which comment feels a little unfair to Ian Rankin, since the Rebus novels that I’ve become immersed in are wonderfully constructed and researched, and the place setting and character-building is probably far more evocative and complete than, say, Umberto Eco or Thomas Pynchon.

Anyway. Finchley was a destination for some Rebus-hunting on this visit. I have to be honest, as with the area itself, all the charity shops are a little nondescript: a fairly decent Oxfam and Cancer Research make up the ‘chain’ constituent, and the always useful All Aboard and North London Hospice are the remainder. You’ll be pleased to hear that I found some Rankin and happily for the charity shop sector, far cheaper than proper bookshops, and with better selection than most dedicated secondhand bookshops (much as I love Skoob). While Finchley is hardly a destination in itself, it’s near our allotment which makes it worth being familiar with its amenities: Subway and The Joiners Arms have already been tested…

Find: Church End, Finchley @ Google Maps
Consume with: a shandy in the Joiners.
I’d love to have a look inside the Sternberg Centre, which seems to be some sort of Jewish fortress…
Overall rating: three more Rebuses


Filed under 3/5, London North

East Sheen

Untitled, by Edgley Cesar, under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

Untitled, by Edgley Cesar, under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

East Sheen’s a funny kind of place, really, the sort of location you happen across because you happen to be driving along the South Circular, rather than on purpose. It’s something of an infill town, being recognised formerly as some nowhere in the Brixton Hundred of Surrey, then as the eastern part of Sceon/Sheen (now Richmond), or as being an extension of Mortlake – the shops encroach along Sheen Lane to Mortlake Station even now – and later a constituent of the municipal borough of Barnes. Nevertheless, given its nondescript beginnings, there’s plenty to East Sheen, and it’s almost totally concentrated along the A205.

On a long, stretched out main road like an American edge city, the shops in East Sheen radiate out from the central crossroads with Sheen Lane, where you’ll find Waitrose, and the busiest traffic. There’s little to point to East Sheen as anything other than a charity shop or local amenity destination, as with Richmond, Twickenham and Putney within spitting distance, there’s little requirement for boutiques and extensive chain restaurants. There is, however, charity shops, and they perhaps benefit from the proximity of Richmond and its inhabitants: a mixture of vintage, obscure bric-a-brac and a pretty good overall selection.

Octavia, if I recall correctly, is the first one when approaching from the East, a labyrinthine and somewhat vintage-orientated shop with a distinctive aroma. Though there was a few vaguely interesting, but expensive, knick-knacks, this was sadly lacking in general goodness (a pity, as this is a charity I could get behind – it’s a contemporary extension of the fascinating work of Octavia Hill in nineteenth century London). We also have some nice bric-bracery on the crossroads, in Barnardo’s, Fara (two shirts for me), Cancer Research, Mind and the like. Not many stick out, which is strange because overall I’m left with an overwhelmingly positive impression of the place. Perhaps it’s the proximity of Richmond Park (so close, your rotisserie chicken won’t get cold) or the discovery of not only a wicker linen basket, but tapes of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue in Princess Alice Hospice. There was also chunky mirror-based indecision in a shop I can’t find listed, but definitely had something to do with missing people.

Sometimes the most fun in researching a location is not the place itself, but the people (of course it is! I’m a human geography student, what do you expect?), particularly those considered ‘notable’ by the hive mind of Wikipedia. Obviously, a pinch of salt is occasionally required (although Jacques Ranciere has a thing or two to say about the overthrow of expertism by collective knowledge), but there’s a full-on slew of names associated with East Sheen, so I leave you with the highlights:

Tim Berners-Lee Marc Bolan The Moody Blues Rudolph Nureyev Omid Djalili Debbie Harry Tim Henman Andrew Marr Davina McCall Trevor McDonald Roy Kinnear Rob Brydon Phillip Glenister Daniel Craig. Nice.

Find: East Sheen @ Google Maps
Consume with: As mentioned, a cooked chicken and fresh bread dinner from Waitrose comes highly recommended. There’s a snack/coffee point at Pembroke Lodge too.
Richmond Park, of course.
Overall rating: three audiobooks


Filed under 3/5, London South


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


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

East Dulwich

shop fronts, under creative commons from fear and boozing in a lost vagueness' photostream. Click pic for link.

shop fronts, under creative commons from fear and boozing in a lost vagueness' photostream. Click pic for link.

I’ve done a lot of work on gentrification in the last four months (see? It didn’t stop there). I can summarise Smith’s rent gap theory, or Ley’s humanistic take; I can waffle at length about Barnsbury (as per Jonathan Raban (who I love more than ever)), Brooklyn Heights, Bilbao, and associated subjects such as global cities or neoliberalism; I can cite writers like Zizek or Foucault with nary a bat of the eyelid. But booksmarts pale into insignificance when faced with an irrefutable measure of gentrification provided by the ever-paternalistic Times property section: the chicken shop test. Presumably the majority of Times readers don’t live in an area where chicken shops proliferate (i.e. where impoverished folk live), because I’m happy to confirm that chicken shops actually don’t correlate with ‘edgy’ either academically or in any other way. And because Lordship Lane in East Dulwich featured three (in 2004), that does not make it a bastion of working class solidarity amidst a rising tide of middle-class colonisation and class repression spilling over into the area.

East Dulwich is, in fact, thoroughly gentrified. House prices quadrupled during the 1990s as fixer-uppers moved in, and today Lordship Lane is awash with organic delis, fancy fish-n-chip shops and four-wheel drive monsters. It’s very pleasant for all that, and placed well, just close enough to the altogether more traditionally salubrious Dulwich Village, just far enough from the less classy Peckham Rye. There’s village greens, larger parks, art galleries – everything except a tube station. It’s reminiscent in some ways of a newly-established Muswell Hill, who pride themselves on not having a station. East Dulwich also fits into a West-East heirarchy: where Muswell Hill wants to be Highgate (which itself wants to be Hampstead), but looks down on Crouch End, which in turn looks down on Harringay and Wood Green, East Dulwich would dearly love to be as classy as Dulwich Village, but has to content itself with Nunhead lingering jealously nearby, and Peckham, who nobody loves.

What it doesn’t excel in is charity shops. It’s difficult to give a high rating to such a clearly well-off locale which sports just the two, fairly average emporia. The better is Mind, on the junction by Goose Green, which did well on DVDs and some nice looking cookware and cake tins, which is always nice. The lesser of the two was a slightly eerie St Christropher’s Hospice shop: large enough, but with the atmosphere of a hospital waiting room, and an odour to match. A few board games and tatty clothes weren’t enough to make it visitable, really.

East Dulwich then: thoroughly middle class, thoroughly modern, but lacking in what makes a day out. Probably a very pleasant place to live.

Find: East Dulwich @ Google Maps
Consume with: plenty of cappucinos and things with pastry at various coffee shops, you needn’t go short 
Dulwich Picture Gallery is nearby, if art’s your bag, but I’m more tempted by the epic-looking Horniman Museum in nearby Forest Hill.
Overall rating: two little cake tins


Filed under 2/5, London South