Tag Archives: Marie Curie

Kidderminster

Kidderminster Snow, Dec 2010, by Frosted Peppercorn. Image used under Creative Commons licence, click pic for link.

Kidderminster Snow, Dec 2010, by Frosted Peppercorn. Image used under Creative Commons licence, click pic for link.

Ah, Kiddy. How do I start to describe Kiddy?

Kidderminster is a near neighbour to us now, a 20 minute bus ride from the end of the road. To get there from us one travels through the understated loveliness of the South Staffs/North Worcs borders and into the ‘burbs at Broadwaters. From then on, you have to somehow negotiate a large-scale system of one-ways and ring-roads to get into the town centre, and you’re usually best off just heading into the first car park you see: I’ve been there many, many times now and still struggle to orientate myself from one end to the other. If you’re on the bus, you’ll hop off at the bus station, conveniently situated for the new Weavers Wharf development. This is the best of Kiddy, commercially-speaking. Debenhams, for example, is housed in the former Slingfield Mill, its restored chimney towering over the town centre. Nearby, the college is housed in the sympathetically restored Piano Building. You’ll find all the big name shops you could want between here and the Carpet Trades retail park over the road (Kidderminster’s trade of repute is carpets, to this day).

However, Kidderminster is very much a split-personality kind of town. Cross the bridge over the Stour into the town centre itself, and you’re faced with somewhat crumbling 1960s office edifices, an unkempt wind tunnel of a main street with a dirty market, and several Greggs. That kind of town. For all that, I view it very affectionately: just like Waltham Cross was an ugly but fruitful source of bargain shopping, I can’t help but love Kidderminster. It’s a cheap place to live as well: all the fine Victorian villas around the town are much more fiscally accessible than the same would be in, say, Bromsgrove or Stourbridge nearby. The opening of Weaver’s Wharf in 2004 was no doubt intended to spark some gentrification in the prime territory skirting the town centre; but as yet, one road off the ring road will still find you in a street roughly resembling Hamsterdam.

The pros and cons of Kidderminster as a place to live are up for debate. What’s indisputable is that this is a serious charity shop tourism destination. I’ll explain the latter part first, and this might be just me. I am a fan of canals. I’ve yet to build a model set, but it’s certainly a possibility, and Kiddy is a canal town. The Stour flows through the town to the Severn, and alongside it the Staffordshire & Worcestershire canal, offering waterborn transport to Stourport and the big river one way, and Kinver, the Birmingham canal network, Wolverhampton, Stafford and onward the other. It’s also a train town: today the Black Country express through Smethwick and Cradley Heath continues on to Kidderminster, Droitwich and Worcester, but you can also change for the Severn Valley Railway through to Bridgnorth. For those slightly in thrall to industrial architecture as I am, there’s plenty to point at in Kiddy – in fact, it could be a real selling point for the town given its distinctive history. That’s my advice to the Kidderminster tourist board, and you’re welcome.

However, for the purposes of this blog (and our repeat visits): we count sixteen charity shops. Sixteen. If this was the Final Score vide-printer, that would say 16 (sixteen)  for clarification. I think it’s a record. For the sake of completeness, they are: Oxfam; British Heart Foundation (and BHF Furniture & Electricals); British Red Cross; Sense; Forces UK (and Forces Furniture & Electricals); Marie Curie; Salvation Army; Cancer Research; Scope; Mind; Happy Staffie Rescue; Forest Dog Rescue; YMCA; and Kemp Hospice. The highlights include Kemp Hospice, at least so I’m told – we often return with considerably more fabric than when we arrived; the large furniture shops are worth a gander as well – we bought our washing machine from BHF, and have espied a great quantity of furniture that we would have purchased, if only we still had the car. We’ve ended up with bits and bobs from most of these shops though.

We have problems with Kidderminster. It’s an easy place to get to on the bus, it’s got all the shops we need etc., but we find it hard to miss out charity shops. You know, just in case. So, it’s always a hike around the SIXTEEN charity shops, and you know what – it’s brilliant. It’s a funny old place, and it could be wonderful with a bit of love. But I like it as it is.

Find: Kidderminster Google Maps
Get there: the 125 bus goes to Stourbridge and Bridgnorth, or there’s regular trains from Birmingham and Worcester.
Consume with: there’s the normal array of chain coffee and a pretty rough-looking ‘spoons, but I’m still intending to visit Ye Olde Seven Stars, a CAMRA recommended pub where guests are encouraged to bring their own lunch.
Visit: whilst not neglecting the legendary WM Safari Park, probably the funnest day out is going to be on the steam train.
Overall rating: five fat quarters (1 1/4 wholes?)

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Filed under 5/5, Worcestershire

Alderley Edge

To The Edge, under creative commons, by kh1234567890. Click pic for link.

To The Edge, under creative commons, by kh1234567890. Click pic for link.

Alderley Edge is, according to Stuart Maconie’s excellent book, a wild, mystical place. A high heathland redolent with pagan rites and mysterious gold stores, numerous Arthurian legends, a rocky escarpment looming over the Cheshire plain. Here, the lonely farmer crosses the dreary moorlands to market only to be led by a bearded man into an underground lair to see the rows of sleeping men that would awake when England was in danger.

These days, you’d be more likely to come across that scenario on Clapham Common than Alderley Edge. The town only really took on its current identity from the 1880’s, when the Manchester & Birmingham Railway renamed the station from Chorley (to avoid confusion with Chorley, Lancs), combining an old name for the locality with The Edge, the aforementioned sandstone escarpment. The name stuck when Sir Humphrey de Trafford, local landowner of wealth and familiar surname, laid out part of his large estate in an extensive street pattern and the village expanded into the small town we have now. This period of expansion means that the town consists of large swathes of spacious Victorian villas on leafy avenues, making this quite the desirable commuter hotspot. That reputation was confirmed following Lord David of Beckham’s decision to settle here in his Man U days, followed by a whole gaggle of Premiership footballers, Coronation Street stars, two-thirds of New Order and the legendary Stuart Hall. Today the high street is a quiet but salubrious thoroughfare, dripping with designer sunglasses shops, expensive delis and coffeeshops.

And boy, have the charity shops fallen for it. Oxfam Books is the odd one out here with a fairly broad selection of coffee-table art books, undergraduate textbooks, and unemployed law students talking loudly about their friends in tax law when they should have been serving customers. The remaining charity shops have gone down the boutique route. Unlike nearby Wilmslow (coming soon), just as wealthy a town, Alderley Edge charity shops have decided that they cna focus on the expensive tat and designer clothes and despite being Cancer Research or  Marie Curie they can quite legitimately charge £25 for a man’s shirt. Now: if you have any sort of savvy at all you won’t have to look beyond a shop sale or factory outlet to find brand new Ben Sherman shirts for £25, so where they get off charging this for something someone has worn around, sweated into, and bashed and scraped, is beyond me. The worst offender is Barnados, who seemed to have gone so completely for the boutique feel that they had even employed a haughty extra shop assistant to stand at the back and judge you when you came in. All these shops had a massively disproportionate selection of women’s clothing, which is perhaps unsurprising, but not fun for a boy.

I suppose, in its way, Alderley Edge is not an unattractive town (although once you’ve seen one Victorian satellite town you’ve pretty much seen them all). There seems little to justify its reputation other than some expensive shops: there’s little history or dramatic scenery, there’s no amazing shopping experience or grand café culture. In short, there’s little to recommend it. By virtue of having four charity shops I’ll lift it off the bottom tier of visits, but if you’re in the area, skirt Alderley Edge and visit Wilmslow or press further afield to Buxton or Glossop – much more beautiful, interesting and worthwhile towns.

Find: Alderley Edge Google Maps
Get there: Alderley Edge station will get you here from Manchester Piccadilly or Crewe.
Consume with: We had Costa – despite a few cafés, most looked pretty uninspiring.
Visit: we didn’t stop otherwise I’d have been tempted to get up to The Edge to look for either goldbars or Iron Gates.
Overall rating: two leather jackets

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Filed under 2/5, Cheshire

Stourbridge

Arches by Nickster 2000, used under a Creative Commons license. Click pic for link.

Arches by Nickster 2000, used under a Creative Commons license. Click pic for link.

Today, you’ll find Stourbridge as the westernmost compass point of a sprawling West Midlands conurbation, butting right up against some glorious Staffordshire/Worcestershire/Shropshire countryside. But it wasn’t always so: the Black Country isn’t like London with its endless 1930’s ribbon developments radiating out from the centre; rather, each town is a definable centre, each with a purpose (at least, orginally). Cradley is called the home of chain-making, Walsall’s famous for its leather trade, Wolverhampton for its steel. Stourbridge is no different and became, particularly during the nineteenth century, a world centre for the glass industry after significant Huguenot in-migration. The twenty-first century is a very different era and the Black Country is becoming a post-industrial society – though certainly not out of choice. Stourbridge retains an artisan-led glass quarter (around Kingswinford and Amblecote), but today finds itself as much a dormitory town for Birmingham, just the other side of the M5.

Stourbridge holds a particularly happy place in this blogger’s heart, however: it’s where he and his Charity Shop Partner (slash wife) have just moved, so chances are you’ll be hearing plenty more from the West Midlands and its environs over the next few months. Its location right on the edge of the countryside makes it a very appealing place to live – as accessible for the urban delights of Birmingham as for the craggy heights of Shropshire or the Malverns. If we fancy a breath of fresh air these days, we don’t have to drive to a gloomy Essex coast or wander through a crowded Epping Forest: we can ascend the overlooking Clent Hills and have our breath removed by a view spanning to Wales or the Cotswolds.

But that’s enough about me – more importantly, this is a charity shop shopping blog and has its priorities. Happily, Stourbridge punches pretty well. In a less touchy-feely era of civic government than our own, a Nascar styled ring road (see below) was built around the town centre and it’s within the ring road that you’ll find the bulk of the town’s shops. Note though – there are other charity shops scattered around, notably a couple in Wollaston that I may or may not touch on another time. Within the pretty attractive town centre I count a good nine charity shops as well as various other amenities and local shops. You wouldn’t come to Stourbridge for a day’s shopping experience any more, as you wouldn’t go to Dudley, Brierley Hill, Halesowen, or any other community within the catchment area of the monolithic Merry Hill centre, so be warned of that.

There’s a stretch of charity shops on the High Street including a pretty sweet and not-too-expensive Oxfam: we located a pile of cheap Jo Nesbo books and, happily, three Granta magazines for £1.50, which are now populating the landing bookcase. Having brokenheartedly sold several hundred books in the move, we now appear to be doing our best to counteract that. There’s also Barnardos, Marie Curie, Acorn’s Hospice and British Heart Foundation, and best of all the huge Mary Stevens Hospice Shop, fundraising for the hospice which is located in Stourbridge itself. There’s a second huge Mary Stevens shops in Victoria Passage, a sneaky cut also containing cafs, restaurants and little boutiquey shops. This Mary Stevens, as with the main one, sells plenty of furniture as well as clothes and books – the one on the high street has an entire upstairs bookshop. Look out for cast iron fireplaces and patio sets. On Lower High Street you’ll find Cats Protection League, just up from King Edward VI college – educators of Robert Plant and Samuel Johnson, no less. Then back up Market Street to find Happy Staffie Rescue and Scope. That just leaves the very mid-century Ryemarket Centre where you’ll find Waitrose and Smiths and the like, as well as PDSA and Salvation Army.

While Stourbridge is hardly remarkably beautiful or noteworthy, it turns out that it’s a very pleasant place to wile away some time. It’s a bustling little town centre with some gorgeous buildings – King Eds, the Town Hall and St Thomas’ church are all very attractive. It makes a great stop on a day out to the country as well – it’s only a short hop from here to Bridgnorth or the Wyre Forest. Best of all, a whole heap of charity shops – if this was the Grandstand vidiprinter, that would be 11 (eleven).

Find: Stourbridge Google Maps
Get there: Plenty of buses end at the bus station, and you also have the shortest branch line in Europe terminating at Stourbridge Town with its funny little trains.
Consume with: There are plenty of coffee and food places around – there’s a Caffe Nero, and The Well looks quite nice. If you’re willing to expand your horizons, there’s many pubs doing a wallet-friendly £3.69 carvery (The Old White Horse), some doing some lovely food in a lovely location (The Vine, Kinver) and of course, plenty of curry (I recommend Balti Bazaar in Lye).
Visit: The Glass Quarter is full of museums and things to do – the Red House Cone is basically a big red cone for making glass, and if glass is your thang, you’ll find plenty of interest at Broadfield House or the Ruskin Glass Centre. If not, take a wander along the canal or to the lovely Mary Stevens Park.
Overall rating: five antique fireplaces

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Filed under 5/5, West Midlands

Harborne

Harborne Farmers Market, from Pete Lewis' photostream under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

Harborne Farmers Market, from Pete Lewis' photostream under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

Harborne is, I suppose, the West Midlands equivalent of Muswell Hill or Crouch End, or multitudinous other gentrified districts. More ethnically homogenous than, say, Bearwood or Smethwick just up the road, your typical Harborne resident is more academic from the nearby (and huge) University of Birmingham, or medical staff from one of the several large hospitals close by, those that can afford a little classier than Selly Oak. Harborne town centre is fairly innocuous and unambitious – Waitrose territory for certain – but take a quick detour into surrounding residential streets and you’ll soon see the appeal.

My auntie lives in Harborne, in a large house with a large garden, a drive and a garage, on a wide, quiet road. But if I lived there, without drifting into being an estate agent blog, I’d fall for one of the very red-brick Victorian terraces. They’re very distinct to this part of the country (believe me, I have spent enough time studying Victorian terraces of late), a burnt, dusty brick in cottage style. I’d be fairly content setting up shop there, I think. The high street is less inspiring, though not without merit, and certainly not without charity shops.

We visited a very healthy seven of the eight charity shops open on a snow-and-ice infested Harborne High Street, three days before Christmas. I say very healthy in that it was fairly miraculous that we escaped with no broken legs – apparently Birmingham is not a city that prides itself on snow clearance. But healthy and wealthy they were, most notably in the very well-stocked, very academic and literate Oxfam bookshop – overpriced as normal, but nevertheless painfully tempting. Most of the rest are, if you will, chain charity shops: British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research, Barnardos, Marie Curie and PDSA. Not that this is a problem: none was a wasted visit, with a goodly number of Stephen Kings purchased to feed a growing fetish, and a wide and varied array of tat (I say this in a friendly way: by tat I mean bric-a-brac; collector’s items; etc.).

Headway was closed, leaving only the most interesting of the bunch, Birmingham Settlement. This is a large, long shop, filled with not just cheap paperbacks and the usual assortment of clothes, but small furniture at the back, lots of picture frames and stacks of Playstations and the like. Good for a rummage.

Harborne is a pretty posh area and has a high-standing reputation as such. Many such places frown on charity shops, but Harborne seems to have embraced them, and quite right. As a result: thoroughly recommend a swoop by.

Find: Harborne @ Google Maps
Consume with: Nero as usual, but there’s the whole gamut of easy-to-understand coffee here.
Visit: The Birmingham Botanical Gardens are just down the road, and they’re plain lovely.
Overall rating: four Christmas trees

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Filed under 4/5, West Midlands

Archway

from Archway Bridge, by Martin Deutsch, under creative commons. Click pic for link to photostream.

from Archway Bridge, by Martin Deutsch, under creative commons. Click pic for link to photostream.

There are some nice parts of London; you can see them from here.

So opined Saint Etienne back in 1993 in Archway People. Typically, New Model Army go one step grumpier with Archway Towers:

I’ve tried to wrestle
Some unbalanced nightmare
Tell myself over that I
Don’t really live here

Although it’s clearly somewhere people are trying to get away from, this North London nowhereville is redolent with music history. Joe Meek went insane just down the road, and the Kinks’ Muswell Hillbillies album cover was shot inside the Archway Tavern – now (reputedly) co-owned by Shane MacGowan. It’s also been home to the Boo Radleys, Jesus & Mary Chain, Ms Dynamite (ee-hee!) and Rod Stewart. Not a bad roll call.

I don’t know what the link is though: Archway seems like bedsit country for a million student bands, which could be a lot to do with it. There’s no way that you could call it a desirable area, so much so that I’ve never found any reason to stop here before despite it being pretty close. However, the Whittington Hospital beckoned, and with new found freedom we swept the charity shops of the area.

Which are actually pretty good. Time forbade us to stop by the familiar yellow and blue of Marie Curie (I’m reliably informed by my charity shop companion that it’s not worth the effort), so the first stop was a little but crammed Romanian Relief Fund. This was a tightly packed affair with everything in labelled boxes. I left with nothing this time but there was much potential.

The highlight is on the huge Archway junction itself. Looking up the hill you can see either towards Highgate Village or the Suicide Bridge; downhill is the Emirates Stadium and Holloway and the City; East you face through the houses to Crouch End, and West to Tufnell Park and on to Camden Town. Archway Methodist Church sits right smack in the middle of the junction, under the watchful eye of  the Archway Tower, and its accompanying shop is right on the main road. We moved quickly past a gentleman yelling abuses into a mobile phone and into the shop. It’s one of the biggest in this part of London, and not because of a furniture section, because there is none. Again with everything in labelled boxes, it’s a treasure trove of goods. There’s everything from knitting needles and patterns to the car boot sale staple of a box of cables; cases of records and rows and rows of books on every subject under the sun; tatty men’s coats to vintage lady-wear. It’s all pretty reasonable too: there’s a cart of books outside that are 5 to the pound.

This shop is a great find, and although Archway is a pain to get to unless you live on the Misery Line, it’s worth a re-visit. Perhaps when I have my follow-up appointment next.

Find: Archway @ Google Maps
Consume with: Perhaps a pint of the black stuff at the Tavern, if you’re into that kind of thing.
Visit: There’s really no visitable places in Archway, but unless you want to schlep up to Highgate Ponds or the Cemetery, you might want to take a look out from the Archway itself, the proverbial suicide bridge, with amazing views of London Town (another hint: try the fourth floor of the Whittington Hospital as well).
Overall rating: three knitting needles

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Filed under 3/5, London North

High Wycombe

Decorating High Wycombe, used under a creative commons licence. Photo by bertieboy70, click pic for link.

Decorating High Wycombe, used under a creative commons licence. Photo by bertieboy70, click pic for link.

Buckinghamshire and the Chilterns in particular is one of my favourite places to spend the day. I’ve had profitable excursions in Gerrards Cross, Chalfont St Peter, Amersham, Chesham and Beaconsfield, and still plan to visit Tring and Berkhamsted to tick them off the list. More than this even, it’s a beautiful part of the world, largely untouched by the presence of the metropolis on its doorstep and filled with charming village greens, Georgian old towns and rolling, English hillsides. High Wycombe is the big name in the locality and as such definitely warranted inclusion.

Sadly, Wycombe seems to be the sinkhole for the region into which everything less desirable drains. It starts promisingly enough: the drive into the town from Beaconsfield presents you with a wonderful view of the banks of trees and the massive King’s Mead and The Rye parks. But by the time you get to the town centre itself, you’re left with a different impression. Firstly, try and find your way around – if you don’t end up on the way out of town you’ll be stuck at the vast Eden shopping centre. Once you’re in, little improves. On a warm August Saturday, High Wycombe town centre retains that bleak feel that you get in semi-planned communities like this commuter town. The wind always seems stronger in these places, like the right angles and concrete expanses funnel it in unexpected ways, which doesn’t happen in the patchwork of older towns.

A few of the charity shops had closed up by the time we reached there – earlier than their scheduled hours, possibly in advance of the bank holiday weekend. Among them were British Heart Foundation, Scope and Help The Aged, so of course I can’t comment on these (other than whoever was manning the shops clocked off early this weekend). The latter two are situated on Oxford Street, close to the large, semi-pedestrianised centre. On this same stretch was a fairly reasonable Oxfam, but the experience took a turn for the bizarre when a (slightly odd) customer was demanding a refund for a £2.99 CD that he’d bought in the Chesham shop. It raises the question firstly, how do you deal with someone so irate about three quid? But more importantly, when is it right to take anything back to a charity shop? Certainly one has ones statutory rights etc., but morally it’s pretty low to demand a refund off a charity. Our only guess was that the CD was his annual treat, and when it wasn’t right, three pounds was a big spend out. I dunno.

That left a large but odd-smelling Cancer Research, and a huge South Bucks Hospice shop on White Hart Street. This was a split level affair, with an upstairs snug for books and things, and a big open plan downstairs for clothes, nicknackery and the rest. A good selection, though I left with nothing.

Google maps informs me that there is also a Save The Children, a Marie Curie, and and Ian Rennie Hospice shop (I’m kicking myself for that – in Beaconsfield I’d stared at a sandwich board down the road for ages trying to guess whether Ian Rennie was a charity shop or a DIY shop – I wrongly thought DIY): I don’t feel like I’ve missed out by avoiding these places. Maybe I’m being unkind, but Wycombe offers little attraction to warrant a return visit. I plan to leave it to the hordes of bored-looking, loitering youth that littered the place.

Find: High Wycombe @ Google Maps
Best buy: old hard-backed books will always grab me.
Consume with: plenty of chain coffee shops and pubs, you won’t go hungry.
Visit: save it for the annual drama of the ‘mayor-weighing’.
Overall rating: two saucepans

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Filed under 2/5, Buckinghamshire

Romsey

Romsey Abbey, by Paul Cummings

Romsey Abbey, by Paul Cummings

There must be hundreds of small market towns around the country filled with historic churches, market stalls on a cobbled square, community charity shops (natch) and a bustling, be-corduroyed local crowd. I could talk about Hitchin, Hertford, Saffron Walden, and the like, and I could go on – and the nice thing is, I’ll never get tired of visiting these places. They’re so unfailingly English, even in this day and age, that they feel like a tourist’s day out for me, sat on my convalescent’s chair here in sunny Haringey, perhaps one of the least English places in the country.

Romsey’s not far from where I grew up, so it was a good place to take the companion when last visiting my family. A town of butchers, market stalls selling unusual herbs or flavoured oils, coffee shops situated in low-beamed old houses, a historic abbey, and the rare option of medium-stay car parking, though quite what the point of the latter is, I’m still undecided. Parking in said medium-stay car park pops you out next to Bradbeers, the town’s own department store next to the River Test, then straight into the genteel melee of the marketplace (held on Corn Market, rather than the more expected Market Place) – you’ll reliably be able to find herbs and oils, fruit and veg and artisan bread here, although it’s not a large arrangement. This echoes the town centre itself: compact but classy.

Starting at this point, turn left and immediately you’ll find an Oxfam bookshop – as usual, an excellent range of stock but Oxfam always know how to price their sales, and you’ll rarely find a bargain. On passing a couple of excellent butchers (get your faggots here…), turn right past the town hall cum makeshift cinema to the old market place and progress up Church Street past one entrance to the Abbey. On this stretch we have three charity shops in close proximity. I have to confess that I was slightly distracted at this stage due to being followed around by a man in a lion costume (if only I were joking…) so the three blur in my memory, but we have the Tenovus cancer charity (I think this gave us a posh frock for a wedding (not for me obviously)), Cancer Research and Marie Curie Cancer Care. It’s probably a little glib to label this the cancer quarter, but you understand what I mean.

Back down to The Hundred, the main drag, we have a second Oxfam and British Red Cross, both worth a visit, and on the other side of the road, Wessex Cancer Trust, looking lost away from its kith and kin around the corner. The remaining trove is Help The Aged, along the charming Love Lane – another decent stop-off.

I didn’t end up with a massive haul from Romsey – being a well-to-do sort of a place, it’s hard to find genuine bargains, but it’s definitely worth a visit. Aside from the obvious draw of eight charity shops, there’s plenty of history, other shops, and olde town charm here.

Find: Romsey @ Google Maps
Consume with: Caffe Nero operates from a charming little old town house right on the market – busy, but cute.
Visit: This depends on who you’re with and what you like: the gentlefolk amongst you will enjoy Broadlands, seat of Palmerston and Mountbatten; outdoors types might enjoy the Hillier Arboretum; kids would be better off plonked at the Rapids, the big draw round these parts when I were but a lad.
Overall rating: four sandwich tongs

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Filed under 4/5, Hampshire