Tag Archives: south 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

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


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


Blackheath, picture by waltz4aidan under creative commons. click pic for link.

Blackheath, picture by waltz4aidan under creative commons. click pic for link.

I’ve skirted around Blackheath once or twice before, but it was good to get stuck in to the shops on this last weekend. I first visited to sample the delights of the Breeders at 4AD’s 25th anniversary bash, and most recently swung by here on the way to lunch on a field trip. That’s an interesting journey, by the way: try navigating your way from the monolithic ferro-concrete towers of the Ferrier estate in Kidbrooke, just the short distance to the leafy, villagey Blackheath: you’ll find it more difficult than you might imagine.

Once emerging from the mansions and private roads, Blackheath Village awaits. Named for the black heath (it’s not really black) that sits above it, this really is as ‘urban village’ as one might hope for: enter from the opposite direction, from the A2 (the old Roman Watling Street) and you’ll descend the empty space of the heath until the village church hoves into sight and the shops and houses fill out below. You’d almost believe you’d left the metropolis, but face the other way, into Greenwich Park and you’re staring at the temples of capitalism that now inhabit the Isle of Dogs.

This village is really the South London equivalent of Hampstead: an exclusive countryside retreat that well pre-dates London’s sprawl, but has remained exclusive. Shops here are cared for and cared about, and the very active residents association ensure that every inch of heritage is accounted for. But uniquely for any wealthy enclave in London (that I’ve come across), Blackheath is really quite welcoming. If you look hard enough, there’s even a proper car park (try parking in Hampstead), there’s an attractive train station, and a selection of shops from the useful to the swanky. Plenty of organic cafes and fancy pubs, but also hardware shops and chippies. And charity shops, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing.

Sadly for us, only one was open when we visited: we just missed Cancer Research on Montpelier Row. We did get to Oxfam, however, on the wonderfully named Tranquil Vale. As with almost every Oxfam, it’s worth visiting. The upstairs room is full of books of all sorts: some fancy first editions, as you might imagine, and plenty of others.

While there’s few charity shops here, I’d recommend a poke around Blackheath anyway – it’s one of few reasons to visit South London, and you might just find yourself wistfully for a life in the shires.

Find: Blackheath @ Google Maps
Consume with: The Princess of Wales gives good grub.
Visit: romp over the heath and through the gates to Greenwich Park for a dose of ancient royal hunting ground, then keep going to the Royal Observatory and one of the finest views in London.
Overall rating: three first editions.

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Filed under 3/5, London South

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


Eel Pie, by Kake Pugh (under creative commons)

Eel Pie, by Kake Pugh (under creative commons)

Twickenham is really known for one thing, and one thing alone. Rugby. Of course. Yes, you can go see concerts in the stadium (it’s good, I’ve been), yes the Thames is right there and quite lovely, yes you’re right by Eel Pie Island but in the general collective consciousness of this nation, Twickenham = rugby. To me: Twickenham = charity shop happiness.

We commence our afternoon (part two of the long-haul which began in Whitton) in the Holly Road car park. Significant why? Well get there in time and there’s a farmers market there – we bought multitudinous stewing vegetables, and a wild rabbit. Then off to Fara, first of all, local to this area with a goodly number of shops nearby (you’ll find them in Richmond and Whitton as well). Next along is Paws, some sort of pet sanctuary arrangement. Despite being staffed by the single grumpiest shop assistant I’ve met (saying something, living in London), this is a treasure trove. Not only has someone offloaded an entire britpop collection into the CD rack, but there’s also hordes and mounds of the most random tat – you never know when that’s going to have a use. Best of all, up a little set of steps (like being in a crows nest!) to the fenced book section, which is a real joy. I’ve been looking for some Jorge Luis Borges for ages, et voila.

There’s plenty more here: a good Oxfam (we left with a set of old Kew Gardens magazines, don’t ask me why) and a Cancer Research, a Princess Alice Hospice, Mind, British Heart Foundation and Scope. I may even have missed some – it’s a good place to stop.

We didn’t really have the time to explore other than to look for a non-existent McDonalds, but Twickenham is worth a stop anyway. Well worth a stop.

Find: Charity shops in Twickenham on Google Maps
Transport: Twickenham station, South West Trains
Consume with: a Wimpy burger
Visit: the ever-so-slightly mysterious and history-riddled Eel Pie Island
Overall rating: four balls of wool


Filed under 4/5, London South