Archive for the ‘Shopping’ Category

Apple & Orange

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

Okay, so this is the world’s worst image. I was actually taking a picture of The Crown, which I’m excited about, but managed to capture its next door neighbour too, which I’m even more excited about just now.

Apple & Orange have been a proper greengrocer’s shop up at Blackheath Standard forever, and always have a good range of fruit and veg. They’ve now branched out into a shop at Trafalgar Road and I am utterly delighted.

Of course it was a greengrocer’s before, but it always felt a bit…tentative. I wasn’t really sure what they sold; whether they were actually into fruit & veg or pet supplies.

No doubting Apple & Orange. Lots of good quality fresh and seasonal produce (the pears are particularly lovely just now) chirpy service and prices not too dissimilar to others – certainly no worse than supermarkets. They also sell a few odd deli items, though not enough to scare La Salumeria next door but two.

I don’t know – a proper deli, a proper pub and a proper fruit & veg store – perhaps Traf Road is going up in the world after all. Shame we lost the fishmongers, but hey – at last we’re beginning to get stores that aren’t bookies, estate agents and hairdressers and that can only be a good thing. It’s now up to us to use them so they thrive and we get more of the same…

Another One Bites The Dust

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Jeremy tells me that the Greenwich Shoppe is to close. He says ‘it’s been there for a long time and I think it’s a shame.’

I certainly think its a shame that so many independent Greenwich shops are going. If it hadn’t been absolutely bogging with rain when I passed, I’d have taken a pic of the train-wreck that is the end of Creek Road – we’ve lost the Emporium, the many and varied shops that went into that funny little triangular store next to it and the lovely Thai restaurant Kum Luang, leaving us with an entire row of boarded-up gloom.

Does anyone know if someone’s hoovered up the lot in order to turn it into something inappropriate for a historic town centre or is it just coincidence that all these shops are dying at once?

We’re told the recession is on the turn. Both personally and for Greenwich I am yet to see any let-up.

In the meanwhile the funny little newsagents which supplied the world with emergency lighters, plastic policemen’s helmets and Princess Di postcards is to close, creating a win for chainstores and pedants and a fail for the rest of us.

Junk Shop Tea Rooms

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

I had a revelation yesterday – I’ve never written about the Junk Shop, one of the last remaining corners of Old Greenwich. Time was the town was full of junk shops, ‘antique’ shops and secondhand bookshops; dusty corners in which treasures lurked (anyone who has ever managed to see inside a certain house in Crooms Hill will have seen the result of judicious ‘antique’-buying in the 1950s. It’s very, very rarely open, I’ll let you know if I ever find it is…) but today, with the demise of everywhere from the Spread Eagle to Stewart John and Marcet Books, the only real corners of eccentricity left are Greenwich Book Place, Halcyon Books and the Junk Shop. In  the unlikely case that anyone who reads this doesn’t know where they are, the latter two are in the same parade in South Street; GBP is the lonely-looking tumbledown building in the middle of Creek Road.

But I digress. Today is about the Junk Shop, which is a true TARDIS of a place. It looks pretty small from the outside, with its jolly nonsense spilling out onto the pavement, and everything from WWII gas masks to frameless mirrors and broken chandeliers jumbled to the ceiling inside.


Don’t be fooled – this shop bulges out in pretty much every direction. If you go right to the back, and out through the back door, there’s a whole other building, full of the same old junk as everywhere else:

and a very creepy basement full of tribal masks – don’t go on a dark day – I was once with a rather sensitive pal who totally freaked out, complaining it was like being in a Hammer Horror movie of the 1970s. The photo below uses a flash which makes it look cosier than it is…

The yard outside is full of vintage pedal cars, American crests and rusty fireplaces, but if, instead of going back through the door, you go to what appears to be the outside loo (there is one of those, too), you’ll be confronted with a set of steps. Go down them to what looks like a teeny tiny room full of dusty books, and you’ll find it’s part of a warren of little stalls, many of which are taken up by the dealers displaced when the Village Market was closed (including the Bottle Shop.)

Wear old clothes – this stuff is very dusty. And don’t expect prices to be as old-fashioned as the wares – there are bargains to be had but quite a few of the prices are pretty steep for what they’re for. You can go back upstairs (where the prices are also variable – some excellent, some a bit of a shock) via some fabulously rickety stairs and find yourself back at the front of the shop.

There’s been an addition in the shop for a few months that I am very fond of – a little tea-room, complete with mismatched china, nice strong tea, wonderfully shabby furniture, low-lamps and reasonably-priced, yummy home made cake. I’ve been several times and forgotten to write about it. Such was much of last year.

If they remember to shut the back door (I usually end up doing it myself – I guess they keep it open to encourage people to visit the back, but in this weather it’s a bit parky)  it can be very cosy and quiet, and there’s lots of odd, locally-related reading matter if you’re on your own. In the warmer days, there are seats outside the back door (just before Christmas there was a lovely little nativity scene on one of the outside tables).

The service is friendly and solicitous, if you can get it – I sat waiting in the room for fifteen minutes once, but despite the lights being on and the place being clearly ‘open’ no one turned up, and I couldn’t see anyone in the entire shop (I was probably wrong, but they must have been hiding), so I left, but that’s sort of part of the charm for me – part of that slightly anachronistic ‘old Greenwich eccentricity’ that is in such short supply these days. I almost get the feeling that had I served myself and left the cash no one would have minded.

It’s closed on odd days; I can’t remember which, but Thursday rings a bell.

There are so few places like the Junk Shop left in Greenwich these days – visit while you can.

Chain Store Massacre

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Matt ask:

Who is best to write to to raise concerns about the opening of Nando’s and Frankie & Benny’s in Greenwich? The council, a planning team, Greenwich Hospital estate? Do you know? I want to do what I can to object to any more chain/big name brands opening up in the area.

The Phantom replies:

Matt, you are one of a number of people who are quite upset at our getting a pair of chains as the first thing people see when they arrive at Greenwich Pier on the boat.  And I have to say I’m particularly un-jazzed about the signs, especially, which I feel cheapen the traditional view of Greenwich from Island Gardens (actually, I have a bit of a bag-on for the whole pier building with its nasty fake copper finish and…no, I promise not to go off on one about that today…)

Thing is, though, I’m not convinced that it’s possible for the council to refuse permission to a company just because they’re a chain – it would be discrimination of a sort and I can’t see that it’s legally enforceable to refuse one place that serves food because you don’t like the cut of their jib and allow another establishment that also serves food to open in the same place instead just because they’re a nice local indie. Hell – if we could do that we’d have booted out a hell of a lot of very bad restaurants in the centre of town by now and replaced them with lovely places that sell decent food.

Until I am the Phantom Despot of Greenwich Towne, and I can decree that henceforth only shops and eateries I like are allowed to trade, I suspect I have two choices. The first is to make it clear to places like Greenwich Hospital and whoever owns the pier (‘m not sure who that is…) that I want to encourage indies to flourish rather than to ban chains which would be legally hard.

With gardening if you encourage enough nice flowers the weeds don’t get a look in. Independents need to be allowed the space and time to grow, and not to feel that they are being leant on all the time by landlords who would rather have the big, reliable bucks they can get from multinationals.

The second is simple – don’t go to the chains and do go to the indies. This is, admittedly, harder, given that most of the chains’ trade is from tourists who often head for what they know – but if the indies look good and enough locals are seen going inside them, hopefully visitors will be intrigued to visit them too.

I agree – we need to be vocal on this and let big landlords – Greenwich Hospital Trust being the biggest in the town centre – know that we want one of the last remaining largely-independent shopping centres to stay that way. Whether it will have any effect will be interesting, of course. Ultimately GHT is answerable to its trustees, whose aim in life is to get the most cash for their charity, not to us who just live in the place they own.

Thanks to Paul for the pic, BTW…

TellyTubby Sainsburys to Move

Friday, October 14th, 2011

Freaky – just as my computer pinged and someone asked if I’d had a leaflet about this, the thing popped through my door…

I guess whether you welcome Sainsburys eco-store closing so they can build a giant new one down the road will, to some extent at least, depend on where you live.

Anyone Greenwich side of the current store will probably, like me, sigh and count the extra walking time to get a pint of milk  and a bag ‘o buns (unless they’re local shopkeepers who will be rubbing their hands with glee – certainly my local corner shop will do much better, especially if he stops only stocking non-free-range eggs, which I’ve told him on many an occasion I will not buy under even the most egg-strapped circumstances…)

Anyone Charlton side will probably be rather pleased, given the land’s been empty for years and my dream of it being levelled and turned into a gorgeous walled garden centre was always unlikely to come true.

So where is the magical newly re-named ‘Meridian Site’?  Well – several degrees east of the actual Meridian, I can tell you that.

Well, I have to say the map they supply isn’t very clear. Here it is:

It looks to me like it’s the bit where Wickes and a load of old warehouses currently reside, though at first I thought it might be that big walled area behind ASDA.

They promise a giant shopping experience with TU clothes (whoo-bloomin’-hoo) homewares, a cafe  and an ‘Explore Learning Centre,’ which apparently will teach extra maths and English to kiddies.

Personally I have no real objection to the building of a whopping great store on the site of well, not very much really, but I do feel a bit fed up that the old building will be let to a ‘non-food retailer.’ I know why that is, of course, and it is good news for Greenwich’s smaller shopkeepers, but it will make  shopping for all the dull items like toilet rolls and washing powder into a right royal palaver for most people west of the A102(M).

They’re having the usual consultation, on Friday 21st, and Saturday 22nd October at Valley House, 445 Woolwich Road, SE7 7EP


Westfield Shopping Metropolis

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Dunno what made me do it, really. I guess nosiness, and the vague fear that Greenwich might have something to worry about from a vast mall ten minutes down the tube. And what the hell made me choose Saturday to explore Stratford’s new Westfield shopping centre beggars belief. I can only put it down to heatstroke.

It’s easy to get to, I’ll give it that. I had had some idea that it would be a trudge from the station, but one of the exits from Stratford tube leads straight into this melee of retail opportunity and human mass. I have never seen quite so many people milling through a mall, and it’s not even finished yet (though of course the empty stores have been done out very artistically so they don’t look too boarded up.)

There were queues outside some of the shops that are open, and everywhere else it seemed that the entire population of Britain had decided to wander up and down faceless aisles trying to find the way out.

I guess the best way to describe it is that it’s like Bluewater without the charm (and yes I do know what I’m saying here…) and, when the crowds have died down I suppose that it will be an alternative to Oxford St for the big chains but I can’t see that I’ll be returning soon.

The only place I actively liked was Wahaca, latest in a superior chain of Mexican restaurants. There aren’t, as far as I can see, any indie eateries (or indie-anything) in Westfield, but as chains go, this was very good indeed. My friend and I shared several plates from their street-food selection and enjoyed everything we were served.

Back to the scrum, and I was beginning to get bit freaked out by it all; a bit panicky in the crowds. In the end I just couldn’t face going in most of the shops, merely nipping to M&S to change a birthday shirt that was too small and John Lewis to see the real reason why I came. This:

(as usual, click on the image to make it bigger)

On the top floor of John Lewis, if you can make your way through the tourist tat in the Official Olympic Store, there’s a viewing room, complete with seats and an info board. It’s really quite impressive, and, I think in retrospect, was worth the journey just to see history in action. You can also  see it from the end of one of Westfield’s streets, but this is the best view.

So – is it a threat to Greenwich? Absolutely no way – this is for a different kind of shopping – mass-market consumer basics type stuff that has a place – we all shop in chains from time to time – but is the exact opposite of the kind of one-off, inventive quirkiness that Greenwich offers.

I’d call it a serious threat to Stratford’s old shopping centre and market, by the theatre, but still hold out hope in that with all those thousands and thousands of people I saw on Saturday I didn’t see thousands and thousands of carrier bags. Stratford is still a town that needs shops for ‘real’ people who don’t do their weekly food shop at M&S and who still need to buy a plastic bucket or a clothes airer…

What we should see it as, however, is a warning – of what Greenwich could turn into if we were ever stupid enough to throw away our Unique Selling Point and buy into the chain-store-clonery that has blighted most of Britain’s towns. I met a woman at an event last night who, although she lives in Pimlico, went into raptures about shopping in Greenwich – something she does on a regular basis – because she can get really unusual stuff she couldn’t hope to find elsewhere.

We still have a real difference. Here’s to keeping it that way.

Beasconsfield Terrace (2)

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

Westcombe folks will remember last week’s foray into the shops that have lined the little terrace to the South of Westcombe Park Station for the past hundred-odd years. I gaily ransacked Neil Rhind’s splendid History of Blackheath and Environs II for the information, but noticed that there wasn’t anything in the book on the teeny-tiny Station Crescent for me to plunder.

But ask and ye shall receive. I am delighted to be able to give you, in Neil’s own words, the little bit that got missed out from the book all those years ago.

Neil says:

“Never sure why I left out Station Road, Westcombe Park from Volume II. Probably exhaustion. After all, it ran to nigh on 500 pages, all typewriter clack-clack-clack and not word-processed in those days.
Herewith a quick catch up:

Station Road, sometimes Station Crescent and sometimes Beaconsfield Terrace. All on north-west side. More bootmakers than you could shake a stick at.

No 1: 1890. A grocery shop, run by Edward Pogson Barker and always known as Barker’s Stores until 1940

No 2: 1890. Greengrocery for ever. Started by John Cooper, then Zaccheus Harris, a widower, but Zaccheus and Elsie up until the late 1930s.

No 3: All sorts from 1891, starting as an estate agency, then a bakery and a builders’ merchants and from 1896 to 1940 toys, fancy goods, stationery and tobacco products sold by Joseph Allison Sole, then his widow, Isobel.

No 4: From1891 William James Jones, a bootmaker, then the Carter family in the same trade, but from 1905 oilman, hardware shop, and decorator, in the ownership and management of James Caleb Banks, or Caleb James Banks, or Cyril James Banks. Until at least the last (1939-1945) war.

A tiny shop nearer the station was variously a coal merchant’s order office, estate agency, builder, sweet shop, saddler, milliner, bootmakers, draper, ladies outfitter and an upholstery works, and a florist’s stall on the side.

Opposite, a small slip of a shop best known in recent years as the local Post Office (since 1915, closed a few years back) but a dozen or more trades from floristry to yet more bootmaking over the years.”

So, there you have it. Sadly there aren’t any current plans to reprint Volume II in its current form, but keep buying Volume I and Neil’s other book on the bit in the middle, The Heath and we might just show the publishers enough interest to get a revised reprint. In the meanwhile there are some rather fabulous new books to look out for, which I’m itching to get my sticky paws on.

In time for Christmas, we can expect the release of Neil’s latest work, a detailed history of the Paragon and South Row, as well as a couple of ‘fat pamphlets’ he’s been working on with some exciting other historians, one on the Pagoda & Montague House, the other on a rather amazing panorama that was rediscovered a few years ago. More on that at another date.

A History of Blackheath and Environs Volume III is scheduled for Spring.


BTW – apologies to Neil for filing him under ‘mostly’ accurate history. Being a Phantom of errors I simply do not have a section for ‘accurate’ history…

Beaconsfield Terrace (1)

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Christine asks:
Can anyone name all the shops from the sweet shop at the top of the steps – the first shop as you cross over from top of Halstow road where it crosses Humber Road? Then there was a super chemist, called Green’s; a greengrocers; some other shops  that I cannot recall; then, as the road turned down towards the station approach and down the steps, there was a food store that sold everything. Over the other side of station approach was the post office.  Does anyone have the history of all the shops around the Westcombe Park station area from Victorian times?

The Phantom replies:

Well, of course much of it is down to when in their history you want to know about them – in late Victorian times,  in the 20s/30s/ 40s/ 50s etc. Recently they have changed both purpose and owners far more regularly than they would have done years ago, but before the age of the supermarket, I guess the local greengrocer /chemist /sweetmonger would have stayed in the same generation for years.

I have always been rather fond of this little arcade. It doesn’t manage the same yumminess (or range) as the Royal Hill Lovelies, but then the demographic isn’t the same – and it’s closer to both the big sheds over on the Peninsula and the Blackheath Standard. But it still gets a fair bit of footfall, being so close to the station and some of the shops have been there for years.

I particularly like that it’s retained, somehow, some of the more ephemeral parts of its decoration – the post office may have gone but the pillar box is still there and if you look under your feet outside the mini mart, there are still the diamond-pattern tiles and, further up, the original York stone slab-paving.

I can’t name the shops recently, as they’ve changed quite a bit (and continue to change – I notice the old Animation Studio is being turned into a rather upmarket-looking florist; good news since that place has been inactive for years) but, thanks to the superb (and disgracefully out of print) definitive volume about the area by Neil Rhind, Blackheath Village and Environs II (the first one, about Blackheath Village itself, is back in print, but the equally-exhaustive second book, which takes in our side of the heath as well as the Cator estate and the more Kidbrooke-y side (wanna know who lived in your house? Chances are that if you’re in his catchment area Mr Rhind will tell you in this book) has never been reprinted.

I can’t think why – there must be more people in the wide area covered by book two who are potential customers – but there is usually a copy in the library (if it hasn’t been closed…) and occasionally they bowl up second-hand (talking of which, I was pleased to see a new secondhand bookshop in the centre of Greenwich – a dedicated Oxfam bookshop on College Approach. It’s pricey but these days second hand books tend to fall into two categories – expensive, and can’t-give-it-away.)

Rhind tells me that ‘Beaconsfield Terrace, ‘ built around the 1890s (it’s at the bottom of Beaconsfield road in case you’re wondering) is, along with the shops on Westcombe Hill, were the only commercial premises allowed on the Westcombe Park Estate. And when you come to think of it, yes, it does seem a bit odd – not a corner shop, not a pub, or at least until you get to the Royal Standard. Presumably it was some sort of temperance-thing.

Neil Rhind accepts that the shops changed a lot over the years, but reckons there’s a strong pattern. At Number 103, your sweet shop, Christine, was, in the 1920s, E. Hartley and Co. but between 1909 and the late 1920s is was Luffman & Peacock (a fabulous name for a confectioners.) If memory serves it’s a private house these days.

105 was a butchers, which is kind of chilling given that it’s now the local vetinery surgery and 107, now flats, a grocer and branch post office.  Its original owner was the equally-delightfully-named Edward Pogson Barker, but in the 1920s it became your chemist, Christine, run by John Codnor Wilson.

Number 109 started out as a greengrocers, became a milliner’s (we just don’t get hat shops round these parts any more…) and from the first year of the Great War until the middle of WWII was Jarvis the bootmaker. Am I right in thinking that the sports therapy place is there now?

Neil Rhind tells me that number 111 has been a lot of things – a stationer’s, tailor, printer and grocers, and in the 1930s was Humber Radio (presumably selling wirelesses rather than broadcasting…) 113 was a dairy – first owned by Griffith Robert Hughes, becoming a branch of Edward and Sons and finally being subsumed into United Dairies. It’s now a hairdressers.

What I can’t find is any reference to the shops that turn the corner into Westcombe Crescent going down towards the station. Am I missing something, Neil?


RIP Greenwich Farmers Market

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

So, there I was, eco bags in spectral paw, standing puzzled outside some very locked gates this morning. No signs, no notice, no discreet email – if not to me to someone, would have been useful.

I guess it was inevitable, really. A market needs two things and they need each other. One, enough stalls and produce to tempt hordes of people to visit, and two, enough people to tempt hordes of stalls to decamp there in the first place.

Greenwich farmers market at its very outset didn’t really have enough stalls to make it work, and many of them were ‘specialist’ – I mean a Phantom only has use for so many logs impregnated with fungal spores, and probably won’t need more than one cupcake stall per trip.

People did turn up that first morning, but the size of that day’s market probably meant punters decided then and there they’d only prefer this one to Blackheath if they actually lived in East Greenwich or West Charlton – it just wasn’t exciting enough to bring visitors from further afield. From then on, it seemed to go on a downward spiral and though much of the produce was good (I’ll mourn the Kentish cheddar, personally) there just wasn’t enough choice to make people travel any kind of distance to visit specially, and unlike Blackheath, which is surrounded by the village and shops, you had to make a special trip to Halstow School, with only the cafe in the park as a companion-destination.

And of course the stallholders travel miles too (which has always bothered me – surely the idea of local produce is that your tomatoes come from down the road, not the Isle of Wight…) One of the meat guys travelled god-knows-how-many food miles from Up North to be there – and to not sell enough sausages/joints/pies to cover his petrol can’t have endeared him to the project, much as his bacon sandwiches will be missed.

I’ve heard that stall hire on farmers markets in general is too much for other, smaller traders to take an initial punt and perhaps this also contributed to this one’s demise. Perhaps Saturdays are already popular with other, more established markets and stallholders already had pitches elsewhere. Perhaps once a week was too often.  Perhaps it was too far East and should have been somewhere just off Traf Road – Meridian School, for example.  Or there is that other ‘perhaps’ – perhaps East Greenwich just plain isn’t posh enough to support non-supermarket shopping.

I once asked the cheese lady how it was going and inadvertently launched a tirade of fury which seemed to be aimed at me personally for not forcibly dragging my neighbours along every week. And she might have a point.

They built it. We didn’t come.


East Greenwich Farmers Market

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

I’ve been enjoying the EGFM every Saturday morning – they’ve been going for a month now, and it’s beginning to bed-down a bit. Not all the stalls are there all the time, which means I’ve missed out a couple of times on things I’d hoped to get, but hopefully as the year moves on,  more stalls will open and more people discover it (it’s in Halstow Road School playground, folks – you can get to it either from Halstow or Kemsing Roads )it will begin to really take off. My favourite stall by a long chalk is the Kentish Cheddar – straight from cow to churn (or however they make it) and fabulously strong stuff – pricey but well worth it.

Chris from RGFM tells me they’re looking to expand – and they’re looking for local artisans and foodies to take a stall or two.

I confess I don’t know much about running any kind of stall so I asked a few basics.

Produce does actually have to be locally sourced – but as far as I can tell ‘local’ is a relative concept – there’s a guy selling Isle of Wight garlic for starters (the stuff in jars is v. good.) Chris was a bit coy about revealing the trade secrets of rules and regs but says you can get a pack from City and Country Farmers Markets at

Stalls cost between £25 and £40. You can sell your allotment surplus, but check that council byelaws allow it – perhaps you can do it for your favourite charity if you’re not allowed to sell-on for ‘profit.’ Also, depending on what you want to produce the Food Safety department of the council might want to inspect your premises, and City and Country Farmers Markets might also want to check it out.

I would love to see more stalls – the more the merrier. Plants, fish, meats, cheese, veg, sweeties, pies, bring ‘em on. Just no more cupcakes, eh, we have more than enough already and I’m trying to lose weight.