Crystal Palace clearly has a lot going for it; a village atmosphere within easy reach of the metropolis, good sized housing stock, plenty of parks, a plethora of cafés, bars and restaurants and the tell tale sign of a vibrant neighbourhood; lots of independent shops and boutiques. Lawrence Roullier White spends a Saturday shopping in Crystal Palace.
The energetic should do as I do and walk along Cox’s Walk from Dulwich Common through Sydenham Hill Woods to Sydenham Hill arriving by the Dulwich Woodhouse from which Crystal Palace is just a further 20 minute walk. Taking this route for part of the way you will be following the old Victoria to Crystal Palace Line along the old train track, you will even see flint on the ground and an old tunnel, now home to a colony of bats, just below the bridge where Pissarro painted his view of the long gone Lordship Lane Station.
This was the line that carried tens of thousands of sightseers to the Crystal Palace’s new home in Norwood. If you decide to travel by train (a short distance from London Bridge and a mere 10 minutes from East Dulwich) when you leave the station you get a feel of what those back-in-the-day day-trippers must have felt, when you are confronted by the ghostly footprint of the surviving massive masonry foundations of what was a wonder of the modern world.
The Crystal Palace Triangle is just that, a triangle, so it is very easy to shop without getting lost or, more importantly; miss anything. Westow Hill and Westow Street have shops on both sides, so the easiest way to take in everything is to select a corner and walk all the way round, retracing your steps on the opposite side of the road on the way back. I suggest this method as the traffic is quite heavy and you want to avoid darting in and out of it.
Crystal Palace Antique Warehouse on Jasper Road, just of Westow Hill is four floors crammed with ever changing period pieces. From the basement lined with mid-century classics, a ground floor of Edwardian and Victorian grandeur and eclectic collections of curios and covetables on the upper levels, this store has one of one the best selections of antiques in South London. I fell in love with this Illum Wikkelso ebonised rocker for £595 and a very well priced brass four-poster bed at £425.
Good Taste is worth a visit to the area on its own, this destination-store for carefully selected wines, ales, cheeses and cured meats is a treat and a delight. Were I not currently eschewing chewing ‘all things dairy and once hairy’ I would have been in cow and pig heaven. The friendly staff offer you tastes as soon as you enter, in a happy no-pressure manner, and purchases are packed in bags with provenance cards informing you about the produce. Tunworth Soft Cheese and Sublime Stout caught my eye. I urge you to pop along and support this splendid local store, visionary retail like this should be encouraged.
Do South at the corner of Westow Street is a fabulous fusion of design led home accessories and furniture. Brightly coloured upholstered chairs and sofas mingle with African artefacts, contemporary design classics and mid-century marvels, all carefully curated with a professional eye within a gallery setting. These African raffia giraffes(£55) could not fail to brighten up a corner in any home. Oh dear do I feel another collection coming along?
Almost opposite is something you hardly see any more in South London, an old-fashioned second hand store. The superbly named Lawrence’s has a shifting supply of beloved non-antique furniture, perfect if you want a craft table or some spare back-up emergency seating.
Piast, the highly polished superior Polish deli, has a window packed with organic Russian Lumberjack Cakes – ‘The King of all Cakes’ – they make wonderful host/ess gifts starting at just £5.99. Inside you will find a wonderful selection of food products including Polish bread and gourmet ready meals, including Bigos Polish stew.
Gorgeously displayed Smash Bang Wollap is home to many elegant brands, including a personal favourite of mine; Le Compagnie de Provence. It is wonderful to have a local stockist right on our doorstep. I was also taken with these Dalit spices (£25), the perfect gift for any foodie friend.
Tucked down a side road is one of London’s best kept secret, the Haynes Lane Collector’s Market is a warren of vintage stalls with books and prints, clothes and accessories, ceramics and glass. The centre is open on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Back over the road the joyously named Glitter and Twisted is crammed with the kind of camp kitschery the splendor of which I have not seen since the demise of Little Ricky’s, a favourite store of mine which stood until the late 1980’s on New York’s Lower Eastside. Blue Lady fridge magnets, Star Wars Coasters and some seriously funny greeting cards are just some of the tempting treasures along with a stunning selection of retro toys and games. The store is also a great source for children’s party bag stuffers. Aunty Em card £2.50.
The Bookseller Crow has an inspired selection of books. There is nothing like browsing around a bookshop, so much better than shopping online. I always walk out with a book on a subject I had no idea I was interested in or an author of whom I had never heard. I look forward to reading Karen McLeod’s In Search of the Missing Eyebrow, with the admirable first line; ‘I woke up in a foreign armpit’.
The arrival of Simon Carter last year underscores the area as an up-and-come destination. How lucky we are to be able to pick up Carter’s sensational accessories without the trouble of a trip into town. Especially handy for men like me who would rather buy a new shirt for a night out than endure an always troublesome and often unsatisfactory ironing session. I adore these Dog Door Stops, £40, made from tie silk.
Opposite, and down the hill, is one of South East London’s few garden centres, open 7 days a week, the Secret Garden Centre is a secret that should be shouted about.
Squeezed into a tiny space in the White Hart Pub, Vintage Hart is a diminutive store which belies its size. Small on square footage, it is big on style, checkout the handmade girls’ frocks made from vintage fabrics, for 1 to 5 years, from £20. Beautiful.
Wondering along Church Road is a stroll through vintage heaven; you’ll have a fine old time. Crystal Palace Jewellers deals in classic watches, Vien stocks fabulous frocks, Crazy Man Crazy if you are mad for old denim, Bambino for coffee and curios, Belle Coco for mid-century finds, D Solos for preppy apparel.