Secondhand Wonderland: A Noob’s Guide to Charity Shops, Flea Markets and Reconditioned Goods

Sometimes, New Isn’t Always A Better Option

Kodak No.2 Brownie Cartridge Hawk-Eye, Model B
Purchased by the creator of this blog for the princely sum of £5.00 from a collectors’ shop in Glossop.

I’ve never been one for profligate spending habits. I may like my gadgets but I always buy based on need rather than impulse. If for example the latest lower case third vowel related item hits the streets, there’s no way you’ll see me outside the Manchester Arndale at 4am. My reasons are twofold: one, being an early adopter before the bugs are ironed out isn’t always a good idea; and two, I like my bed too much.

My last spell of unemployment saw me rediscover the charity shops, and Ashton-under-Lyne’s flea market. This also coincided with a long term search for 35mm and 120 film cameras at rock bottom prices (some of which available for your perusal on Flickr under ‘Mancunian1001‘). Sometimes you could find some real gems if you look closely and frequently. As a consequence, charity shops have seen this potential thanks to daytime television programmes like ‘Cash in the Attic’, ‘Flog It’ and ‘Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is’. Therefore, the chances of finding a mint condition Kodak Vest Pocket camera for 50p are virtually nil.

Since the Global Economic Downturn in 2008, charity shops and secondhand shops have become a more common sight on British High Streets. In more economically depressed areas, such as my neck of the woods, they have been commonplace since the mid-1980s. Some secondhand shops are part of a franchise like Cash Converters and offer cheque cashing facilities and payday loans (I may deal with the latter two in a separate article).

Why Buy Secondhand?

Sometimes, the outfit you wish to purchase doesn’t justify great expense for a single night. The garage or workshop may not warrant a new stereo system which could be dirtied by car fumes or sawdust. It is more ecologically sound, particularly if you go through a lot of clothes in your job. Purchasing new clothes online – though a cheap option – is a less ecologically sound option owing to manufacture and transportation (before it reaches your letter box).

There is also another attractive reason to buy secondhand: VAT exemption on most items. Legally, we can take a leaf out of our ‘favourite’ tax dodgers’ books and in most cases, help a good cause in the process.

Where To Buy Secondhand Goods

Your best bet is often local charity shops, secondhand shops and flea markets. By law, all market traders and shopkeepers selling secondhand goods have to be registered by local authorities, as per Section 22 of the 1974 Consumer Credit Act. Charity Shops are exempt by means of Section 4 (Subsection 4) of the 1960 Charities Act. Market traders have to register with local authorities or private sector operators before being able to set up a stall.

eBay and Preloved are good sources, but please treat them with caution. Some retailers – charity shops as well as purveyors of secondhand goods – also have eBay shops which is a safer bet should the worst happen. Antique shops and fairs are a useful source. On antiques fairs and some flea markets, some stallholders may have shops elsewhere in the locality or online.

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How to Buy Secondhand Goods

i. Electrical Goods

Secondhand chains like Cash Converters, CEx and Cash Generator are dependable sources. All used items are reconditioned prior to sale and a given a limited warranty (often 6 months). Customers wishing to sell their items require ID, which stops stolen goods being sold. Sometimes, graded items may be sold. What this means is each item may have a slight second. For example, the stereo system might have been coated in the wrong shade of grey.

ii. Recorded Music and Video

As well as the secondhand chains mentioned earlier, local charity shops and flea markets are a good place for finding used CDs, DVDs and LPs. If you can, check CDs, DVDs and LPs for scratches (less scratches – like none ideally – the better). Local record shops are also a good source for elusive items if you’re prepared to pay more.

With a surfeit of unwanted CDs and DVDs knocking around our island, Poundland and superstore chains have started selling used releases – all of which reconditioned and – seemingly – from the early 1990s. There’s even a chain of record shops who specialise solely in secondhand music and video.

iii. Clothes

Far and away, charity shops and flea markets are your best bet for cheaper clobber. Besides the price advantage, the former allows you try on your desired outfit, or find a suitably lurid tie for the office. For fancy dress, your local charity shop is a cheaper alternative to hiring an outfit – especially if you’re modelling yourself on Tootsie for Comic Relief.

If you look carefully, there’s half a chance you may be able to find designer brands (but be quick). If you’re looking for accessories – ties, scarves, cufflinks and belts – you cannot go far wrong. I speak as the proud owner of a blue Marks and Spencer tie (worn at my last job interview!) and a blue patterned Burton tie since 2008 – from a charity shop in Lancaster.

iv. Books

A Kindle takes batteries and precious resources for its semiconductors; a new book means another set of trees lost. There are three alternatives to this: visiting your local library or the charity shop, or secondhand bookshop. Markets are also a good place for secondhand books, with some offering permanent stalls. In some areas, charity shop chains also have dedicated bookshops.

Sometimes, you could go ex-libris: public libraries offer a small selection for books for sale, hitherto part of their catalogue. Once you’ve finished reading, some stalls and bookshops will happily take your finished book, either paying you a modest price or enable you to swap it for another one, free of charge or in part-payment for a more expensive one.

v. Collectable Items

On flea markets and in charity shops, the purchase of collectable items requires quick timing and a soupçon of entrepreneurial kudos. Anathema to this is procrastination. Equally important to getting the best price – and most desirable – is an ability to remember and compare prices from elsewhere. Mug up on the Millers’ guides and classified sections of local newspapers or specialist magazines.

vi. Toys

The local charity shop or flea market stall is often a good place for hand-me-down toys. Secondhand shops dealing solely in playthings, often referred to as ‘Toy Agencies’ (don’t ask me why), are even better given their raison d’etre. With the latter, items are likely to have been checked for completeness whereas in the former, items may be sold as seen.

vii. Furniture

Increasingly, furniture sales have formed part of many a charity shop in the last decade. It is possible to get a decent suite for less than £100, either sold as seen or in reconditioned form with local delivery available. Some chains, such as the British Heart Foundation’s shops have opened furniture only outlets, such as two sizeable ones in Bradford and Rochdale.

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Where and How to Find Your Secondhand Wonderland

Stock availability in secondhand shops, charity shops and flea markets tends to vary by area. From my observations, I have noticed a variation in the types of items sold in affluent areas compared with deprived areas. Where there is heavy footfall, high disposable incomes and high student populations, bookshops and vintage boutiques tend to dominate. At the other end, secondhand shops with pawnbroking and cheque cashing facilities are legion. Therefore, if you’re looking for a good film camera (such as a 35mm SLR), you’ve more chance of finding one in Wilmslow or Holmfirth rather than Ashton-under-Lyne or Barnsley.

From personal experience, my Secondhand Wonderland was spurred by a quest for cheap and cheerful retro film photography minus the expense and hyperbole of Lomography’s approach (though still true to its principles). Therefore I became a charity shop junkie and rekindled my relationship with Ashton-under-Lyne’s flea market each Tuesday, a place which I remember from my formative years.

Secondhand Wonderland:

  • Emmaus Mossley (Longlands Mill, Queen Street, Mossley): wide range of reconditioned furniture, collectable items and recorded music. Also has a café and conveniently placed for the railway station, The Britannia Inn and The Commercial public houses.
  • Ashton-under-Lyne Flea Market: since 1981, Ashton’s flea market has offered a wide variety of used items on its open market every Tuesday.
  • The Amazing Charity Shop: or should that be four? The Amazing Charity Shop has four units along Stamford Street, Ashton-under-Lyne.
  • Willow Wood Hospice Purchase and Donate (Shepley Street, Stalybridge): situated in the old Pad bar, this is the Willow Wood Hospice’s latest addition.
  • Abacus Books (Regent Road, Altrincham): excellent secondhand bookshop just off Stamford New Road. Loveable timewarp ambience.
  • George Street Books (George Street, Glossop): a real gem! With two floors, it has a wide range of titles and subjects shoe horned into its premises. And you even help yourself to tea, coffee or a cold drink (though it would be best to return the favour by purchasing a book or two). Ideal for the market, bus stops and railway station.
  • Affleck’s Palace (Church Street/Oldham Street, Manchester): for C64 games, SLR cameras and a wide range of new items, worth a visit, though some critics say the secondhand stalls have been usurped by new stalls selling new items.
  • Empire Exchange (Newton Street, Manchester): good for secondhand books, back issues of The Beano, albums and magazines.

Before I go…

If you wish to add a few more landmarks to our Secondhand Wonderland, or have first hand experience in purchasing secondhand items (good or bad), feel free to comment.

S.V., 22 November 2012.


6 thoughts on “Secondhand Wonderland: A Noob’s Guide to Charity Shops, Flea Markets and Reconditioned Goods

Add yours

  1. I remember visiting the Flea Market every Tuesday with my Dad, during the period between me leaving school and starting my first job. I liked the second hand record stalls and found a lot of old Sparks 45’s, who I’d just got into!


    1. Hi Paul,

      That’s how I got into Ashton-under-Lyne’s Flea Market – with my Dad, whilst he was unemployed – during the mid-1980s in the school holidays, and possibly before I started school. The bookstalls and magazine back issue stalls were a favourite. In more recent times, it has, for me, been a good source for secondhand film cameras as well as books.

      In my last spell of unemployment, I used to like visiting Ashton’s Flea Market – again with my Dad (now retired). The Sunday boot sale type market is often good, and even better on the last Sunday of the month when shared with the Farmers’ Market.

      Bye for now,



  2. Just a quick comment. I recently revoked my British Heart Foundation boycott now they have more or less admitted a mistake with dabbling in forced labour (workfare) and found mountains of Sega Mega drive games in the shop in Hyde. I have no doubt this will interest a few people who frequent your blog. A bit pricy for a charity shop I thought for £4.99 but they looked mint!


    1. Hi Lee,

      That’ll be the one opposite the Sue Ryder Shop on Clarendon Mall. I’ve never found console games in the charity shops I’ve been to, I’ve always seen ageing PC games for Windows ’95 and ’98 machines.

      £4.99 does seen a bit pricy for charity shop software prices, but one thing to keep in perspective is how much Gamestation used to charge – and how much specialist retailers (like charge. On their website, the average going rate for a Sega Mega Drive cartridge (UK/European version) is £9.50. Japanese carts attract higher prices. It is also worth noting that ROM cartridges don’t deteriorate as fast as floppy discs and cassettes (hence the amount of secondhand Atari 2600 carts still available for sale even now).

      Thanks to the success of antiques/collectors’ orientated daytime television programmes, charity shops have become more savvy in terms of valuations. Customers who would have not been seen dead in a charity shop a decade or two ago are visiting them. As well as squeezed incomes, the success of programmes like ‘Cash in the Attic’ has made charity shops more accessible to a wider populace. Some look tidier than a number of chain stores selling all new items!

      Bye for now,



  3. Hi Stuart

    Great article on the joys of secondhand shopping. I am actually wearing right now a former C&A t-shirt bought from a British Heart Foundation shop in either Sale or Altrincham about 6 years ago and still going strong!

    The Pavilion furniture store in Ashton is apparently a good place to find cleaned-up/refurbished reconditioned secondhand furniture, good as new.

    Best regards



    1. Hi Mark,

      That’s quite a good age for a T-Shirt. I have one dating from 1997, but the number of small holes in the garment means it only sees departmental duties (sorry, bumming about in the house or as nightwear related duties). Therefore, your T-Shirt must be 12 – 13 years old, supposing it was purchased in a UK branch of C&A. Then again it might be at least 8 years old if purchased in one of its mainland Europe stores.

      I didn’t know that the furniture at The Pavilion Furniture Store was refurbished. Each time I called, I always thought they sold new items, often end-of-line or slight second stock. My main reason for visiting’s often for seeing if I can find any trace of its past use as a cinema or bingo hall!

      Bye for now,



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