It's the chairs you notice first; not just one or two — there must be forty of them lining the pavement on this busy stretch of road. Wicker chairs, leather sofas and wooden school seats stacked high as buses chug past just a couple of feet away. Among them a solitary white enamel bath tub squeezes in, as if making a point that's it not all about the chairs (it is mainly about the chairs though). Further back from the road, an army of wooden cabinets oversees proceedings.
Locals walk past, not batting an eyelid — they're used to the furniture explosion on the pavement. The occasional driver does a double take, as if they can't quite believe what they're seeing. Obviously they're strangers to the area.
Aladdin's Cave in Lewisham is a second hand furniture shop/salvage yard. It's been described by Drew Pritchard of TV programme Salvage Hunters as "a little snapshot of real old London." Having been intrigued by the exterior every time we've come past, we're finally having a look round inside.
Cave is the right word — it's not a light place. The main room is lined with wooden cabinets and cupboards, all manner of sizes and styles, ages and colours. They're piled up to the ceiling and leave aisles just wide enough for a single person to walk up and down. It's claustrophobic to be honest, and as we're not here to buy anything, we move swiftly on to the back of the shop.
It's a little lighter back here, the roof and walls made predominantly from tarpaulin and corrugated plastic. Cabinets and cupboards are replaced with other items. Front doors are lined up like oversized books on a bookshelf, while a three-piece suite sits opposite.
Now it's lighter, we can see a little more clearly. Chairs are suspended from the ceiling. Not just one or two — almost every spare inch of ceiling has a chair hanging from it. A quick tot up leads us to believe that there must be over 500 chairs hanging from the roof of the whole shop.
Out the back there's a garden, of sorts. Occasional patches of ground show through, but other than that it's organised salvage chaos. Second hand toilet bowls and hand basins cluster together in a pile, creating a porcelain skyline on one side of the yard. Further along, a row of chimney stacks lines the narrow walkway, opposite a selection of salvaged fireplaces.
Railings are available by the heapful. While the place isn't selective about style or taste, everything we've seen is in pretty good nick. Then there are those things that we can't even recognise. An old piece of playground? A piece of pyrotechnist equipment? An artwork abandoned to the scrapheap? Who knows — but the staff at Aladdin's Cave are clearly optimistic that someone has the space for a 6ft high multicoloured ball of metal in their life.
Alas, it's not something we have room for at Londonist Towers, so we beat a hasty retreat. We'd hoped for something a little more quirky, if we're honest — more vintage homewares or retro signs. Staff seem more than happy to let people wander round by themselves — in fact, the two members of staff we've seen have been sitting on chairs out the front smoking the whole time we've been browsing. It's pretty relaxed like that.
It's only if you look at the place from across the road that you notice this eclectic gathering of figures on top of the building. We're calling it — we've found London's oddest rooftop party.
Beyond the visual cacophony, there's another reason why this building is of interest; it used to be a railway station. Perhaps not the current building, which is more of a lean-to, only held up by the sheer volume of stock within its makeshift walls. But this site used to be home to Lewisham Road station, which was on the lost Nunhead to Greenwich Park railway:
That railway may no longer be in use, but don't be alarmed if you hear trains rattling past while you're browsing — the line between Lewisham and Brockley still makes use of this stretch today.
Aladdin's Cave, 72 Loampit Hill, Lewisham, SE13 7SX.