Cotswold town: Shipston-on-Stour
PUBLISHED: 10:01 08 February 2016 | UPDATED: 10:01 08 February 2016
Tracy Spiers goes in search of the unusual and eclectic, and is delighted by what she discovers in freewheeling Shipston-on-Stour
I am a fan of the quirky. I admire places and people who embrace their uniqueness. So it is with my familiar purple and blonde streaked hair I head to the spirited town of Shipston-on-Stour, which like me is small and compact. It is a while since I last visited this hard-working community and I am thrilled by what I find. This is traditional with a capital T, with family businesses dating back to the 1800’s; butchers, bakers, tailors and fishmongers, yet with the added twist of contemporary. For here you will find a gingerbread maker, a wet fish shop, a mother and daughter barber’s and a shop selling lifestyle products for the modern 21st century man.
It’s this eclectic mix of historic and modern enterprises that the town is celebrating - and not in a quiet or retiring way. Shipston it seems has found its voice. Since my last trip here, a small group of like-minded people have set up Totally Locally Shipston for the prime purpose of showcasing its wonderful unique and independent shops and businesses. Run voluntarily by three Shipston businesswomen - Louise Harvey, who owns The Richard Harvey Collection with husband Richard; Lucy Kirkman, owner of RMG Creative; and Sharon Peacock from The Bakery with the support and backing of a larger group, Totally Locally has already achieved a lot in a short timescale.
This includes publishing two newspapers; organising a Fiver Fest fortnight where shoppers were able to snap up £5 offers from shops and businesses in Shipston; running a Totally Locally Street Arts and Crafts Market in the lower half of Sheep Street and through The Bury and producing a tea towel, linen shopping bags and mugs promoting the Totally Locally Shipston brand.
“We have embraced our quirkiness and we are really showcasing what we have as opposed to being coy about it. Shipston is becoming a shopping destination, and we hope to work together to promote what the town has even more in the coming months,” admits Louise.
“We will be running three more unique Totally Locally markets in 2016 with the aim of providing a platform for small traders and entrepreneurs and creating a nice buzz in the community with talented local musicians adding some busking to the mix!. You only need to see events like the Shipston Proms, to realise just how much musical talent we have in this small community.”
Louise suggested the concept after hearing about Totally Locally, an informal yet organised and effective way of promoting a town devised by a two businessmen Up North. They shared their success for free to give other towns a chance to thrive using their model. However they suggested a couple of rules - that all meetings are held in a pub and everyone has to be nice! A way of working Shipston was happy to adopt.
Up until recent weeks the group met in The George. But at the end of November, the doors of this contemporary coaching house based in a Grade II listed building shut. It is now undergoing a million pound refurbishment which includes a refit of all 15 bedrooms and a redesign of the bar and restaurant area. Locals will have to wait until Easter to see the results.
Another exciting project on the horizon is the proposed new restaurant in Market Place which will bring life to a building left empty for the past three years. Work is due to start in January.
Directly next door to the proposed new eating place is one of Shipston’s popular haunts, Taste of the Country. This has just had a stunning new facelift.
It was inviting before, but now with its stylish new interior, hand-painted signage which fits the shop’s homemade quality; dedicated patisserie cabinet - offering homemade truffles and gateaux; open cheese counter and on-the-go salad box option, it is one of Shipston’s culinary gems. It’s here one will find the most delicious dark chocolate brownie which won two gold stars in the National Great Taste Awards and the shop’s speciality gingerbread, which one can buy in the National History Museum.
“We wanted to create a modern look that was very clean and fresh but kept the feel of an old-fashioned grocers where it is very much customer service led, and cheese and meats are cut for you. Over half our products are made in our kitchens four miles away and the rest comes from local producers,” explains shop general manager Mandy Lane.
In the coming weeks and months more people will be moving into Shipston due to the building of a new housing estate nearby. They have a great community awaiting them. There is a healthy mix of long-standing family businesses in Shipston; Sheldon’s Wine Cellars set up in 1842; 107 year old E. H. Spencer, specialising in traditional country wear, mens, ladies and children’s footwear;
The Richard Harvey Collection, originally set up by Richard’s parents in the 70’s, which has fabulous home furniture and accessories in showrooms which extend into a former Baptist Chapel; and Time in Hand, established over 35 years ago as a workshop and showroom, selling and restoring fine clocks, timepieces and barometers. But there are also new businesses bringing fresh life to the town. In the past few years Shipston has welcomed Bower Willis Designs, a husband and wife team of bespoke quality kitchens, and, M21, a lifestyle shop for men (without the gadgets and gismos!), owned by husband and wife team Karl and Sharon Peacock, who also own The Bakery, now opened 10 years.
“I was born and brought up in Shipston and moved back 10 years ago when we had the opportunity to become our own bosses in buying The Bakery. It gave us the chance to get out of the corporate spin and we wanted to be somewhere with community spirit. Now we have opened this new shop which is offering a different concept without the gismos and gadgets,” says Sharon.
“I believe we need a good mix of the traditional and the new to ensure our town survives. We do have everything here; there is no need to go to Stratford. Everything is easy to get to - the doctors, the dentists - and there is hardly any traffic in Shipston and it is a safe place to bring up our little girl.”
An example of a new business complimenting one of Shipston’s oldest businesses is Lord & Lady Food Company owned by Elisa and Jon Shepstone, who are based at Sheldon’s Wine Cellars and serve many a Sheldon wine as part of their dining experience. Well-known for their gourmet street food, the Shepstones use high end products from local companies to ensure their customers get the best. One of their popular nights is Burger Thursday where their Cheeky Pig, Mucky Burger and Mucky Burger Bad Boy are favourites!
“We absolutely fell in love with Shipston. It’s quirky and you meet people from all different backgrounds, different ages and that is what I love about it,” admits Elisa.
In 2017 Sheldon’s will celebrate its 175th birthday and director Pete Creek is hoping many events will be planned throughout that year to mark the milestone. For 2016 he hopes to redevelop the cellar to make it into a functions venue and to continue monthly tasting sessions customers enjoy.
“We have recently introduced a new fine wine area and have started making our own Sheldon’s white wine and red wine in aid of Shipston House Nursing, so that for every bottle sold, 25p goes to them. It is something we will extend from 2016 and beyond,” explains Pete.
I am not alone in falling for the friendly charm of Shipston-on-Stour which has a fossilised ammonite built into an outside wall near the library; beautiful architecture and historic alleyways. I pop into the London House Antiques, a treasure trove of vintage memorabilia, books and everything one could possibly find in a granny’s attic. Only a few days ago a celebrity I listened to as a teenager was like me, browsing to uncover a precious find.
“Former Radio DJ Mike Reid was here last week. He was a lovely chap and went away with a few Rupert Bear annuals,’ recalls owner Kevin Bennington.
“Kate Winslet has been in on occasion and another time I noticed a Jag pull up outside. I went and had a chat to the owner and it was (Sir) Patrick Stewart who was Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
Kevin’s shop which he has run for the past 16 years has not just attracted the more well-known of our society; it has attracted the eyes of the press from across the globe.
“I received this glossy magazine in the post called RSVP, it features our shop with lovely photos but I can’t read it because it is Japanese!” he jokes.
“We suit Shipston because we are a bit odd, a bit different. I used to be a fisherman, now I catch old pots and pans. You have to be a hunter to be a fisherman but that hunting instinct - looking for something - is within us all and there is plenty to hunt for here.”
Kevin is right on many counts. His shop is indeed a great place to start that hunt. But after digging out a Disney film history book for my eldest daughter, I extend my hunt to the rest of Shipston and go home with a Santa onesie (don’t ask), an Elf hat, a space DVD, a rich chocolate and pecan brownie, a vintage toy, a take-away frothy cappuccino and a feeling that Shipston-on-Stour will be using its voice in a bolder, brighter way in 2016.
A few diary dates for 2016
May 30, Bank Holiday Monday: Shipston Wool Fair (10-4pm)
Rare breed sheep exhibition; shearing, spinning and felting demonstrations; stalls selling wonderful wool related crafts; live entertainment
Friday, June 17 - Saturday, July 2: Shipston Proms
Two whole weeks of unforgettable musical talent. The climax of the festival is a spectacular ‘Last Night of the Proms’ event in the High Street, which features a range of artists including the winners of the Shipston ‘Fame’ contest.
Saturday June 25 - Sunday July 10: Warwickshire Arts Trail
Many shops and spaces in Shipston will be filled with the most amazing art and design from talented artists and crafters in and around Warwickshire.
Friday July 29, Saturday 30 & Sunday 31 Fish ‘n’ Frolics Weekend at Shipston Sports Club
From Angling demonstrations, displays and free lessons for children to fabulous live music and entertainment.
Friday, September 16 - Sunday, September 18 hipston Food Festival Weekend
A three day festival celebrating local produce finishing with a Town Square food market not to be missed with stalls, demonstrations, live music & bar.