What the locals really think of Ashbourne

PUBLISHED: 00:00 16 July 2018 | UPDATED: 09:37 16 July 2018

Ashbourne's Millennium Clock and The Gingerbread Shop

Ashbourne's Millennium Clock and The Gingerbread Shop

Ashley Franklin Photography

Meet the traders who make stopping off to shop, browse and eat here an absolute delight

Walk through Ashbourne’s historic main thoroughfare from St Oswald’s Church to the Memorial Gardens and you will find handsome buildings dating from the 16th through to the 19th centuries. At the same time take in the antiques quarter, fashion houses, foodie stores, cafés, artisan outlets, giftware and gallery shops. That stroll alone confirms that Ashbourne is not only a great place to live, it’s also one of the county’s main visitor attractions.

Yvonne Bullock-Walters of fashion shop Banjo says that after 23 years in Ashbourne, she still regards the town as having ‘unfulfilled potential.’ While Thomas Ertman who has taken over the deli/café Cheddar Gorge comments: ‘I’ve come from a part of North Devon where shops are closing everywhere, but here it’s buzzing and I sense a strong community spirit amongst traders.’

Indeed, community spirit alongside personal service is a mantra that rings resoundingly in the town’s retail establishments.

‘Being an independent shop, customers matter more,’ notes Louise Rose of Lou Lou’s, a leading stockist of high quality lingerie in the East Midlands and the number one UK stockist for Lise Charmel. ‘My customers become my friends,’ says Louise, another phrase I heard more than once. Helen Baker of shoe shop Stepping Stones noted: ‘Ours is a business that relies on service, fitting and quality. We like to know our customers and we get repeat business as a result.’

St John Street, Ashbourne with its bunting and the old Green Man Hotel signSt John Street, Ashbourne with its bunting and the old Green Man Hotel sign

Andrea Field of furniture and giftware shop Elliots reminds me: ‘Independent means individual, and individual shops mean individual attention.’

For Gillian Stone of fashion store SACS, resident on Dig Street for 35 years, independent shops are Ashbourne’s lifeblood: ‘Shoppers are more discerning these days and demand a point of difference when they shop. Good quality products and great service are key, and Ashbourne is blessed with both. As such, independents are where I see the future.’

Like Gillian, Yvonne of Banjo would welcome other clothes stores to create a proper fashion quarter. As Anne Wright of fashion shop Young Ideas points out: ‘We all sell different clothes which makes us complementary rather than competitive, so the more fashion shops we have, the better.’ Encouragingly, that phrase ‘complementary not competitive’ applies equally to the antique and gift shops, of which Ashbourne has many.

In Young Ideas, you find brands from international designers such as Paul Smith, Armani, Hugo Boss and Belstaff – both in their menswear department and in their womenswear store which is currently celebrating 50 years of business in the town.

Avanti on Church StreetAvanti on Church Street

In 2015 Young Ideas brought renewed life to the heart of the town when the store moved into the dormant Green Man Hotel. In that year it saw a phenomenal 40 per cent increase in trade and since then owner Anne Wright says the business has gone from strength to strength, with the addition of a first floor area for its Designer Sale Room with ‘better designer collections than you’ll find in London.’

As well as expanding the menswear department, Anne has also introduced Henmores, which sells country lifestyle clothing and footwear for men and women stocking brands such as Joules, Crew, Schoffel, Dubarry and Barbour.

The transformation of the rest of the Green Man building has been amazing, and continues with the opening in early autumn of a gastro pub – with dedicated drinking area. As for the food, Peter and Laura Dale, who ran Ashbourne’s award-winning restaurant The Dining Room, acted as food consultants and ‘will be dishing up pub food of the highest quality,’ says Peter.

Currently, Peter is cooking up a storm at Jack Rabbits in the Green Man courtyard. Opened in 2016, it’s a firm part of the town’s growing café culture. In a light, airy, contemporary space, it serves fresh, healthy food with substantial vegetarian options, locally sourced, with lots of bakery items and everything made on the premises.

St John Street, Ashbourne with its buntingSt John Street, Ashbourne with its bunting

Where Peter’s Dining Room used to be on St John Street there is now the Artisan Café Bar & Bottle Shop, a contemporary continental-style café which has been gathering favourable notices for its quality teas, coffees and cake as well as cask ales, craft keg beers, artisan gins and fine wines. Then at the other end of town, the Gin Gaf offers ‘a spectacular selection of unique bottled gins from all over the world.’ Also adding to the local café culture are: the Courtyard Café; the traditionally styled Dillons Tea House & Café which has just expanded upstairs; the recently re-opened Chimes coffee shop; and The Tunnel, proclaimed as ‘Derbyshire’s smallest café’ with three tables, though there are extra tables outside if it is dry.

Ashbourne is still home to A L Hulme, Derbyshire’s only remaining independent shop selling fish, game and poultry which has been in the town since 1924, when it was an open-fronted shop with a roller blind. Mick Hulme says that greater attention to health has kept fish sales vibrant and that now Marcus Pollard has joined the team, ‘his experience as a chef enables him to advise on cooking methods for all our produce, especially exotic fish.’

The Market Place in Ashbourne is now home to Derbyshire’s only crêperie, Au Citron, which was opened six months ago by local woman Sally Reston. Set in an elegant and airy space, it is delightfully authentic: I savoured a delicious egg, cheese, bacon, red onion and crème fraiche galette while sipping Breton cider in a traditional cup – a bolée – and enjoying the sound of Django Rheinhardt-style jazz guitar. Next time I’ll wear a beret.

Next door but one is Bramhalls café and delicatessen. As Tracey Bramhall says, ‘What you eat in the café, you can buy in the deli.’ Fascinatingly, there is high demand for its cheese wedding cakes which are increasingly being chosen as an alternative to iced ones.

Jack RabbitsJack Rabbits

At Cheddar Gorge on Dig Street new owner Thomas Ertman continues to develop the deli & café side to his business. Currently he is enthusing about the wide selection of cheeses, freshly baked cakes, pies, sandwiches, salads and an espresso machine serving Monmouth Coffee from London – one of the most revered names in British coffee. Thomas has refurbished the interior and, having created a small café downstairs, is set to provide a larger space upstairs for the many keen to sample the great baked goods that they can also buy.

A business that expanded last year was the popular jewellers Avanti, who moved from their cosy Dig Street shop to occupy the coveted site of the old Corner House store at the junction of Dig Street and Church Street. This 18th century Grade II listed building has been given elegant new life, and this independent family business has advanced again through the purchase of a state-of-the-art 3D printer to improve the speed and intricacy of their exclusive jewellery designs and bespoke service. As owner Alan Matkin explains: ‘Giving our customers a special bespoke journey is of great importance and it offers incredible fine detailed resins for customers to try on before the jewellery is made.’ Alan adds that, ‘Technology goes hand in hand with our goldsmiths’ traditional bench skills for the finishing touches.’

Ashbourne is blessed with another distinctive jewellers in C W Sellors, the UK’s leading manufacturer of British gemstone jewellery and three times winner of the Most Innovative use of Gemstones award from International Jewellery London & the Gemmological Association of Great Britain.

‘The design and manufacture of jewellery is like an art form for us,’ declares Digital Marketing Executive Steve Ashby. While its jewellery shop will always be a fixture in Ashbourne – ‘our customers are so loyal, kind and supportive,’ says Steve – in about two years’ time Sellors’ workshop will expand into the Jewellery Design Centre of Excellence at Carsington Water. As Steve points out: ‘Our hope is that this will become a Mecca in the world of jewellery where visitors can see and experience our craft.’

Craftsmanship of various kinds can be experienced every second Sunday of the month at the Artisan Market which has been a popular innovation and helped encourage retailers to open on a Sunday. However, Ashbourne still has a problem with variable opening times during the rest of the week – for example, if you’re in search of antiques it’s recommended you time your visit for a Thursday, Friday or Saturday to be sure all the shops are open.

Trading is always brisk come the Ashbourne Festival which runs from 22nd June to 8th July with a varied programme of music, talks, comedy, poetry, theatre and art. Now in its 20th year, the Festival is, according to director Tim Challans ‘volunteer-run but professionally-staged.’ Although it attracts household names – this year’s line-up includes Simon Armitage, Evelyn Glennie, Blue Planet cameraman Doug Allan and folk band The Unthanks – it still manages to stay local in terms of performance and participation. Its free weekend Streetfest event on 23rd and 24th June – now with Foodfest and a new Festival of the Artisan (21st to 23rd) – attracts major international street artists. As Tim points out: ‘We are part of the street theatre network in Britain that includes Glastonbury and the Edinburgh Festival. Our reputation is so good that this year, when Glastonbury is not on, artists are travelling to England just to perform in Ashbourne.’

Tim noted that with Ashbourne expanding, national house builders have started sponsoring events, and Ashbourne’s growing population can only be good news for the retail landscape as well.

One recently established shop is Sheila Haswell’s Freedom Flowers on St John Street. Sheila specialises in flowers grown locally in Fenny Bentley and as most of her fresh flowers are kept in cold storage, her shop seems more like a stylish salon than a florist’s.

The only problem Sheila has encountered is that her windows get rather filthy as a result of through traffic and as I walked down Church Street, soaking in the sun-filled atmosphere and with colourful bunting and glorious architecture bringing a spring to my step, the moment was ruined by a massive HGV thundering past. It does, however, seem as though Ashbourne is closer than ever to gaining a by-pass.

Another thorny issue for visitors is car parking, which is reportedly too expensive and with an irksome time limit. However, address the traffic problems and Ashbourne town centre’s future looks even brighter.

It wouldn’t be fair to leave without mentioning some of the many other retail attractions that I had to save for another day. These include: department store Bennetts; Wigley’s shoe shop; Sticky Fingers which offers craft activities like painting and is also a café and gift shop; the excellent St John Street Gallery & Café; bridal shop To Love & To Cherish; Sally Montague, which has opened a salon, spa and studio in the Horse & Jockey Yard; award-winning health shop Natural Choice; Teddy Bear shop The Bear Patch; clothes shops Chic, Dare to be Different, Pretty Things and Pure Inspiration; Pachacuti with its wonderful panama hats; home and garden shop La Esquina; hardware store David Neill Mica; the Olde Sweete Shoppe; Waitrose; the Waterside Retail Park, and Ashbourne Heritage Centre. There are also charity shops and chain names in the town, but not too many. Ashbourne can certainly still vigorously promote itself as a town of independents.

As Peter Dale concludes: ‘Ashbourne has ebbed and flowed over the years but it’s largely been a vibrant town and that’s how I see it currently.’

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