A postcard from Tetbury
- Credit: Tracy Spiers
It’s a thriving market town close to the heart of HRH the Prince of Wales and it came to life thanks to the growth of the Cotswold wool trade
Tetbury boasts a rich architectural heritage, some interesting traditions including woolsack racing and has one of the tallest church spires in the UK. With Westonbirt Arboretum and Highgrove nearby, this town is a popular haunt for visitors, who enjoy the eclectic mix of unique shops as well as the plethora of places to eat, dine and explore.
• Park car next to Tetbury Goods Shed, one of the town’s ongoing success stories. Converted from a former Great Western Railway building last year, this part volunteer-run arts centre is proving to be a much-loved vibrant venue for art, music, dance and film. The Goods Shed Cinema opened this Spring and now offers an extensive range of films and live sport. Ultimately the vision is for the Shed to become a regional centre of excellence for the arts in The Cotswolds – showcasing local and visiting artists in all creative disciplines - whilst fulfilling the local need for arts and entertainment. It is an impressive place and not only pays tribute to the town’s heritage but is an outward expression of community spirit and dedication. It is also set in a beautiful location and is a great resting place for cyclists, runners, dog walkers and ramblers. We arrive too early to visit its on-site Whistle Stop Café so make a note to end our trip here.
• We walk into town via the steep but picturesque Chipping Steps. ‘Chipping’ is an old English word for market. For centuries, the area close to the steps, lined with weavers’ cottages, was where ‘Mop Fairs’ took place. It enabled the unemployed to offer their services for domestic and farming posts. We reach the impressive familiar golden coloured Elizabethan Market House, which on a Saturday is thriving with plant sellers and the like. Built in 1655, it is a fine example of a Cotswold pillared market house and still used as a meeting place and market.
• Attracted by the enormous pink meringues in the shop window of Halls Bakery, we pop in and meet Ally Lewis-Wyton, who says we’re not the only ones who have commented on the colourful display. Open every day, the bakery’s popular 24 hour fermented dough recipe is always in demand.
• Visiting Tetbury on a bright sunny day with all the flowers and outdoor floral displays looking great, we are drawn to the courtyard garden of The Ormond At Tetbury. Summer is a great time to eat outdoors and there is a plethora of restaurants, pubs and elegant places to dine here.
• Tetbury is also a magnet for antique lovers and many an hour can be spent in the town’s multitude of antiques shop. I admire the statues in the courtyard of Lorfords, Europe’s largest collection of decorative antiques.
• We enjoy a gentle stroll and discover some of Tetbury’s independent shops. We spot Teasel England which specialises in English-worn fabrics, furniture and accessories and are drawn in by the inviting colour, fresh fragrance and attractive lay-out of French Grey, where we meet manager Jackie Stead. Full of wonderful gifts, with a new extended card range, there is indeed something for everyone in this lovely shop.
• On the way to visit Tetbury Police Museum and Courtroom, I bump into former mayor, town councillor Stephen Hirst, before meeting the museum’s resident policeman, Sergeant Smith, who looks so life-like he makes me jump. In order to preserve a part of Tetbury’s heritage whilst providing a public council office, the Town Council bought the Victorian Police Station and Courtroom, which now covers over 170 years of policing history and provides an insight to local social history too. Mum puts me behind bars in a cell that isn’t occupied by prisoner Fred sleeping off a hangover! We enjoy reading the interesting notes from the mid 1800s on display, including those about a couple who were taken to Gloucester for trial for stealing a silver spoon, while others were caught sheep or turnip stealing. There’s also a fascinating collection of whistles, truncheons, handcuffs, uniforms and other police memorabilia.
• Mum is on the hunt for beef and mushroom sausages having bought some during the Woolsack Races so we visit Jesse Smith & Co butchers. I come away with a spicy scotch egg and meet Lorraine Butcher, who is often told she has an appropriate name for her workplace.
• Pop into the Highgrove Shop where there is a unique collection of organic foods and lifestyle products for the home and garden. Buy a trowel and spade keyring for my allotment-loving husband. Highgrove products take their inspiration from the gardens at Highgrove and reflect the wide-ranging interests and passions of HRH The Prince of Wales. Many of the products are created by British artisan manufacturers and craftsmen and are exclusive to Highgrove, with profits going to the Prince’s Charities Foundation. Just outside Tetbury, lies Duchy Home Farm, established by the Prince to promote the wider adoption of organic farming and food production methods and is a key supplier for many Duchy Originals products.
• Still on the subject of Highgrove, since arriving in 1990, the Prince of Wales has transformed Highgrove Gardens and it is now regarded as one of the most creatively inspired gardens of today and includes a wildflower meadow and over 30 varieties of native plants. Vegetables such as Charlotte potatoes, spring cabbage, Brussels sprouts and carrots are grown in the Kitchen Garden and many varieties of apple are grown, including very rare, virtually extinct cooking apples.
• Take note of Veloton, a popular destination for cyclists, particularly my husband Rog, the MAMIL in my house (Middle-aged man in lycra) and Greg, his cycling chum, who is responsible for keeping him in shape by setting regular challenges.
• Am attracted by a stunning colourful masterpiece in window of Otomys, a new gallery which opened in February. Nikki Finch is getting the attractive space ready for the Summer Exhibition which features international and local artists. “It’s a great place for independent businesses and the arts and antiques go well together. I am hoping the town will become a destination for art and design,” says Nikki.
• Meet Lynn Thorn, owner of Tetbury Sweets and Treats, which she opened four years ago. It is a place the young and old never tire of, bringing back memories of first trying a Rhubard and Custard or Sherbet Lemon. Tastes are brilliant for evoking memories so I buy some Dolly Mixtures and Liquorice Allsorts for my Dad.
• Take note of St Mary’s Church which dates from the late 18th century, and replaced the medieval church apart from the tower and spire, which was demolished in 1777. Considered one of the UK’s tallest spires, this Georgian Gothic masterpiece, along with the town’s many other listed buildings means Tetbury is a designated outstanding conservation area.
• Visit Tetbury Visitor Information Centre where we find out about events happening in the town.
• Walk down Gumstool Hill used for the annual woolsack races. There was once a ducking-stool or gum-stool here, used for the punishment of ‘scolds’. The woolsack races are a reminder that in the Middle Ages, Tetbury became an important market for Cotswold wool and yarn. It was then that the Tetbury Woolsack Races, when competitors carry a 60-pound sack of wool up a steep hill, were founded and are still contested annually.
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• We end our journey where we started at Tetbury Goods Shed and are rewarded with a lovely coffee at The Whistle Stop café, which has recently opened as an independent addition to this amazing facility. Meet manager Sasha Jenner and Ellie Greenway and admire the restored train carriage nearby which acts as a café and venue for arts. Artsparks run by local artists Liz Lancashire and Tam Inglis, is running a series of workshops over the summer for children aged 6-11 years.
• Before we leave we pop inside Tetbury Goods Shed and meet some of the volunteers who have helped fulfil this vision. It was a year ago since I first saw this building and it was not then officially open. Now seeing it being used as an art exhibition – notably printmaker Simon Packard and Frank Cook during the summer months – and seeing the cinema seating fitted, one can’t feel a little bit jealous of this superb amenity, set in such a gorgeous peaceful setting. Arts Centre Administrator Kathryn Limoi can’t praise the volunteer-strong community enough for pulling together to make it happen. “I am obviously every excited to be involved in this whole new project. We have a smashing group of people, and the support has been amazing. The cinema takes place every Thursday, the café is now up and running and the train carriage ensures there is an all-weather dining area. To be involved with everybody here is just fabulous.”
• On the way home we drive past the turning to Chavenage House, a wonderful Elizabethan house of mellow Cotswold stone which is a family home as well as often being used as a location for TV & film productions. Oscar winning Eddie Redmayne, Jamie Dornan, the late Warren Clarke and Aidan Turner have all filmed here. I must also mention the BBC’s remake of Poldark, the romantic saga set in 18th century Cornwall which also features Chavenage.
• To end I pay tribute to another amenity associated with Tetbury and one visited by thousands each year - Westonbirt Arboretum. I had the pleasure of working here many years ago during the busy months when the Autumn colours look their best. This is an inspiring place for people to enjoy and learn about trees, with 15,000 specimens from all over the world and it is a perfect place to relax, learn or have an adventure. With summer holidays upon us, it is worth noting that kids go free from July 24 to September 2. There are some exciting events to enjoy including a chance to see what goes on behind the scenes, and find out about the wonderful range of food and drink trees can provide. Chewing on trees sounds great fun!