High street shopping in Long Eaton

Audrey Francis of Cheers

Audrey Francis of Cheers - Credit: Ashley Franklin

Ashley Franklin investigates the trading places of Long Eaton

Barney of Tobi Framing

Barney of Tobi Framing - Credit: Ashley Franklin

When I first wrote about Long Eaton – in 2010 – I made two discoveries. First, that most of Nottingham’s famed lace was made in the town. Second, that when lace-making collapsed in the 1920s, the vacated factories and artisan workforce paved the way for Long Eaton’s huge furniture industry.

When I last wrote about Long Eaton, not only was the town still the heartland of British upholstery but it was at last being recognised as such, with the aid of a smart logo of a Union Jack in the shape of a sofa and the words ‘UK Centre of Quality Upholstery Manufacture’.

Returning to Long Eaton, I made a further discovery: the town is not only a more diverse trading place than I thought, it’s also laced with hidden gems. Are even the townsfolk aware that Long Eaton houses one of the country’s leading Hi-Fi specialists, two of the country’s finest kitchen designers, a company that introduced boxer shorts to Britain, a unique maker of buildings for model railways, and a market leader in education laboratory equipment that operates in over 100 countries?

Most townsfolk do know of the gem that is Rowells, the oldest traditional drapery shop in Britain. Sadly, when I entered this century-old Aladdin’s cave of fabrics, flannelettes, rugs, ribbons, towels and tablecloths, the third generation owner Bob Marshall told me he was closing. ‘I’m not well and need to retire,’ said Bob, adding that he would love someone to come in and keep the shop going, but he isn’t hopeful.

Helen Hawkins of Welch the florist

Helen Hawkins of Welch the florist - Credit: Ashley Franklin

Other longstanding shops are Welch, which for 74 years has been a florist, and Swann’s menswear on Market Street which I always notice because it’s close to the eye-opening art nouveau architecture of the former Midland Counties Bank, now York Chambers, Long Eaton’s first micro pub. According to Trip Advisor, this is another ‘hidden gem’.

Many of the handsome buildings in the heart of the town were spruced up earlier this century through the Long Eaton Townscape Heritage Initiative, and it’s pleasing to see a more recent initiative – the Golden Hello scheme – whereby Erewash Borough Council funded owners of businesses moving into empty retail premises. These include All About Tours which specialises in coach trips, and the 1940s/50s clothes store Tallulah & Delilah. There are plenty of other independent shops to add variety to the shopping experience, such as the family-run Long Eaton Cycles; The Honey Pot, run by local bee farmer Tony Maggs who, along with honey, sells by-products like beeswax and soap; and Bodies-in-Motion, who sell quality dancewear, offer made-to-measure tutus and are pointe shoe specialists. There are two picture-framing shops – Clifford Anthony and Tobi Frames, run by Barney who is one of only 16 framers worldwide to gain the GCF Advanced Accreditation Conservation framing qualification. ‘I like Long Eaton,’ says Barney; ‘we’ve got plenty of shops, free parking, good transport and a proactive Chamber of Trade.’

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The Chamber will be pleased to have a shop like Cheers, an oasis for home brewers offering everything from starter kits to micro-brewery systems. You can even make your own gin, vodka and whisky. As Audrey Richardson of Cheers points out, ‘In being one of the few home brew shops in the Midlands, we bring people to Long Eaton who wouldn’t ordinarily visit the town.’

Those who do visit will welcome the largely pedestrianised town centre with a wide range of stores, including staples like W H Smith, Clarks, Timpson and Burton menswear. Significantly, Long Eaton must be one of the few towns in the country which still has three banks.

Ady Giles of Timpson

Ady Giles of Timpson - Credit: Ashley Franklin

What Long Eaton also retains is its canal. I spent a restful half hour at Trent Lock, the first lock on the Erewash Canal, a popular spot for walkers, cyclists, picnickers and pub-goers – two handsome inns, The Trent Lock and Steamboat, sit alongside the Lock House Tea Rooms.

Also in the town – and now in their 36th year – are solicitors Ellis-Fermor & Negus, with a staff of over 20 offering a wide spectrum of legal advice. The fact that the company’s three other locations are also in towns ‘reflects who we are as a firm,’ says Simon Hale, director of Commercial Property. As he explains: ‘We are approachable, local solicitors with a national reach and are dedicated to building relationships with individuals and businesses in the community – and beyond. We also have staff who have been with us for a long time which has helped us establish lasting relationships with our clients and the town.’

Also in the heart of town, albeit tucked away up a quiet side street, is Tecquipment Ltd which has just celebrated 60 years as the UK’s leading provider of high quality educational equipment for engineering students, with 450 products sold to 115 countries. Having announced 15 months ago a record growth over six years which saw a 52 per cent increase in orders and a 31 per cent growth in employees, it’s little wonder the company has been shortlisted for the 2018 Midlands International Trade of the Year award.

It’s great kudos for Long Eaton that Tecquipment’s Managing Director Simon Woods attributes the firm’s success to ‘the quality of our people’, notably the workforce’s ‘skill and dedication’. All 90 of the staff are local.

Iain Mitchell of Iain James Furniture

Iain Mitchell of Iain James Furniture - Credit: Ashley Franklin

Even more hidden away in a redbrick building on Canal Street is another worldwide success: Sunspel. For over 80 years, this factory has produced more than half of the firm’s cotton T-shirts, vests and boxer shorts, luxury products crafted in soft, high quality materials such as Sea Island cotton. One fashion journalist given rare access to the factory was amazed to see seven women involved in making one T-shirt. ‘You couldn’t get much more handmade than that,’ he wrote.

Proof of Sunspel’s standing are five specialist stores in London, two in both Tokyo and Osaka, and one in New York’s prestigious SoHo neighbourhood. Famous clients include Daniel Craig, who wore Sunspel’s Riviera polo shirt in Casino Royale.

Another jewel in Long Eaton’s capacious crown shines out for its imagery. Photographer Matt Oliver runs Liquid Image in the town’s old Station Masters Building which has over 3,000 sq ft of space, allowing his team to photograph whole room sets. Their advertising images are classy, creative and eye-catching and they do a lot of work for high-end businesses locally, including Artistic Upholstery.

Artistic’s Managing Director Andrew Mitchell is a railway enthusiast who, together with Simon Davey, local designer and graphic artist, has created a unique business making scale models for garden railways.Andrew nicknamed Simon Mr Brunel – ‘because he can build anything’ – and after constructing a 10ft-long viaduct for Andrew’s outdoor garden railway, Brunel Models was formed. They now supply over 30 ‘easy build’ kits for enthusiasts and, in addition, offer a bespoke design and build service to customers worldwide who want specific buildings and structures to exact scales.

The company looks set to steam ahead in the world of railway modelling, not least because it’s one of the five most popular hobbies in the UK. Also Brunel has a unique selling point: their models are made from weather-proof plastics and finished with hard-wearing paint so they can be left outside all year round.

I discovered another gem as I parked outside Steven Christopher Design: beauty salon The Secret Beauty Room, part of an arcade of businesses under the name Mayfair Walk. The secret to the beauty of Steven Christopher’s high-end kitchens, according to co-owner Steve Baker is in the ‘innovative, imaginative and intelligent cutting-edge creations’ of German designers like Siematic, Next 125, Rempp, Schuller and Nobilia. This family-run business is one of many in Long Eaton to have benefited from the availability of lace factory premises. It also brings a special character to their showroom: 4,000 sq ft of space with attractive roof timbers and plenty of natural light showcasing elegant interiors, including bathrooms and bedrooms.

Steve believes his team offers ‘experience, expertise and enthusiasm’ with son Tom bringing ‘a fresh, youthful approach.’ As Steve points out: ‘We’re aware that a kitchen has become a living space – a chill area as well as a formal dining room, and we design accordingly. We’re not afraid to suggest to clients that we knock a wall down or change their windows, and they love us for it. Ultimately, it means we don’t just do nice kitchens; we make them fabulous.’

Equally eye-catching is the newly-renovated showroom of another high-end kitchen and bathroom designer, Ramsey’s, which has been shortlisted for the prestigious kbbreview Retail & Design Awards 2019 in the Kitchen Retailer of the Year category. Like Steven Christopher, owner Ramsey Dawson favours German-designed kitchens. ‘It’s all in the detail,’ says Ramsey as he showed me Wi-Fi ovens, electronically-operated kitchen doors that open at a touch, an ‘aqua clean’ toilet that washes and dries you, and a bath with mist effects. ‘We produce kitchens and bathrooms that are stunning and functional,’ says Ramsey. ‘Our designers hold the client’s hand from concept to completion,’ he adds, pointing to Ramsey’s recent Houzz award for Excellent Customer Service.

You could spectacularly furnish your entire home in Long Eaton by adding Long Eaton upholstery to the attraction of a Ramsey’s or Steven Christopher kitchen and bathroom. There’s a lot to choose from, too: the town is home to over 50 furniture or upholstery-related companies. ‘We have a passion for furniture in Long Eaton,’ declares Suzanne O’Flynn of John Sankey. ‘We produce bespoke pieces handcrafted with integrity, care and an artisan’s flourish. We’re the Savile Row of upholstery.’

Or, as Clive Kenyon-Brown of Duresta puts it: ‘Buying upholstery from Long Eaton is like buying beautiful shoes from Northampton or fine glass from Murano.’

Andrew Mitchell of Artistic Upholstery, who spearheaded the recent new branding alongside the town’s Chamber of Trade and Erewash Borough Council, tells me that the promotional drive is working as stores and showrooms in the UK and abroad are increasingly being asked for Long Eaton upholstery.

There is also a fresh, contemporary logo for the Long Eaton Guild of Furniture Manufacturers carrying the words ‘Luxury British Furniture’ – upholstery which finds its way into palaces, embassies, and the palatial homes of the rich and famous. Guild member Iain Mitchell of Iain James Furniture, one of the few remaining English cabinet makers, producing ‘quintessential classical English reproduction furniture’, points out: ‘The great thing about the Guild is that our ethos allows me to create aspirational rather than commercial furniture to which I have a genuine emotional attachment.’ Through his father Andrew running Artistic Upholstery, Iain was able to absorb himself at an early age in the nuts and bolts of the industry and, when a cabinet company using Artistic’s showroom left the building, Iain stepped in to carve his own niche in this domain of furniture which offers, in Iain’s words, ‘timeless collections identifiable through classical design and featuring delicate inlays, decorative veneers and lustrous finishes.’

John Campbell’s company PF Collections was so keen to promote the town and its new branding that the company now trades as Long Eaton Sofas. This is an extraordinary family business, in that John works alongside not only his wife Aileen but all four of their sons – Chris, Peter, Michael and Thomas.

John points to ‘our wider family’, namely their workforce. ‘They put their heart and soul into the furniture they make and proudly sign every piece,’ points out John, adding that ‘our upholstery can stand beside any luxury furniture made anywhere in the world, but at a price that most people can afford.’

Your ‘Long Eaton home’ could add a further refined flourish with a sound system from Definitive Audio, one of only a few high-end audio specialists in the UK, who also manufacture a brand of loudspeakers, Living Voice. Both businesses have clients all over the globe. The reason Kevin and Lynn Scott relocated their business in Long Eaton explains why so many other businesses choose this town: ‘It’s a perfect place,’ says Lynn. ‘There’s easy access to the M1, it’s a short drive from East Midlands Airport, there’s a direct train to St Pancras every hour – we have a lot of London clients – and an abundance of high quality Victorian mill space.’

Kevin and Lynn have used their attractive work space to great effect. ‘We can demonstrate to visitors the quality of our high performance systems in a unique environment. We have an abundance of natural light and our workshop and studio have an airy atmosphere conducive to creative thinking, innovation and crafting out new ideas,’ explains Lynn.

We need a separate article to reveal the fascinating world of audio systems which Lynn describes as ‘part art and part science’ and where they once created a rocket-shaped loudspeaker cast from solid bronze for the interior of a super-yacht.

Something that struck me as Kevin and Lynn spoke of their constant stream of visiting clients – and it’s the same with the vast furniture trade and other bespoke businesses here – is that Long Eaton could benefit from having a few quality hotels and restaurants. Lynn did, though, mention a classy new diner in town: Butcher’s Bar & Steakhouse, yet another business which has found a home in a vast Victorian mill.

In fact, driving to Definitive Audio’s premises at Stanhope House brought another discovery for me: Harrington Mill, the largest lace factory in the world when built in 1885, a four-storey, redbrick edifice which has been beautifully restored, with its huge staircase turrets giving it the appearance of a city castle. The mill is chock full of businesses, too – more hidden gems, no doubt, if I had more time to explore this extraordinary town.

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