Knutsford Means Business celebrates the town’s great tradition of independent traders

King Street, Knutsford

King Street, Knutsford - Credit: Archant

It’s a stylish and established town but Knutsford’s locals are happy to embrace change as well as tradition, writes Mairead

Val Bryant of Knutsford Heritage Centre

Val Bryant of Knutsford Heritage Centre - Credit: Archant

When Val Bryant and her team at Knutsford Heritage Centre were thinking about the topic for their next exhibition, inspiration struck.

‘Knutsford has a proud history of being open for business: it’s part of its culture. Our archives contain a lot of information about past independent traders, so we decided to tell their story in ‘Knutsford Means Business’ explains Val.

Many visitors to the exhibition then go on to explore what modern Knutsford has to offer and they find that there are still plenty of independent businesses: offering everything from art to gin.

One of the oldest businesses in the town is Arthur Lee Interiors, which has been in the same family since 1919. It was once home to the uncle of novelist, Elizabeth Gaskell and fans often gather here, posing for photographs. The original bill of sale for the premises is on display, showing that it cost Arthur £1,500 but he couldn’t raise the extra £1000 needed to purchase the grounds. Today, the business is run by Arthur’s great granddaughters, Vicky Wragg and Helen Dufton.

Chris Eversfield of Serenity Designs with Attitude

Chris Eversfield of Serenity Designs with Attitude - Credit: Archant

‘We love that bill of sale-it’s part of our family’s history- but we can’t help wishing that Arthur had been able to raise that extra money,’ laughs Helen who has fond childhood memories of running around the enormous building playing hide and seek.

The sisters have now expanded the business so that it offers a whole interior design package.

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‘Knutsford people like having stylish homes but we attract customers from further afield who have heard that Knutsford is a great place to find special items,’ explains Helen.

Chris Eversfield who owns Serenity Designs with Attitude with his wife, Sharon, would agree. Their tasteful art boutique which displays both world class artists and emerging talents, as well as showcasing unusual gifts, is one of the newer businesses in the town. They’ve been here only a few months but have made a huge impression.

Lee Boardman and Jennifer James of Actor Tribe

Lee Boardman and Jennifer James of Actor Tribe - Credit: Archant

‘We do have two similar businesses but our Knutsford gallery offers the best of both! Knutsford is perfect for us: it’s a lovely town, full of heritage, and the support of other business owners has been overwhelming. It is so friendly: clients like to pop in for a chat to see what’s new. It keeps me on my toes and that suits me,’ says Chris.

Tara Kirkpatrick has been working as a jeweller at Clarity Contemporary Jewellery for ten years but last year’s King Canute celebration was a highlight for her. Apparently, Knutsford was named after the Danish born Canute when he became king, a thousand years ago and, as part of the celebrations, the Danish ambassador and his wife made an official visit to the town. It was decided that some specially commissioned jewellery should be given to them as a memento.

‘I made a pair of silver cufflinks, etched with a profile of a Viking, for the Ambassador and, for his wife, a pendant with the same design but with the addition of a pair of tiny oars. They were delighted with them,’ smiles Tara.

Mrs Gaskell, King Canute and the Danish Ambassador aren’t the only famous faces to visit Knutsford. Acting Academy, Actor Tribe, is single handedly responsible for attracting many others, with stars such as Peter Kay, Suranne Jones and Paul Norton Walker giving regular master classes. Owners, Jennifer James and Lee Boardman met and married when they were both starring in Coronation Street and now combine successful acting careers with their passion for teaching.

‘We have students come to see us from all over the country; one even flies in from The Isle of Man. Some want to act and gain professional roles; others simply want to gain confidence. We know they all value our sessions but Knutsford is such a lovely place that we do have to give credit to its attractions: people just love coming here’ says Jennifer.

Knutsford seems to attract couples who want to work together and Karen and Neil Murray and Mike Parker and Debbie Dexter - who own Dexter & Jones- are no exception. Their microbar stocks 400 craft beers and over 60 artisan gins, as well as selling jars of botanicals that they have concocted themselves and which aren’t available anywhere else.

‘As Christmas approaches, we hope to put together a seasonal botanical- we’re having fun experimenting- but it’s top secret at the moment,’ smiles Mike.

Drinks can be taken home-some of them in special jars called ‘Growlers’- but many customers at Dexter & Jones choose to sit together at a traditional long table, in order to chat, all things ale and gin. Teetotal dogs are welcome to join in too: after all, Mike’s dog, Otto the pointer, was chosen as the logo for Dexter & Jones in the hope that he would be a good luck charm and, so far, he’s working his magic!

If Otto should fancy a grooming session, he can go along to the award-winning luxury Pet Retreat owned by local vet, Paul Adams and his trained stylists. Here, a menu of pamper treatments lists tempting choices such as organic blueberry facials, The Knutsford Cut or The Mere Makeover. Cats can come too but if they do, all windows have to be locked in order to prevent the client from making an escape bid!

The businesses of today may be different to the ones of yesteryear but they are continuing Knutsford’s great tradition of independent traders and, after all, today’s independent businesses are tomorrow’s heritage.