The border village of Audlem a lively place to live
- Credit: Archant
A waterside location, a mixture of the old and new, plus a fair few festivals, makes the border village of Audlem a lively place to live
Audlem on Cheshire’s border with Shropshire is the most contemporary of traditional villages you’re likely to find. Against the trend its retail sector is growing healthily, the centre busy as it would have been a century ago, though some of the provision is very 21st century. And like their Edwardian ancestors they make their own entertainment here, but again in modern ways.
There’s plenty here that earlier ancestors would have recognised: the medieval church of St James:Jacobean Moss Hall and Grammar School, the Georgian Butter Market, and even Williams the newsagents: ‘The shop was established by my great-great-grandfather Eli Williams in 1862,’ says present owner Judy Benson. It offers its customers more than magazines and newspapers, but this is not ‘the’ village shop: ‘We have cafes, three pubs, a butcher’s, hairdressers, Co-op, undertakers, Boots, Post Office, takeaways, dress shop, chippy, upholsterers, cycle-shop, deli, wholefood shop, florists...’
Judy attributes this retail richness to Audlem’s geography: ‘It’s down to our distance to the supermarkets. Nantwich is about five miles, Whitchurch around seven, Drayton six, Crewe nine. If you forget flour in your supermarket shop you won’t go back for it or wait a week.’
For a village with about 1,800 inhabitants Judy’s list is impressive, but not actually complete: ‘We’ve got three new places just opening by the Oxtail and Trotter butcher’s.’
Last year Kate Pocock and her husband, Hugh, bought what’s been a butcher’s for centuries and completely refurbished it, but their plans went wider: ‘We have Pinfold’s cafe whose outdoor decking area has been busy this summer, the Painted Blue with vintage interiors, fabrics and clothes; and a pottery studio called HodgePodge. And there are two flats above, so it creates a vibrant little courtyard.’ Vibrant and vibrancy are words used frequently here.
The location appeals to the entrepreneurial and adventurous, evidence the tiny canalside George’s Pork and Poultry by bridge 79 – possibly the smallest shop in England – selling to the boaters, or bakeshop and cafe Jinja Baker that Janis Warburton and her husband opened last year. She puts it well: ‘We decided to jump off the cliff and see if we could fly.’ With a reputation for fantastic coffee and cakes they appear to be soaring.
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Unlike some villages Audlem is keen to attract ‘outsiders’: At the Lord Combermere landlord Allan Brown says their largely gluten-free menu attracts diners from far afield; by the canal Audlem Mill gift-shop has a needlecraft floor that draws customers from 40 miles away; and events run by the villagers bring both visitors and trade: ‘We try to be inclusive to other small communities around us – Hankelow, Buerton, Lightwood Green, Adderley etc,’ says Judy Benson: ‘For the events, the idea is there’s a party in Audlem so come over.’
Inclusivity extends to the organisers too, as Andrew Smith of ASET – Audlem Special Events Team – explains: ‘A lot of relative newcomers to the village have joined in with fresh ideas and so the process is reinvigorated.
‘We set it up about 13 years ago. Five or six of us got together with a view to putting a concert on. We did a proms-in-the-park-style concert, then decided to revive the Audlem Transport Festival done as a one-off a couple of years previously.’ The 2013 event brought in 300 vintage and classic vehicles and 4000 visitors.
In 2009 a festival for historic narrowboats was added, now coinciding with the transport event. Peter Silvester, one of the organisers, says: ‘It has been so successful we’re thinking of making it a two-day thing – people stay on anyway. This year we’d 38 boats, working boats built between 1880 and 1960, which makes it the second biggest of its kind in the country.’
After those transport jamborees the village has the August Bank Holiday beer festival to look forward to – though this being Audlem the remit has been extended beyond ale, as publican Allan Brown explains: ‘The focus on the beers is very much local – we’ll have 30 ales from Staffs, Cheshire and Shropshire, plus 17 craft ciders and perries.’
The biggest and most complex of the Audlem festivals is, however, the one that started it all: ‘We call it a music and arts festival – there’s poetry too for instance - with professionals and amateurs taking part,’ says Peter Marshall of the organising committee: ‘It’s held on the Spring Bank holiday every year, over the three days, and we book as many different types of artist and genres of music – jazz, folk, classical... as we can.’ Stages and marquees are set up at two of the pubs, and all three churches – St James’s, the Baptist Chapel and Methodist Church – host concerts, along with other venues. In 2013 there were around 80 live acts.
If all this sounds a bit hectic then you need only stroll eastwards down the steep and winding snickelways like Stafford Street, School Lane or Vicarage Lane – to be in a quieter world. Likewise amble south along the Shropshire Union Canal towpath to view Telford’s famous 15-lock engineering feat and within 100 yards of the wharf you’re in lovely Cheshire farmland.
And then you come to the new 200-berth marina. Not too far from the recording studio. These people make Mary Portas look like Mr Micawber.