The town of Bakewell, Derbyshire
Bakewell and its environs boast beautiful countryside and a plethora of enticing shops. At the height of the summer Ashley Franklin visits the capital of the Peak District and its satellite villages
Say Bakewell and the name Pudding follows, which is ironic given that the town’s name has nothing to do with baking: its Domesday name Badequella means Bath-well. The further irony is that in spite of a settlement growing up around mineral water springs, Bakewell failed to develop as a spa town.
However, Bakewell has successfully developed as a bustling market town – it has had to earn its title of ‘Capital of the Peak’ – and is a good deal more than the place to go to buy its famous ‘accidental tart’.
Unlike other market towns, Bakewell’s market is thriving. It may never match Chesterfield’s three-day-aweek market with its 250 stalls but Bakewell’s Monday market, which has 162 stalls when full (which is often), may be the biggest small town market in the country. Summer tourism is key: Market Manager Robert Wilson reveals that outside of Market Day, three to four coaches stop off in the town; on Monday, there can be over 25. On the sunny August Monday when I visited, the market was heaving – not only with people but also produce, and a wide variety, too. Alongside the traditional food, flower and clothes stalls, you’ll find the delightfully-named Tricklebank & Roses, where Amanda Glenn sells a wide selection of willow baskets. Amanda has been trading only since Christmas and loves the market for its ‘convivial atmosphere’ – and its consistency: ‘even when it’s winter and the weather is poor, we’re busy,’ she points out.
Another unique stall is Simply Cocoa, where Karen Hunnisett sells her hand-made chocolates ranging from Almond, Apricot and Pistachio to Sicilian Lemon, and even Chilli. Also exclusive is Noon Gifts & Cards where Sam Noon sells ethnic handicrafts from around the world. Amidst the paper mobiles, incense sticks and recycled wooden boxes, there’s a surprise and a smile to see elephant dung paper. Don’t worry: it’s odourless.
Dorothy Hudson has been selling haberdashery for 15 years and says of the four markets she trades at, Bakewell is the best. It’s so popular with traders that over 30 stallholders are on a waiting list. There is also a farmers’ market held in the Agricultural Centre every last Saturday of the month.
Most of the shops adjacent to the market seemed to be doing a brisk trade, not least Wee Dram, Derbyshire’s only ‘purveyors of specialist whiskies’. Their catalogue lists over 600 from virtually every distillery in the world. You can spend as little as �18.95 on a Heaven Hill bourbon or, if you want to taste scotch heaven itself, you’ll need �910 for a 1950 Speymalt from Macallan. Tasting evenings are held once a month.
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Walking away from the market area to discover the wider Bakewell, I did wonder if the recent closure of its Bennetts store and The Cook Shop, virtually in the same week, was symptomatic of a general downturn. Not so. Most Bakewell retailers I met spoke of encouragingly steady trade, and there is a healthy array of independent outlets which you would hope to find in a market town. ‘It’s a good, eclectic mix here,’ confirms Keith How who, along with wife Sue, is celebrating the 25th anniversary of their Bakewell Bookshop which itself has specialist touches like OS maps, a large ornithology section, Peak walking/visitor guides and blues, World, New Age and rock music CDs, even vinyl. There is also The Bakewell Music Shop selling a wide range of instruments.
Take your time discovering Bakewell’s retail treats as there are several nook and cranny discoveries, like Diamond Court which houses Treeline, an art gallery and craft shop which doubles as a diner.
Although country clothes outfitters Brocklehursts has long been a familiar presence on Bridge Street in the heart of the town, you’ll need to seek out The Beeches just off Matlock Street to= discover its new country sports showroom, selling everything from state-of-the-art waterproofs and fleeces to traditional shooting suits for both ladies and gentlemen. It’s hard to believe this family business started trading in the early 1960s when John Brocklehurst sold his wares from the back of a Land Rover at agricultural shows. It now boasts proudly of being the home of ‘the best country clothing in the country’. Head Tailor of 35 years John Large sports a tell-tale tape measure around his neck: this is an outfitters that still measures inside legs – ‘and in inches’ says John, even though he has to order his cloth in metres. ‘Once you’ve had tailored clothes,’ says John, ‘you feel so good in them, you want nothing else.’
For ladies’ wear, Bakewell houses JJ Designer Collections, the cleverly-named Miss Behave, and Wye Accessories which has some exclusive shoe collections as well as a range of classy handbags, purses, jewellery and clothing.
Other individual outlets in Bakewell include a stamp shop and a fly fishing store and numerous gift and craft shops including Stone Art which produces hand-carved stone sculpture, and Riverside, where Hazel Crewe creates bespoke stained glass. If you’re looking for a personalised embroidered gift – a card, towel, teddy bear, baby’s bib – look up Cotton On, while collector teddy bears can be sourced at Crown English House, described as ‘an Aladdin’s Cave of exquisite gifts’. If you’re fond of jigsaws, there is a massive collection in the family-run Bakewell Toy Shop.
It’s not all gifts, crafts and clothes outlets in Bakewell. Right in the midst of these shops is a bespoke kitchen and bathroom showroom, Bakewell Interiors, run by brothers Simon and Tim Stepniak. They believe that their Bakewell location gives their business prestige. ‘We’re based in Bakewell because what we sell is in keeping with the surroundings,’ explains Tim. ‘Our bespoke, hand-made kitchens and bathrooms are very individual and very sympathetic to the quality properties in this area.’
Being located in the Capital of the Peak also works for Bakewell Antiques, a splendid shop run by Brian Hills who showed me his exclusive English furniture pieces from the 16th to 19th century, an elegant long case clock from Chatsworth, some exquisite Blue John and Crich Spar and several fine works of art. In posing for a photo, Brian stood between two superb canvases: a painting of J.C. Maynard by 19th century portraitist Philip Westcott; and one of Lady Manners, pictured giving alms to the poor, by 18th century narrative artist Edward Penny.
‘Bakewell is ideally located for us,’ states Brian. ‘Not only are we in an historic Georgian town but we’re also adjacent to Haddon Hall and Chatsworth House. Thus our ncustomers always love visiting us.’
The rural setting is also a boon for Vivienne Milburn, an antiques and fine art auctioneer and valuer with 20 years worth of international and provincial saleroom experience. After living in Nottinghamshire, she decided to base herself a few miles from Bakewell in the attractive village of Great Longstone. ‘There are lots of big, important houses round here, so I’m now much closer to most of my clients,’ Vivienne points out. ‘People also come to me here and a village location makes a good impression.’
In the office next to Vivienne is Chris Spear of Spear Financial Ltd, an advisor on wealth management, inheritance tax and investment and retirement planning. Chris used to work in Sheffield and then decided he didn’t need to be in the city. ‘Here I have no parking problems, and nor do my clients,’ explains Chris. ‘Great
Longstone is only six minutes away from my home, I’m only half an hour from the M1, the broadband connection is good, and I feel a greater quality of life.’ The other great advantage for Chris and Vivienne is that their clients have to drive through the Peak countryside to get to them. ‘Being where I am gives my client, as well as myself, a certain peace of mind,’ smiles Vivienne. It also helps that Chris and Vivienne’s workplace is directly opposite The White Lion, a traditional country pub on the outside that has been stylishly refurbished by Greg and Libby Robinson and offers ‘chef-prepared, imaginatively presented pub food’ to satisfy any visitors.
Just as pretty and unspoilt as Great Longstone and only two miles out of Bakewell is Ashford-in-the-Water, where the Aisseford (Ashford’s original name) Tea Rooms has built up a fine reputation, not least in extending a welcome to two occasionally ostracised countryside visitors – ‘muddy-boot walkers and dog lovers.’ It also has its own shop selling home accessories and gifts. The Ashford Arms, dating from Napoleonic times, is another popular draw, offering a varied menu along with accommodation in eight distinctive rooms with exposed beams and stonework.
Also close to Bakewell is Pilsley which has its own traditional country pub, too: The Devonshire Arms. The village is also home to the Chatsworth Farm Shop. Thus Pilsley has proved a favourable setting for nearly 25 years for Penrose Interiors which has showrooms bristling with stylish new furniture, handmade curtains, lighting, mirrors, fabrics, paints, wallpaper and accessories. ‘This is a wonderful location,’ confirms owner Alex Templeman. ‘I love being away from the noisy high street. We may be off the beaten track but we’re not that far from the main roads, and our customers travel for miles because they love our quality interiors and our ever changing displays.’
Right next door to Penrose Interiors is a modern gallery run by acclaimed wildlife artist Richard Whittlestone, who used to be based in Bakewell. He feels he made the perfect move: ‘This is an idyllic setting with stunning views,’ enthuses Richard. ‘It’s genuinely helped inspire the paintings I produce. Much of my subject matter comes from the immediate locality. Sometimes just looking through the studio window can spark a painting!’
Added to the personal advantages are those for Richard’s customers: rustic location, free parking and an opportunity to engage with Richard, who paints in the gallery itself.
Back in Bakewell, meeting the artist has been key to the success of Ridgeway Gallery, run by Sally Ridgeway. Sally’s excellent taste and feel for contemporary art has brought some of Derbyshire’s finest artists, notably Rex and Mark Preston, Andrew Macara, Michael Barnfather, Colin Halliday, Roger Allen and Julian Mason, to regard Ridgeway as a premier gallery. Sally is also fortunate to exhibit a few works of arguably Britain’s finest living maritime artist Terence Storey.
‘My clients love to follow the artists,’ states Sally, ‘and once a client buys a painting and also meets the artist at one of our invited previews, I have found it establishes a personal and profound connection.’ However, if all of Sally’s clients came to an exhibition opening, she would have a problem: where to put 1,000 people.
Bakewell itself is important for Sally, too: ‘My clients love coming to the town and many make a weekend of it.’ Several of her clients stay next door, at the Rutland Arms Hotel. It’s also a draw for Jane Austen fans: the author took a room here and it’s thought that she revised Pride and Prejudice while staying at the hotel.
This may be as speculative as the origins of Bakewell Pudding. Although historians claim the Pudding dates back to medieval times, one can’t knock the town for dining out on the more romantic notion that a mid-19th century Rutland Arms cook mistakenly spread the egg mixture on top of a jam tart instead of mixing it in the pastry. What’s also not clear is which one of the three shops officially selling the pudding makes the original recipe, as each one makes that claim. One undeniable truth is that it’s still very popular: over 12,000 puddings are sold each week in summer.
But Bakewell isn’t all pudding: it’s also pasties. The Proper Pasty Company sells pasties ranging from steak and ale to apple and blackcurrant. There is also a shop selling Austrian sausages. More exotic meat can be bought in the Original Farmers’ Market Shop. You are encouraged to break the ice at your next barbecue party by announcing that your burger is made from the meat of a zebra/ impala/llama/kangaroo. You can also buy the meat of a hare, squirrel, mallard and woodcock. The shop also sells up to 160 cheeses, a wide range of chutneys and 12 kinds of flour.
After all this, I have still only sifted through the choicest retail riches provided by Bakewell and surrounding area. I recommend a visit – Bakewell is as original, cherishable and scrumptious as its Pudding.