What the locals really think of Nantwich

Nantwich St Mary's Parish Church

Nantwich St Mary's Parish Church - Credit: Archant

Walking through the central streets of Nantwich is enough to inspire anyone with artistic leanings, writes Martin Pilkington

Artist/writer, Nicholas Ferenczy

Artist/writer, Nicholas Ferenczy - Credit: Archant

The town centre of Nantwich has kept its character: classic black and white structures are set off by rows of brick cottages huddling together cosily, the antithesis of identikit Britain. And minutes away the rolling South Cheshire countryside adds to the charm of the place.

It was such attractions that saw artist and author Nicholas Ferenzcy move his young family here from London in 2004. ‘I wanted them to grow up in a place that wasn’t artificial, where they could have real roots and experience something other than the enclosure of a city.

‘I’m from Alsager, and used to cycle to Nantwich in the school holidays, it’s was a lovely place then and still is.’ Nicholas teaches aspiring local artists at evening classes in the town. Though life drawing is his great love he also finds inspiration – and the subjects for classwork – in landmarks like the picturesque Welsh Row Bridge.

David Wells (marketing) and Mike Heler (M.D.) at Joseph Heler Cheeses

David Wells (marketing) and Mike Heler (M.D.) at Joseph Heler Cheeses - Credit: Archant

Those tutorials and his experience in publishing in London have led him to write a series of books on the techniques of drawing and watercolour painting, and local legend inspired his artfully illustrated book of poetry, Oscar the Pike.

‘We make a point of stocking books about the area, and featuring local authors,’ says Sheila Ainley of The Nantwich Bookshop: ‘So we have Nicholas’s, and lots of others like the children’s author ‘Wilf’; Helen Kay who’s published The Poultry Lovers’ Guide to Poetry; and David Bradbridge who has just launched his third ‘Nantwich Constable’ English Civil War novel, The Combermere Legacy.’

In its fabulous Tudor building the bookshop is an ideal place to promote the area’s heritage.

On Laurel’s Farm in Hatherton, two miles southwards, cheese-makers Joseph Heler Limited are determined to play their part in keeping one particularly tasty aspect of that heritage going – Cheshire cheese: ‘It’s suited to the land, the rich, loamy, salty soil here,’ says Mike Heler, the company’s managing director – or its Big Cheese as the plate on his door announces: ‘Hence the famous Cheshire rotation – grass feeds the cows, their whey feeds the pigs, pig poo fertilises the grass...’ Their own 750 acres supply much of the milk, and the rest is taken from within a 40 miles radius, to keep the regional character.

Farrier, J.C. Lee, and Emma Rarity with her mount, Astral, a 5 years old grey mare

Farrier, J.C. Lee, and Emma Rarity with her mount, Astral, a 5 years old grey mare - Credit: Archant

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‘My father Joseph started making cheese on this farm in 1957, and at that time there were 62 Cheshire Cheese makers in Cheshire - today there are two of us left,’ continues Mike: ‘We’re probably the finest exponents of Cheshire cheese-making, but it’s a hard fight. Though the cheese is delicious, its crumbly texture makes it difficult to grate or slice for sandwiches, and its bite, its slightly acidic taste and character, may go against it. And the big supermarkets like to push mature cheddar, to the detriment of territorial cheeses like Cheshire and Wensleydale.’

Cheshire is only a part of their production now, but what they do make is regularly rewarded with trophies and titles at Nantwich’s International Cheese Show, the UK’s biggest and a major worldwide event to boot. In 2015 their products were named champion White Cheshire Cheese and Champion Coloured Cheshire Cheese, gongs that help hold back the ever rising tide of cheddar and keep this traditional delicacy on our cheese-boards.

JC Lee is another man of Nantwich helping to keep a traditional craft alive. He’s a farrier, and much in demand: ‘It’s a big area for horses so there’s plenty of work,’ he says. During his five-year apprenticeship under local farriers Leon Bentham and Alan Calvert, JC took part in international competitions for the England Apprentice Team, and continued after he became qualified until injury intervened: ‘Without the competitions the old skills like making horse-shoes would die out,’ he continues as he replaces two shoes on Astral, one of Emma Rarity’s horses. His confidence and competence seem to comfort the huge horse, which lets him file and trim its hooves with barely a whinny, the new shoes in place before the creature even thinks of becoming restless.

Emma is a freelance rider who works with local owners and livery yards, and takes part in three day eventing competitions throughout the UK and internationally. Recently she worked with fellow Nantwich Riding Club member Ellie Foster to develop the jumping skills of Ellie’s horse Embarrs Quest, better known as Mac.

Ellie is part of the successful Cheshire Chicks dressage team, formed in 2014 to ride in British Dressage’s new Team Quest competitions. ‘It’s a sport that takes a lot of commitment,’ the 19-year-old explains: ‘I ride at least three times a week, have a lesson with my trainer Sarah Probin, and there can be two competitions at the weekend and even one midweek at times – and I’m an accountancy apprentice so I often have revision too!’

The hard work paid off in the team’s first year, its four members at that time – Ellie, Izzy Maughan, Penny Ehlen and Gemma Dullek – winning a bronze at the National Championships in November 2014. Gemma progressed to other events in the sport, her place taken by Alex-Jo Parsons, and the girls again made it to the national championships, though not matching their previous glories: ‘Their busy schedules meant they were unable to compete as often,’ says team manager Alex Ehlen: ‘This year we hope to be back at least to their previous level.’

Their new sponsor, Stockport company Plantation Rugs, has supplied rugs for the horses and team-jackets for the girls, so they’ll start out looking like winners. Alex-Jo’s dressage commitments elsewhere mean that her place has been filled by new member Ciara McLellan.

The hobby is as time consuming for team manager Alex as it is for the girls: ‘There’s a lot of administration, to register horses and riders, work out the events that will suit them best, enter them, work on tactics, and look at how they need to train,’ she says: ‘But it’s rewarding too. The parents are all quite close now, good friends. It’s both intense and relaxed – intense during the competition as it’s a sport that requires high levels of concentration, and relaxed because they have a giggle and have a great team spirit. They enjoy themselves!’

While in Nantwich...

Nantwich Museum on Pillory Street has an exhibition of Cheshire-based artist Alex Jabore’s work until March 26th.

Groove to the music at the Nantwich Jazz and Blues Festival, March 24th to 28th.

Check out the cheese at the International Cheese Awards, held in Nantwich as part of the huge Nantwich Show, on July 27th 2016.