Trading Places - Baldock, a town with a village attitude
PUBLISHED: 12:22 15 August 2013 | UPDATED: 12:22 15 August 2013
Baldock's historic heart has a range of quality shops and outlets continuing traditional services while incorporating the new. Julie Lucas reports on a market town with a vibrant village attitude
SITUATED where the Great North Road crosses the ancient Icknield Way, the north Hertfordshire town of Baldock is worth a visit for its varied architecture alone, which includes elegant Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian buildings along its wide High Street. But in and among these grand buildings – the grandest perhaps the huge Art Deco façade of Tesco, a former Kayser Bondor hosiery factory – are a wide range of shops dedicated to keeping traditions alive.
Baldock’s long tradition of brewing continues in the town, but the malt for ale that made it wealthy has been replaced with apples. Apple Cottage Cider, a family-run business in the heart of the town, has been producing the golden stuff for 15 years. All the fruit is handpicked from local orchards and is free of synthetic chemicals. The cider is sold by the Orange Tree on Norton Road, a 330-year-old traditional pub and North Herts Campaign for Real Ale Pub of the Year winner. As well as the Baldock cider, landlord Rob Scahill stocks ales from nearby Buntingford Brewery. ‘It would be cheaper for me to go to bigger suppliers but I choose not to, I like to support local businesses,’ he says.
For meat, Chapmans is hard to beat. The renowned traditional butcher on the High Street has been serving the town for more than 75 years and won the East of England Butcher of the Year this year as well as coming runner-up in the national finals of the Countryside Alliance Rural Oscars. Serving up tempting bread and pastries next door is Days of Ashwell bakery, while the delightfully-named Delizia on Whitehorse Street, a delicatessen-cum-café run by Jack and Heather Fasone who previously owned the popular Vecchia Trattoria restaurant in the town, offers all things Italian and specialises in cheeses, paninis and gelati. For a small place, Baldock has a wealth of creativity. Knitting is seeing a huge revival at the moment and Wool n Things in Hitchin Street is worth a visit just to see the beautiful yarns and accessories. Across the road, through a gabled entrance and up an attractive cobbled pathway, is Gallery 1066. Now in its third year, the converted barn hosts exhibitions of paintings and sculpture by UK and international artists. Owner Hayley Norman (hence 1066, Hastings) says it is a dream come true to run the gallery. ‘I am passionate about art and wanted to create a gallery with a difference. I am pleased it is attracting some of the world’s leading artists.’
Literally turning back time is Howards Antique Clocks on Whitehorse Street. Dennis Howard lovingly restores pieces from a bygone era and his shop is testament to this, with grandfather, bracket and other antique clocks on display. He began as an apprentice for Asprey in 1969 and opened his first shop in 1974. He has looked after clocks for three generations of loyal customers and says he is now ‘a bit like part of the woodwork’.
Finesse Interiors on the High Street has been helping create beautiful homes in the area for 23 years with a personalised service including curtain making and upholstery. Nearby Staffy b has a wonderful mix of recycled, vintage and new homewares. The name is taken from canine member of staff, Freddie the Staffordshire bull terrier, who was rescued seven years ago and can be found curled up in the corner of the shop. Owner Hayley Partridge says people like to support the town’s independent shops but Baldock’s retailers need to work hard and be creative to attract and keep clients.
Innovation, as well as self-belief, was what made Ian Helmore, inventor of Steri-Spray, take a punt on BBC2’s Dragons’ Den in 2007. After winning financial backing, the engineer now manufactures a shower system that eliminates legionnella. He has also developed a tap using a similar idea that is proving a lifesaver in neo-natal baby units. Ian, who moved from London to Baldock nearly 25 years ago, loves the town and says its location is perfect for business.
In 2008, North Hertfordshire District Council invested £2.8m in a scheme to create more open space and better parking in the town centre. These areas have now matured and made Baldock an even more pleasant place to shop and socialise. A latest major development has been the renovation of the George. Formerly the George and Dragon, it has reverted to the name it was known by in the 14th century. Owner Hamid Sabahipour has given the building a total makeover, creating a casual seating café area and smart restaurant.
Town centre manager Murray Fastier says the George is an example of the town diversifying to remain vibrant. ‘I think Baldock is going the way of many high streets and turning away from just retail to a more service base with restaurants, cafés and independents. I love the fact that whenever there is something happening in the town, the community goes out of its way to support it. It’s really a town with a village attitude.’