Trading Places – Hemel Hempstead

PUBLISHED: 13:22 22 August 2013 | UPDATED: 13:22 22 August 2013

Fay and Terry Rands, The Enchanted Castle

Fay and Terry Rands, The Enchanted Castle


Hemel Hempstead is a town of contrasts. The unique shops and historic buildings of its old town sit alongside the new town’s chains, restaurants and contemporary apartments. Julie Lucas explores both to find out what they offer shoppers

WITH its mix of Victorian, Georgian and Tudor buildings, Hemel Hempstead High Street is often described as the prettiest street in Hertfordshire – an appearance not lost on TV producers who have used it as a location for a number of programmes, including Pie in the Sky.

The historic buildings are also the perfect setting for those selling vintage and antique items, making the High Street a hub for collectors and those looking for unusual gifts. Jordan’s Antiques Centre has been trading in the town for 14 years and houses 12 outlets. The centre has a predominance of furniture, glassware and china and also has a book dealer. Owner Michal Porter says china tea sets are the current hot trend. Also selling a wide range of antiques on the street are Off the Wall and Cherry Antiques, while Beautique combines vintage and new pieces with excellent effect.

At the top of the High Street is FnR clothes exchange. Forget just popping into this shop – it is packed with nearly- new clothes, shoes and accessories as well as gifts. Owner Fiona Rowels has been in business for the past four years. She sells quality clothes on commission and aims to stock ‘different things that you would not normally find on the high street’. Shirley Hall, next door, has a florist one side and a tea shop the other. So while having tea and a slice of homemade cake, visitors can enjoy the wonderful scent of beautiful fresh flowers on display.

Gill Lavers of GH Soft Furnishings and Interiors, also on the High Street, says the unusual items in the shops along the street encourage people to come and browse. He adds, ‘We have a strong community base here because it is a residential area as well as a business one. We are a tight-knit group of businesses and we all look out for each other. There are many little offices and shops – it really is a rabbit warren of businesses up here.’

The street is also home to a number of specialised shops. If fishing is a passion, the Old Town Angling Centre stocks everything to do with the sport, attracting enthusiasts from as far away as Norwich and Wales. The shop carries 700 different types of fishing rods and a quarter of a million hooks, so there is a good chance it will have what you are looking for. Across the road, The Enchanted Castle sells dolls houses fit for a princess. The gatehouse in the window, which has tiny replica Rennie Mackintosh furniture and Clarice Cliff china, is based on Ashridge House in nearby Berkhamsted. The shop took its name from a description of the building.

At the other end of the town and in contrast to the old world feel of the High Street is the Riverside Shopping Centre. An open-air, modern, contemporary development built on the banks of the River Gade, the centre opened in 2005 and has a Debenhams department store and retail chains such as Next, Accessorize and H&M as well as food outlets including Pizza Express, Aroma and Chiquin.

Between the two areas, the Marlowes Shopping Centre has more than 65 stores catering for a wide range of tastes and budgets, including Marks & Spencer, Topshop, and the Body Shop. Dacorum Borough Council has plans for a major regeneration of the centre due for completion by 2015, with improvements focused on the original vision of Hemel Hempstead as ‘a city within a park’.

Highlights of the development will include a leafy pedestrianised shopping zone with children’s play areas. Seating is planned along the central shopping area, as is an interactive fountain, new lighting and an events space, which the council hopes will create a community focal point at the heart of the area with events throughout the year.

The town’s outdoor market is in the centre of the Marlowes area, and is open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. A new operator has been appointed to manage the operation and enhance the town’s shopping offer by creating a street food market and food court. Specialist themed markets, including a possible Christmas one are also planned.

Leader of the council, Andrew Williams, says, ‘We hope that the improvements will provide an enhanced shopping experience for both residents and visitors alike and create a place that people will want to visit over and over again. In turn we hope that businesses will see the potential of Hemel Hempstead as a destination of the future, and invest in the area.’

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