Trading places in Brookmans Park
PUBLISHED: 15:04 07 July 2014 | UPDATED: 15:04 07 July 2014
With traditional trades and modern start-ups, desirable Brookmans Park is a village with a mix of businesses drawing on the old while embracing the new
When building work took place in Brookmans Park in the 1930s, it was advertised as a ‘real country home within 35 minutes of town’. Houses were built in ‘unspoilt scenery with hills and valleys, wide meadows and rugged old trees’.
As you drive through the village today, it seems little has changed. The two mansions, Gobions and Brookmans, from which the village takes its name, have long gone, but there are still many beautiful properties and interesting architecture, while a central shopping parade retains a village feel with traditional shops.
Bryan Smith, who, with his wife Michele, runs Bryan’s Homecentre, says, ‘There is a very nice mix of architecture, a good mix of old and new. The village itself is quite unique. We have a nice community here and a very good selection of shops.’
This year, his shop is celebrating its 30th year, making it the longest-standing continuously-owned shop in the village.
The couple have certainly filled every nook and cranny of space in that time. ‘People say we are a bit like the Arkwrights (from classic BBC series Open All Hours)’, Michele says. ‘I always laugh and say well I am certainly not nurse Gladys!
‘We have tried to move with the times, but can only thank hard work and incredible community support from loyal customers and fellow traders, some of whom have become treasured friends. We are so lucky to live and work here. Our biggest battle now is still to offer the same standard of service alongside being competitive against the internet and large stores.’
Andrew Ward has been selling properties in the area since 1988. Here, 90 per cent of homes are valued between £400,000 and £1.5m, but prices can reach £4m.
Andrew also believes the village is unique. ‘We have around 1,500 privately-owned properties here – it is very unusual to have what is effectively a private estate,’ he explains.
‘The village is very self-sufficient and is now less old-school and more family orientated – it has two very popular schools. You feel safe here and can pretty much live here without leaving.’
Walk through the pretty shopping area and you will spot the colourful display of the village’s independent greengrocer, Frankie’s 5 A Day. The business offers British produce where possible and has recently introduced fresh orange juice, squeezed in the immaculate shop.
Carrying on the traditional trades, the village is also blessed with a butcher’s shop. Michael’s Family Butchers’ motto is ‘If we haven’t got it – we can get it’ and true to its word it recently managed to provided crocodile and kangaroo meat for its customers.
Fishmonger JR Hammersley and Son has been serving Brookmans Park since 1990. It is now run by husband and wife team Iain and Lorraine Wheeler, whose business was last year voted one of the best independent shops in the Welwyn and Hatfield district.
Iain makes the daily trip to Billingsgate Fish Market at 4am, as he likes to select the fish personally for the shop and is always on the look-out for the unusual. ‘If I see something different, I will buy it!’ he says. ‘We keep a high standard. We rarely advertise, it’s all word of mouth.’ Asked what he likes to do in his spare time – ‘fish’. Of course.
Another business with strong family ties is Brookmans Bakery. Its traditionally-baked bread wins many positive comments, with one customer calling to announce he had just had the best tuna sandwich he had ever had. Proprietor Andrew Jones says, ‘I think people try to support the local shops here. You can come and get everything, food-wise, in one place.’
As well as its firmly-rooted businesses, Brookmans Park is also attracting new enterprises. Groomers on the Green opened two years ago. It offers both dog and cat grooming and is situated conveniently just across the road from Village Vet.
The grooming parlour is modern, light and airy and you may well spot a pooch being pampered as you pass by, as all washing and grooming is visible.
Also new on the block is Tuffet’s Toys and Tales, run by Simon Key and Tim West. Simon, who has worked in bookshops since his student days, says, ‘The opportunity came and it seemed to fit in with the other shops in the village. What’s particularly important to us is that we become an integral part of the community here. We love the village and would like Tuffet’s to be seen as more than just a space to come and buy books and toys.’