Trading Places in Stevenage Old Town
PUBLISHED: 11:14 24 June 2014 | UPDATED: 11:14 24 June 2014
© Trevor Coultart 2014
With roots in the medieval period and a village feel, Stevenage Old Town has retained a charm and a diversity of businesses while the new community has grown around it
As the new community has grown up around it, Stevenage Old Town has remained the heart of the once-medieval market settlement. It has retained much of its character, its charter fair and many of its historic inns – some now houses, offices or shops. Here visitors can find a community with a village feel, with businesses passed down the generations and retailers with a wealth of knowledge.
Years of service.
Family funeral business Austin’s began as a building firm, creating many of the historic properties in the old town. As builders, the company was also asked to make coffins and this developed into funeral arrangements. Now in its 10th generation, the award-winning business continues to grow. One of the oldest retailers in the old town is the Deamer and Sons hardware store. Housed in a prime position on the High Street, it has seen the area change and diversified with it. Owner Stuart Deamer took over the shop, now in its 80th year, from his father. The secret to its success, he says, is the personal service: ‘People come back’. >>>
Gifts and clothes.
As the name suggests, So Unique sells a distinct blend of clothes and gifts. Owner Kelly Stevens took over the shop in 2013, rebranding it and adding her own style. She supports local designers with a range of handmade jewellery, candles and fascinators.
Little Willow is a new addition to the High Street. This interiors and gift shop opened two years ago and is beautifully set out. Upstairs, Kelly has also introduced vintage furniture.
Next door to Little Willow is Cardies. While you are perusing its large selection of cards and gifts, you may notice Jack the labrador sleeping in the corner. Owner Jo Sorrell is passionate about the breed and supports Labrador Rescue by fostering. Clothes experts include Flair Fashions boutique, which stocks clothes for the discerning mature woman, and Ann Bridal, which has been dressing brides for more than 40 years. Both are family affairs.
Bouquets and bows.
Barnaby’s the florist was established in 1995 and is run by Heather Barnaby.
It started as a fruit and veg shop, with flowers sales as a sideline which then took off. ‘Because it was a florist before we took over the shop, people kept coming in asking for bouquets,’ explains Heather. ‘Someone taught me how to do a proper bow and bouquet, and then I did formal training.’
Other flower shops in the old town include the Florist on the Green and Flowerpower.
For those looking for a bit of pampering, Fresh Face Aesthetics offers everything from massage and manicures to botox treatment, which is carried out by a qualified doctor. For beautiful eyes, Beauty Within offers eyelash extensions which can last up to three months, while Wow Brows in Middle Row will keep even the most unruly eyebrows in shape.
Countryside was established back in 1978. This specialist outdoor shop is a favourite of climbers, skiers and walkers. With staff members who know their crampons from their karabiners, it is not surprising the shop has won awards.
It seems only appropriate that having been the birthplace of the legendary Vincent Black Shadow motorbike, the High Street should retain an outlet dedicated to bikers. Martin Brown took over the 25-year-old Bike Stop when the previous owner retired.
He says, ‘Downstairs are the maintenance parts but where it really transforms is upstairs. In the past five days we have had customers from Ipswich and Chesterfield and sold everything from an £89 helmet through to a made-to-measure Dainese airbag racing suit – what Valentino Rossi would wear. If you don’t buy anything, you are here an hour. If you do, you’re probably here three.’ Other respected specialists include dancewear shop Angels at Stagedoor, stylish home flooring expert André Etienne and longstanding guitar hub Coda Music.
Photography outlet Alta Image has seen the image of the High Street change literally. ‘We are known as the capture side of the business,’ owner Jonathan Ellam says, ‘as people have taken their photos, then we do everything afterwards – all the imagery.’
Jonathan is co-founder of the Stevenage Old Town Business and Community Partnership, which launched in 2012. He says, ‘We decided to do something to link business and the community. The whole idea is to run between two to four events a year with schools, churches and businesses all coming together. It’s been very successful.’
Last Christmas, the group organised a lantern parade from Holy Trinity Church at one of end of the High Street to Bowling Green at the other, and plans are afoot to introduce a continental market to complement the farmers’ market which takes place on the second Saturday of the month opposite the White Lion.
Food and Drink.
Stylish and relaxed, Cinnabar cafe celebrates its fifth birthday this year. Sink into one of the sofas, have a meal or enjoy a cocktail at the bar.
‘It’s something different to everybody.’ says manager James Larman. ‘We get people enjoying a tea afternoon while a group will have cocktails at the bar.’
Gladley’s in Middle Row started as a deli and cafe and has now expanded into a brasserie. It retains its cheese counter, showcasing produce from around Britain, and has introduced a new offering of tapas. Totally Scrumptious, located at Stagedoor, makes bespoke cakes, while Simmons bakes bread and lunchtime goodies daily. >>>
Old Town resident Trevor Coultart is one person who cherishes the eclectic mix of businesses and is undertaking a photographic project coultart.com/oldtown to record the character of the High Street in a series of portraits, some of which are pictured here (see credits). He says, ‘I’ve come to realise that one of the things that gives Stevenage High Street its character is the people who run the shops, bars and businesses, whether they are long-established or just finding their feet.’