Shipston-on-Stour: For crying out loud
14:03 26 January 2017
Folk in Shipston-on-Stour have a lot to cry about – in the best possible way! Tracy Spiers talks to the town’s friendly residents
Marion Lowe has been crying a lot about her hard-working friendly community in Shipston-on-Stour, but I am glad to say she hasn’t shed one tear. This is Shipston’s town crier, a position Marion has held for the past eight years and, as 2017 begins, she has even more to shout about. It is fast becoming an artisan town and a shopping destination in its own right thanks to a committed business community made up of specialist traders who are excellent at what they do.
One of only a handful of lady town criers in the country, Marion will be sharing Shipston’s own special ‘cry’ at her next town crying contest on Easter Saturday in Alcester. Shipston’s cry came about following a competition organised by Totally Locally in Shipston to find the perfect lines. They were written by competition winner Jean Jones.
“I was so impressed by Jean’s ‘Cry’ and will be proud to perform it at my next competition. There is so much to love about Shipston. It’s the community - people stop and talk; they care,” Marion tells me.
“Then there are all the independent retailers. I can buy most things in Shipston, including furniture, watches, dresses, not to mention fresh bread, fish and meat,” adds Marion, who is married to Arthur Lowe, a World Swim Champion, who at 80 walked away with a haul of medals at the European Masters Swimming Championships in 2016.
Over the years traders and the community alike have seen Shipston grow in confidence and stance. Long-standing family businesses which are now being run by third and fourth generation traders have been joined by a whole host of independent companies.
Francis Bennett, owner and managing director of Time In Hand, which celebrates 38 years in February, believes as 2017 begins, the town is in good health.
“Shipston has a number of merits. Really the strengths are the number of small independent traders and traditional values. People come to us today who first came 25 years ago. Someone came up from Dartmouth without ringing us first and arrived in the shop with a clock that we repaired 30 years ago. They said they just knew we would still be here - that definitely proves we have stood the test of time,” he says.
“As a town we are doing very well and Shipston has a lot going for it.”
A couple of years Shipston embraced the concept Totally Locally which seeks to promote all things local. Co-ordinated by Louise Harvey from The Richard Harvey Collection and Lucy Kirkman from RMG Creative, Totally Locally Shipston aims to highlight the special qualities of the town.
“I guess 2017 is about ensuring we keep promoting the specialist services and shops we have. We have got new and traditional shops, we maintain the traditional values and we try and give the town a new lease of life,” says Louise.
“There is a lot for people to enjoy here and we all work hard behind the scenes. We are not just faces behind the tills, we know our customers really well. It is a whole experience when people come to the town.”
Building on the success of previous events, more Totally Locally Markets are planned which will involve local Arts and Crafts as well as local produce.
From a social point of view, highlights for 2017 include the 9th annual Shipston Wool Fair in May, which celebrates the town’s woollen heritage. Shipston originates from Scepwaeisctune, Old English for Sheep-wash Town referring to its earlier purpose as a sheep market. It was also once an important route for stagecoaches, with many former coaching inns such as the Coach and Horses, based in the High Street. Other highlights include the Shipston Proms, a two weeks of musical talent which comes to a climax at the Last Night of the Proms event in the High Street and the Warwickshire Arts Trail showcasing the art and designs from the county’s talented artists and craftsmen and women.
Another key event will be the fifth Shipston Food Festival in mid September. It is here where local produce really comes into its own and is celebrated. One company, which is helping to put Shipston on the artisan map is The Cotswolds Distillery.
“We particularly love the annual food and drink festival in September, which features local artisans like ourselves – in fact, it’s where we officially launched our first product, Cotswolds Dry Gin, in September 2014. Those first bottles sold in the High Street have now been followed by exports to over 15 countries – and it all started in Shipston!” says Daniel Szor, Founder and CEO of the distillery, which attracts almost 20,000 visitors a year and is one of TripAdvisor’s top places to visit in the Cotswolds. Chosen as the official gin by the Cotswolds Conservation Board to help it celebrate the 50-year anniversary of the Cotswolds AONB, The Cotswolds Distillery has also recently set up the Cotswolds Distillery Cocktail Company.
“We’re very proud to call Shipston our local, it’s a town we really love. It may not have the postcard appeal of a Chipping Campden or a Broadway, its charm is in its “realness” – it is an authentic market town with a thriving community, local independent shops and a packed calendar of events,” adds Daniel.
The sense of independence and community spirit is the beating heart of Shipston. And there is an air of anticipation and excitement for 2017.
Mandy Lane, general manager for Taste of the Country, which specialises in cheeses and home-cooked food, admits the town is looking forward to the opening of a brand new restaurant, The Bower House, which adjoins the shop she manages.
“It is supposed to open in March and it will help the town look even better and hopefully bring in more people. I love Shipston, I love its quirkiness and we can get everything here.”
Whilst many towns have seen the closure of traditional shops selling fresh fish, bread and meat; Shipston still has them all. In Sheep Street, The Bakery, owned by Karl and Sharon Peacock, has been trading for 11 years. Karl admits whilst the size of Shipston is growing with a number of houses being built, businesses are growing too.
“Visitors are really interested in the independent shops we have. We are unique in this day and age. We aren’t a touristy town but a town that has a nice feel to it. The year 2017 will be an interesting time as there are a lot of places undergoing redevelopments which will hopefully benefit everyone.”
In recent months one building which has received a huge makeover, along with all 15 of its ensuite bedrooms, is The George Townhouse in Shipston High Street - the tallest building on the street at three and a half storeys. There’s a feeling of casual elegance inside and my mum, daughter and I receive a really warm welcome by general manager Richard Smith, who lives in the town.
“I think this is a beautiful area which is steeped in tradition and has a wonderful sense of community. The changes that have been made to the George have been received really well not only from the locals but also from visitors outside the town.”
Look up the word “Niche” in the dictionary and one finds ‘forte” meaning strength, talent or speciality. Sue Hand, who owns Niche, a specialist ladies’ clothes shop offering a great selection of styles and accessories, has been trading in Shipston for 13 years and has lived here for 30. Her shop’s ethos fits the definition of forte well.
“This is what we are about, our speciality is looking after our clients and finding an individual style that not only suits them but also has lasting appeal,” she says.
Sue admits the town has had its ups and downs over the years in terms of economic success, but believes 2017 is looking good.
“Shipston is a really great foodie town. Not only have we got a new restaurant opening, but we have a fishmongers, two butchers, a beautiful vegetable shop, bakery and a deli. I am very optimistic about the coming Spring and Summer,” adds Sue.
And with so much fresh food at hand, another Shipston company, Bower Willis, run by husband and wife team, Angela and Jeremy Bower, is the ideal place to go to help create that dream kitchen. Innovative cooking technology, stunning bespoke design, luxurious materials and the finest craftsmanship is what customers can expect.
Personal service is something Shipston does extremely well and encourages those who experience shopping here to come back. Karen O’Hara, a florist at Lucy Walker Flowers, believes it is because people want to shop locally and of course it helps that the town has free car parking.
And so we turn back to the lady who has the job of shouting about her town with a loud, clear voice - an art she has perfected over the years. So what is Town Crier Marion Lowe’s secret?
“Having been crying for eight years, I know now to keep the pitch, pace and the volume controlled. Diction is important too.”
And she believes she has every reason to cry out loud in 2017.
“There is so much good here. This year I will have so much to shout about and hopefully there will be even more entrepreneurs setting up in Shipston and surrounding areas. I just love Shipston and I am so proud to be its Town Crier.”