Christmas in Chipping Campden
PUBLISHED: 14:44 19 December 2016 | UPDATED: 14:44 19 December 2016
It may only be a year since Tracy Spiers last visited Chipping Campden, but this warm and creative community isn’t one to rest on its laurels… least of all at Christmas time
When you live with a child day in, day out you don’t notice their growth rate until they suddenly overtake you and it is you, the mother, who looks up at them rather than the other way round.
It’s a strange way of beginning a feature about a Cotswold town, but stay with me. I last visited the beautiful honey-coloured timeless Chipping Campden a year ago. It is such a warm, friendly community, cherishing traditional skills and personal customer service, that one immediately feels embraced and at home. Perhaps those who live and work here don’t see the subtle signs of growth or improvements that occur over time. But I notice.
As I return 12 months later, there is a significant change taking place in the High Street. And significant is the operative word, for this golden-faced street owes its gently curving design to the skills of 15th-century craftsmen.
I feel this Christmas marks a celebration of this creative heritage. I am sure one of the town’s most famous late residents - Charles Robert Ashbee - would be impressed if alive today. If he was looking for a unique festive gift that was hand-made, showed professional workmanship and was beautiful in its own right, he would look no further than this town which was close to his heart. It’s 114 years ago since he set up his Guild of Handicrafts at the Old Silk Mill in Sheep Street, which still houses craftsmen, including Hart’s workshop which carries on the family silversmithing business started by George Hart. The Guild specialised in metalworking, jewellery and enamels, hand-wrought copper, wrought ironwork and furniture.
Today his legacy lives on. For now my attention is on the High Street and the Bantam Tea Rooms and Guest House which is situated in a 300-year-old building, formerly known as Guild House. A former dairy, butcher’s shop (you can still see the old butcher’s rail), antiques shop and later tea rooms, the name Bantam derived from The Golden Cockerel, once a hotel across the road. Owners Mark and Carolyn Taylor took over the business just over two years ago and have a passion to ensure The Bantam remains at the centre of the community. Out the back craftsmen are busy providing extra space, and are sympathetically converting an attached barn. The Taylors currently have five rooms to offer staying guests, but by Christmas and the New Year they plan to have eight.
“All the work is being done by local craftsmen; the blacksmith is local and the stone is from local stone masons, which is in keeping with Chipping Campden’s tradition of hand-crafted skills. As it was Guild House at one time, this is the epicentre of the arts and crafts heritage,” explains Mark.
“The town is a special place, the buildings are beautiful and the community is fantastic. We recognised that The Bantam played an important part in the town and we wanted to develop it and bring fresh energy to it.”
At Christmas time, it is likely all four of the Taylors’ children will be working alongside them to keep up with festive orders. Food is fresh, local and home baked. Even the local bees work hard to provide the honey.
“Our New Year wish would be to continue having a happy healthy business and that is for all our customers. Christmas will be about a lot of families returning to Chipping Campden and I guess we help them celebrate Christmas together,” says Carolyn.
“We have three generations of one family who are already booked in. It is good to be part of it and lovely to have our own children working with us too.”
A few doors away I notice workmen up a ladder outside the Old Post Office. By the time this feature appears, talented illustrator and printmaker Sam Wilson will have moved in with her luxury homeware brand of linens, cottons, stationery and bone china.
“I am so excited about having this beautiful shop on the High Street. It’s going to be perfect for me and it’s such a gorgeous high street. It will mean more space and I hope to set up some form of workshop too,” admits Sam, who moved to Chipping Campden with her husband and two children a few years ago - a move which helped take her work in a new direction.
“I had been working as an illustrator for 20 years, but I am sure moving here and being inspired by the Arts and Crafts history has been a strong influence on what I am doing now.”
Sam joins a wealth of modern day craftsmen and women who have taken prominent positions on the High Street. Bespoke milliner Louise Pocock works from her studio shop but is also passionate about training others in the trade. One of the only tutors in the world to teach City and Guilds Level 3 millinery, Louise is doing her best to keep this traditional industry alive. Meanwhile David Lewis, owner and master printer at Cherry Press, specialises in bespoke stationery in his creative letterpress studio and boutique.
Earlier this year jeweller Aneata Boote opened up her elegant yet welcoming shop, which showcases her stunning gold and silver pieces, which she makes in her workshop upstairs. Each ring, bangle, pendant, pair of earrings are designed with care and consideration. It’s clear Aneata takes time to listen to each customer and somehow translates their story into jewellery with her skill. As I talk to her, I comment on a quotation which is on the wall.
“Ah that.” she says,” Well it is what I always say and I mean it. Value is NOT monetary…if it means something to you then it’s priceless. That’s why I will happily mend it or reset it, because it has such sentimental value to that person - whether it’s a bracelet made by a child or a ring that carries a lot of memories.”
Aneata has also written two Cotswold Mice books with her friend Emily Dunn, owner of A Festival of Books, in Cambrook Court.It’s the bookshop’s second birthday the day I visit, but in the coming weeks, owner Emily is rebranding and changing the name to simply, Emily’s Bookshop.
“Whenever the local school children refer to my shop, they always say we’re going to Emily’s, so I thought it was more appropriate,” she admits. Since opening, Emily has hosted over 25 author events for children, been awarded Bookshop of the Year from Love your Indie, received a James Patterson funding grant for independent bookshops and hosts book review clubs for her young literature lovers. Keeping the tradition of book reading going is an art too and plenty a Christmas treat can be found in Emily’s.
There is no excuse for that hand-made bespoke gift in Chipping Campden. There is a plethora of contemporary designs available at Robert Welch homewares, Jeremy Green furniture and Ted Blogs Bears, which are exclusively designed and created, inspired by beautiful yarns and the celebration of people’s unique characters. There is also the Gallery at the Guild, a cooperative of artists, ceramicists, designers, furniture makers, glass makers, metal workers, photographers, sculptors, stone carvers, textile artists and wood carvers. All co-operative members will be displaying their work at the Gallery at the Guild’s Christmas Exhibition, from November 18 until January 2, 2017.
The visual arts, especially contemporary painting and sculpture, are also well represented with Campden Gallery, which has been run by husband and wife team, Guy and Carole Cohen for the past 14 years. Housed within a 300-year-old limestone building in Chipping Campden High Street, which was originally two houses, the gallery, set over two floors, is a perfect way for visitors to see how paintings and sculpture can look in a domestic setting.
“It helps them imagine how it would look in their own home,” explains Carole, “although we do provide a service whereby we take paintings to clients homes or offices for them to view in situ.”
Her Christmas wish to see the town continue to thrive is echoed by the ladies I meet in Chipping Campden’s Tourist Information Centre, which at peak times can answer the questions of up to 250 people a day. Pat Walters, customer services for Chipping Campden TIC and volunteer Debbie Davies, just want the tourists to keep returning as they do.
“For me it’s the history of the place that I love. The High Street is quite remarkable and quite unique. One of its oldest buildings dates back to 1340 and is currently on the market; the church goes back to the 12th century and we have such a rich heritage in the Arts and Crafts movement. And I haven’t mentioned the festivals - there’s almost too much to do here!” laughs Debbie.
Yet this active social calendar which includes world-class Chipping Campden Music Festival, Chipping Campden Literary Festival and Dover’s Olimpick Games, means there is something for everyone.
Just outside the TIC window is the impressive 17th-century arched Market Hall where regular country and craft markets happen. A special Christmas Market takes place on Saturday, December 3, 3pm-8pm in the Town Hall and adjacent Town Square, featuring local choirs, entertainment and an appearance from Father Christmas who will be raising money for Save the Children.
Incidentally the town’s name ‘Chipping’ means market or market place and in medieval times, it was considered one of the most important wool towns in Europe. The Market Hall is also where the 102 Cotswold Way begins or ends, depending whether walkers make Chipping Campden or Bath, their start or end point. Either way, there are plenty of restaurants and cafes to replenish the energy levels.
These include Badger Hall Tea Rooms with its quintessential English guest house offering traditional bed and breakfast accommodation. On the day I visit, the tea rooms are closed for refurbishment and maintenance, but the business is still going strong. New for 2017 will be a very comfortable relaxing guest lounge. Chef’s Dozen offers culinary sophistication in a warm and friendly setting and next door, Huxleys, a café and bar with excellent wine, coffee and food. It celebrates its fourth birthday in December and will soon be launching its extended venue for more space for entertaining and also offering business meeting facilities! And if it sumptuous, contemporary comfort you are after, then Cotswold House, a luxury hotel and spa and Charingworth Manor, a 700-year-old carefully furnished Cotswold stone manor house, are the perfect places to dine, unwind and relax.
Creativity and craftsmanship run through the veins of this town. I mentioned that it is not always easy to notice growth when you live with someone (or something) day in day out. But growth is happening in Chipping Campden and there is a definite sense that visitors do look up to this wonderfully unique town, which wears its heritage so well. As I leave, I meet Robin Dale, from North Cotswold Taxis and Tours.
“I bring a lot of people here and I always encourage them to look up in Chipping Campden. All the windows and doors are fascinating, none of them are the same. It is so incredible and we are blessed to live where we do.”
So visitors please take his advice. Look up to and in Chipping Campden - not only will you notice more, but it is clearly evident that the craftsmen and women of today are doing their utmost to ensure the Arts and Crafts creative legacy is alive and well. And if you are looking for that bespoke Christmas gift, you are sure to find it here.
For more about Chipping Campden, take a look at our visitor’s guide