Keen as mustard
PUBLISHED: 00:16 16 November 2011 | UPDATED: 20:18 20 February 2013
Tracy Spiers visits the market town famous for its mustard and medieval festival as it gears up for a magical Christmas.
Its a town famous for its mustard, battles, historic buildings, impressive Abbey and has appeared in the works of both Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare. Tewkesbury is steeped in history and its streets, lined with fascinating buildings, tell many a story. Those living and working in this riverside community, full of character, determination and life; cant deny that they havent suffered by the current economic climate which has hit many a high street, yet they agree whole-heartedly that they wouldnt want to trade anywhere else.
Once the Christmas lights claimed to be some of the best in the area are switched on (Sunday, November 27), the festive buzz begins. Traders and retailers are hosting a late night Christmas shopping extravaganza on Wednesday, December 7 (5.30-7.30pm) complete with special promotions and carol singing. I visit Tewkesbury on a Saturday morning and detect a definite sense of busyness and purpose about the place. On this occasion I stumble across town crier Michael Kean-Price and interrupt him in between his hearty announcements.
Tewkesbury is a friendly town. We have wonderful Christmas lights, a fabulous medieval festival in the summer and we have a great mix of shops, he boasts.
The town has maintained its character since medieval times largely because of the flood plain, it has wonderful Tudor buildings and, of course, the Abbey.
Incidentally, he confesses he has a fear of heights which doesnt bode well for the Queens Diamond Jubilee next year. By tradition it is the town criers job to climb the Abbey tower and proclaim Royal greetings from the townsfolk to the Queen.
We are the only town in the Realm that acknowledges the Queen in this way its not good for someone who doesnt like heights is it? he jests.
Overcoming is key to Tewkesburys future. Gone is any evidence of the floods of 2007.
Tewkesbury is back on its feet after the floods, even though there is a recession and everyone is finding it patchy at the moment, confesses Jane Powell from Peter Hickman hairdressers. She has been Peters business partner for 37 years and Tewkesburys salon, a former cotton mill, has had a presence in the town for 29 years. I wouldnt want to work anywhere else.
This time of year is particularly magical as the lights are so beautiful and the main towns nearby cant match them, she adds.
Family business JW Jennings in Church Street has been bringing a touch of the Orient to this Cotswold town for more than 50 years. Specialising in the finest hand-made Oriental rugs and carpets in a wide range of sizes, they also have Turkish kilim footstools and cushions as well beautiful kilim handbags and purses. There are very few shops in the whole of the country outside of London that specialize to this degree in hand made rugs and therefore people travel from all over the country to find the right rug. This Aladdins Cave is now seeing the children of original customers as well as many visitors from London and abroad.
We have been established here for so long that we have many clients who come back to us time and time again and lots of recommendations, explains Clare Jennings, who took over the business her father set up in 1960.
Another family business is 20-year-old Tewkesbury Cookshop in the High Street which is a delightful oasis for anyone who enjoys pottering in the kitchen and cant resist a quirky gadget. Last year it won Silver award for Britains Best Cookshop, part of Britains Best Retailer Awards. Owner James Hayward took over the shop from his father some three years ago. I am quite encouraged by business at the moment, it is picking up now. I am sure it helps having better facilities for the shoppers such as improved public toilets. I feel I have been working on the Christmas season for some time now, including leafleting 9,000 homes, but we have some lovely products and I am looking forward to it.
Another award winner who has put Tewkesbury on the culinary map is Owens Restaurant in Church Street with its cosy relaxed rustic 15th century charm. Chef and owner Ryan Bennetts big flavours and wholesome retakes on British and French cuisine, made using the freshest seasonal ingredients recently impressed undercover judges. Owens has been awarded a Bib Gourmand for the first time in the 2012 Michelin Guide, in recognition of offering good food at moderate prices.
Its good for us but it is also good for Tewkesbury. We have only been here 18 months so it is quite an achievement, he admits.
Its only our second Christmas and at this time of year everybody really gets into the festive spirit. The businesses on the local trading estate all want to celebrate and the local B & Bs all get booked up and as we are a small restaurant, we get full very quickly. I have started getting the log fire burning and theres a definite buoyancy about.
Ann Hunt, owner of The White Rose Gallery housed in one of Tewkesburys oldest buildings, has a treasure trove of bowler hats, pottery, glassware, silver spoons, spinning wheels, barometers and antique odds and ends: I love the village atmosphere of Tewkesbury. There are lots of interesting buildings, lovely countryside, the Abbey which is so atmospheric. There is definitely a sense of anticipation as Christmas draws near and hopefully shoppers can find a different sort of Christmas present here.
Lesley Ann OBrien lives and works in the town. Owner of popular caf The Bay Tree, she makes delicious home-made pies, cakes, quiches including her mouth-watering salmon and asparagus recipe and some of the best Vegan dishes around.
I love living here. Its like a film set at night and I love the towns atmosphere. I dont take my car out all week as everything I need is here. It is a living town. We get a lot of visitors in summer, but the town doesnt close down in winter because the local people support the shops which are so varied.
Certain traditions always take place in Tewkesbury which brings both community and visitors together. Sleeping Beauty is The Roses Theatres pantomime for this festive season (Saturday, December 4-Saturday, January 7) which always promises to be excellent entertainment value but this characteristic riverside town is far from sleeping. It is very much awake and on fire. I leave Tewkesbury in the hands of town crier Michael Kean-Price, who, on behalf of the business and local community has plenty to shout about.
The town has maintained its character since medieval times largely because of the flood plain, it has wonderful Tudor buildings and of course the Abbey.