Albrighton and Newport, Shropshire

PUBLISHED: 17:02 01 December 2010 | UPDATED: 16:38 20 February 2013

Julie Watkiss, What Women Want

Julie Watkiss, What Women Want

Sarah Hart searches out the fascinating people and places which make two of Shropshire's friendliest places so interesting

Albrighton beautiful


Once upon a time a town, Albrighton, the furthest eastern settlement in Shropshire, is a large bustling village. Its steeped in history a jumble of handsome Georgian houses, old pubs and Norman churches.

While its hub may look the quintessential pretty English village Albrighton packs a lot of character and a lot of surprises. Here are some of its best bits


David Austin Roses

No name is more synonymous with English roses than that of David Austin. His rose gardens, alongside his plant centre, on the edge of Albrighton, are a glory to behold. They contain the national collection of English roses with more than 700 different varieties meandering over
two acres.

David C.H. Austin is responsible for breeding some 200 of them. A rose grower and breeder for more than 50 years, he released his first rose in 1961. Now his roses can be found in gardens all over the world and gold medals at Chelsea Flower Show, the most important event in the horticultural calendar, are something of an annual occurrence.

Davids son, David J.C. Austin, continues in his fathers considerable footsteps.

The plant centre, sited just off Bowling Green Lane, is open to visitors seven days a week. It attracts rose enthusiasts from across the world, placing Albrighton firmly on the international map.


Jazz at the The Harp

It has been dubbed one of the last bastions of Traditional British jazz by The Telegraph newspaper. Twice a week jazz fans from all over the West Midlands and sometimes further afield descend on The Harp public house, at the heart of the village high street, to hear live bands from across the UK and even the globe.

Jazz Club 90 was formed in 1990 by a couple of musicians and has been thumping away at The Harp since 1993.

Weve had bands from Australia, California, Argentina, Russia, Norway, Denmark and Germany, as well as some of the top UK bands, explains John Howell, of nearby Perton, who has been running the club with his wife, Marie, for the past 10 years.

Its jazz every Tuesday evening from 8.30pm and every Sunday from 12.30pm.

The Harp itself is a charming, traditional, English free house that prides itself on its real ales and gritty atmosphere. Charles Dickens was said to have once stayed here while researching ideas for The Old Curiosity Shop.

Today the pub is run by Dave Taylor and partner Donna Pibworth who inherited it from her late father, Terry, in 2007. Terry was a popular landlord and music fan who bought the pub in 1983 and made it what it is today.

Its a special place, all down to my dad, and were trying to continue that, says Donna. He was a larger than life character who loved life and loved to see people happy and enjoying themselves.


Modul Diamonds Bookshop

A quirky little old bookshop, situated on the High Street, run by an enthusiastic retired science teacher who sometimes treats his browsing customers to live organ recitals.
Gerald Leach, an organist at the local St Mary Magdalene Church, had dreamed of running a bookshop since he was eight years old.

It took me 50 years, he quips. It has been his labour of love, a kind of hobby, since he opened the shop on taking early retirement in 1998.

The shelves heave and you can barely see the floor for piles of books. Gerald largely deals in second-hand copies, although he does sell some new ones. He also specialises in second-hand sheet music.

The shop is spread over two little rooms. Geralds organ is squashed into the corner of one of them.

Opening hours are Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday 9am-5.30pm and Saturday 9am-1pm. Website address: moguldiamonds.co.uk


No 7 Boutique

Gillian Pollard got bored of the corporate life, so ditched her job with a computer company three years ago to pursue her goal of running her own clothing boutique.

I always used to shop in here myself, she recalls. Then the week I left my job, I got a call from a lady who was selling the lease. It took me just half-an-hour to make the decision to buy it.

No 7 Boutique manages to mix modern glamour with a welcome dollop of old-style village shop friendliness and banter.

So while Gillian is helping customers to pull together an outfit from her range of fashion labels and accessories, including Fransa, Lebek and Emreco, she might pop the kettle on and enjoy a little chat.

No 7 is staging a fashion show in aid of charity at The Red House, Albrighton, in March.


Brian Richard Menswear

Its highly unusual to find an exclusive menswear shop in the heart of a village. Not only were Brian Jones and Richard Blincoe unperturbed by the fact, they opened their luxury clothing business in the old village air raid shelter in 1982.

Behind the polished wooden panelling, gleaming mirrors and thickly piled carpet theres still the old solid concrete ceiling and rigid steel girders. We put in the windows, Richard explains.

Both in the clothing retail trade since leaving school, he and Brian were working for the same gentlemens outfitters in Wolverhampton when they decided to launch their own business.
As well as providing a traditional made-to-measure suit service they stock designer labels, including formal and casual wear. The shop attracts clientele from as far as Chester, North Wales, Devon and London. It still supplies suits to loyal customers who have long since moved to The Bahamas, South Africa and America


Pat Richards, award-winning butcher

Pat Richards has acquired his fair share of meat industry gongs, including The Guild of Q awards - the butchery worlds equivalent of the Oscars. He has been national sausage champion, won gold awards for his bacon and been Four Counties pork pie champion to name but a few of his accolades.

Pat and his wife Gaynor took over the traditional family butchers in the High Street just over 10 years ago. Pat had worked there since 1964 under the previous owner.

Pat sources most of his meat locally and hangs it in the traditional way. He sells game and fresh fish on Thursdays and stocks a deli counter of local cheeses, Shropshire farm butter, jams, chutneys and freshly-baked bread.


Donington and Albrighton Nature Reserve

Over five hectares of wonderful walks through the valley of the Humphreston Brook, winding through woodland, grassy meadow and marshland. Theres also pond-dipping and fishing. Main parking found off Rectory Road.


Now, on to Newport


The town of Newport is just a 20 minute drive from Albrighton so the two can be easily combined into one day trip. Here theres a charming assortment of independent shops and lovely places to eat.


Smallwood Lodge Tearooms

Probably the prettiest and one of the oldest remaining Medieval buildings in Newport, Smallwood Lodge is the epitome of the perfect chocolate box house.

Black and white, timber-framed, cosily proportioned, Smallwood Lodge is a must for any visitor to Newport. Inside the rooms are diminutive.

One of them is oak panelled with a welcoming fire crackling in the hearth. The cakes look irresistible and theres always the comforting aroma of freshly brewed coffee.

Smallwood Lodge was fortunate to escape Newports great fire of 1665. Its most esteemed guest is said to have been Henry VIIIs second wife Anne Boleyn, and its meant to have a ghost.

Today the lodge is run and lived in by Terry Bailey and Jan Crickmer who moved here from Surrey a year ago. Its a radical departure from their previous lives. Terry was an estate agent and Jan worked in tourism before becoming a funeral director.

We wanted a business in which we could work together and a place where we could also live, says Jan. This came on the market, we came up here, took one look and fell in love with it immediately.

We just love it and the local people have been really supportive. To fall out of bed in the morning and come downstairs to the smell of cooking, instead of being crammed onto a commuter train to Hammersmith, is sheer joy.

While the couple have tweaked the menu they continue with Smallwoods famous breakfasts and wide selection of specialist coffees and teas. The food is sourced locally and freshly cooked. Smallwood is also available for private parties and Jan and Terry plan soon to open in the evening for occasional themed dinners.


Number 45

This gorgeous little gift shop was opened by Nicolette Byrne a few weeks before Christmas.
I worked for a greetings card company and got made redundant, explains Nicolette, who lives in the nearby village of Tibberton.

So I thought of opening a shop full of the sorts of pretty homely things that I like buying, things like love hearts, pretty ribbons and Cath Kidston mugs and handbags. So really it was an excuse to go shopping on a large scale!

Her bright and airy shop also stocks a range of colourful scented candles, cuddly toys, bunting, decorations and handcrafted cards. Its the perfect accompaniment to a relaxing cup of tea at Smallwood Lodge, just next door.


Wycherleys Fine Foods

Newport is not short of traditional tearooms. Wycherleys Fine Foods, ensconced inside an enchanting listed building, in the centre of the High Street, is both a delicatessen and good old-fashioned tearoom.

Why not sample some of the delectable cakes, hand-baked biscuits or speciality teas and coffees on offer before purchasing your own in the shop?

The delicatessen is stuffed with local produce including come of Shropshires finest, such as Mr Moydens award-winning cheeses made on a farm just a couple of miles down the road at Church Aston. The deli is also known for its lip-smacking, generously proportioned pork pies.


Boutiques

What Women Want moved from Shrewsbury to St Marys Street, Newport, two years ago. Partners Julie Watkiss and Sandra Ayres specialise in beautiful lingerie, swimwear, nightwear and accessories including Cicccia bags and The Healthy Back Bag, a small, trendy, one-strap backpack that is the result of a design collaboration between a leather craftsman and a doctor. The shop provides a fitting service and also sells pretty nursing and mastectomy bras.


Studio 6a, also situated on the quaint narrow cobbled street of St Marys, is one of the last remaining clothing boutiques in the town. The shop stocks labels such as Seasalt, Betty Barclay and Olsen as well as bags and accessories. It offers a personal shopper service and can open by appointment outsideof normal business hours to cater for women with busy lives.


The Barley

What a transformation there has been inside this old pub, formerly The Barley Mow, now a cosmopolitan caf-bar restaurant. The designed interior is ultra contemporary, trendy and plush reminiscent of a posh hotel lounge or the ritzy bar of a modern cruise ship. Its lovely brasserie-style food means its popular with diners.


St Nicholas Church
Dating back to the early 14th century this delightful red sandstone church, in the middle of town, boasts stained glass windows by Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris.

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