Thriving on the quiet side
Nov 2 2007 Property Place
Visitors to Shipston-on-Stour will love its pretty Georgian buildings and thriving shops. Some like it so much, they end up staying, writes Sarah Probert.
On the edge of the Cotswolds, Shipston-on-Stour often attracts a few visitors who marvel at the variety of shops, the welcoming smile from the traders and the pretty streets and alleyways lined with period buildings. A quick glance around and it is easy to see why this Warwickshire town has something special about it.
Unlike many of its neighbours, it is not a cloned town where the bakers, grocers and butchers have long gone and been replaced with nothing more than a few supermarkets intermingled with charity shops.
Here you will find several traditional butchers, grocers, bakers and a whole range of other stores selling everything from antiques to fine wine and clocks.
The town even has a saddlers, a rarity to be found anywhere these days, never mind the high street. It is perhaps this wealth of amenities that has attracted homebuyers to the area, which is on the doorstep of Stratford-upon-Avon and a commutable distance from Oxford or Birmingham.
For Angela Noyce and her husband Alan, both town councillors, Shipston offers something special, whether that be the great food available from the shops or the myriad clubs and organisations which operate here.
The couple have lived here for 45 years and have never wanted to be anywhere else since. They had applied for a council house in Stratford-upon-Avon but were told they would have to wait several years, so they took up the council's offer to move into a flat in Shipston.
"It was the only place that offered us a home when we got married," says Angela, who was town mayor last year, before passing the chains to her husband this year. "It is such a great place to be. To live here is lovely. A lot of people who have passed through Shipston end up coming back and often look for somewhere to live here."
Although there are plenty of period homes in the centre of town, including a manor house, Shipston also has a lot of new builds on the outskirts, from 1960s council houses to modern development.
However, the lack of social housing, in common with many rural towns and villages, has become an issue.
"There are quite a lot of different periods in Shipston. There are some very old houses in the town centre but on the outskirts they are fairly modern buildings, built within the last 50 to 60 years," says Angela.
"At one point in history Shipston virtually burnt down and so they had to rebuild. It is certainly a desirable area as properties don't stay on the market for very long."
Angela believes the wealth of amenities bring people to the area. As well as the shops, there are also dozens of clubs from rugby to football, amateur dramatics to needlework.
There is so much going on that the town council now produces a monthly 16 page newspaper for residents and there is also a town blog.
"It is a very active, vibrant place. There are more elderly people here than youngsters but the town is trying to address that," says Angela.
Next month, the town will have a Christmas lights switch on and host Victorian evenings to celebrate the festive period.
For the visitor, it is easy to see the town is a bustling place, with signs advertising everything from bonfire night to rugby club matches, but it is perhaps the shops which lure the visitors to this peaceful part of the world.
The wealth of local food shops appearing here in recent years has placed Shipston-on-Stour in a similar league to the foodie capital Ludlow, which is famous for its high quality food shops.
"Most people when they come into Ship-ston say how friendly it is. They like the range of shops because most of them are owned and run by the same people so they get a friendly service.
"The shopkeepers make sure they get to know their customers and provide what they need," Angela says. "You can buy everything you need in Shipston without having to go out of the town. We have got a couple of butchers and they are very good, sourcing their meat locally and they know how to hang it.
"We have Rightons, which does great home-made pies and Taylor's, who also make their own pies. If you pass any of these shops when they are cooking the smell alone draws you in."
While the retailers appear to be thriving, Angela says the town council is working to ensure they are not nosed out by any large developments.
"The town council is fighting very hard so we don't lose what we have got. The town has to evolve and grow but we don't want to lose what is here already or see it change so it becomes like any other town centre," she explains.
Julia Cook, who runs Rightons, the local butcher's shop in Sheep Street, has lived in the town for more than 30 years.
She and her family took over the shop two years ago to sell their home-reared beef and sheep and homemade pies.
Since then, a second butchers, Taylor's has followed along with Taste of the Country, a deli specialising in local food, and a decent bakery, which is worth a visit for the bakewell tart alone.
"It is a great place to be. If you go into town to do some shopping it can take ages because you are always stopping and chatting to people. It is a very sociable place," says Julia. "We came here and then the bakery next door was opened by a young couple and there have been several new businesses since then.
"In the last two years I would like to think we have upped the ante and brought in a bit of quality food to the town. Certainly there is the idea that this is quite a foodie town now, perhaps it hasn't reached the dizzy heights of Ludlow but it is getting there and I think Shipston needed a bit of a resurgence."
However, Shipston is not without its problems. Like most towns, for visitors and residents alike, parking can be a problem. This is a rural town with little public transport and so the majority of residents own at least one car.
"Parking is a problem, especially in the centre and we haven't got a lot of places to put car parks," says Angela. "When you live in Shipston you can't rely on public transport, you have to have a car. We used to have a theatre bus that went into Stratford but that stopped. Now the last bus is as 6.20pm."
The town council is currently developing a town plan, asking residents to highlight issues which may affect them in the area.
"One of the issues which has been mentioned is that youngsters feel there are a lack of things to do, But then those who don't want to, won't," Angela says. "There is a lot here for youngsters if they are interested in sport. We have junior rugby and cricket teams, the tennis club and a skateboard park."
Being close to the River Stour also has its own problems. The town was hit badly by this year's floods in July with the library still closed and many of the shops in the lower part of town badly affected.
Today, some are still empty as they undergo major repair works, but the town itself was developed as a result of this fast flowing river.
According to the history books, it was once known as Sheep-wash-Town because the Stour was used for the washing of sheep in the early summer, and being surrounded by wonderful countryside, the town became a perfect place for a sheep market.
Spinning and weaving were two of the main occupations and in the 17th century a large organisation was set up where home workers would manufacture woollen velvet called shag.
Poverty struck the town after the Napoleonic Wars, eventually leading to the building in 1835 of the Workhouse later known as Shipston House.
However, the town's shopkeepers continued to enjoy some prosperity, with the town sustaining more than 90 retail establishments covering every trade and profession, but it was the opening of the London to Birmingham railway in 1838 which brought a very sudden end to this profitable retail era.
Today, Shipston has a relatively small population of about 5,000 people. House prices are not cheap as the close proximity to Stratford-upon-Avon, the Cotswolds and easy access to motorways make it a desirable residence for commuters.
Property prices here are well above average. You can get a detached home for £380,000 compared to the national average of £328,000. Semi-detached will set you back an average £225,800 compared to the national figure of £192,628.
This is certainly a desirable spot, which provides great access to major towns and cities but set in the Warwickshire countryside with rolling fields and pretty Cotswold villages all around.