Neville Stanikk stepps Out in Frome

PUBLISHED: 16:19 25 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:15 20 February 2013

Neville Stanikk stepps Out in Frome

Neville Stanikk stepps Out in Frome

Whether it's for the multitude of independent quality shops, its vibrant arts scene or its historic buildings, if you have not visited Frome before then you are most certainly missing out. Words and photos by Neville Stanikk

To write about Frome, I have to use comparisons from elsewhere in Somerset but, for reasons which will become obvious, I wont mention any names. One town, on a weekday morning had no one, not a single person, on its high street for two hours; another had ten out of twelve shops in a particular location closed and empty, and another had nothing, not a single thing, happening in the town for the next six months. Its not their fault, its the recession. Possibly I expected the same of Frome, but its busy, prosperous and thriving. Ive been there before but somehow failed to notice the story. All I really remembered was its froom not froam, the End. And if you havent been there, thats probably the sum total of what you know too.

Get off to a good start

Its possible to miss Frome by driving down into it, up the other side and out, because that doesnt show you much. But if you stop and wander around youll pretty soon think, Theres a lot here, isnt there? And there is, an unfeasible amount shop after shop, streets of independent quality shops, really good cafs and restaurants, three theatres, two art galleries and the highest number of Listed Buildings in Somerset after Bath.

Gitte Morten, Volunteer, Black Swan Arts
We moved here from London four years ago because we were looking for somewhere good for families and children, somewhere small exactly like this with lots of art and music and a vibrant community.

How did this happen? And how does it continue? The story seems to be that Frome has become popular with Londoners, second-home owners and people for whom its come to represent the perfect, small, safe English town. They move here, they visit here, and they bring their money with them, and that success breeds success. That money, that custom supports shops like James Gaunt Interiors with room after room of beautiful fabrics that could (and do) adorn the windows of Libertys in London; it supports the three theatres the Merlin Theatre, the Memorial Theatre and the Cheese and Grain venue, with full and varied programmes throughout the year, and it supports the huge variety of artists and artisans strewn across the town and the exhibitions, workshops and markets that they engender.

Why visit now?

Frome has its own hugely successful festival in July, with national and international artists and performers attending, and this spirit of performance and exhibition continues throughout the year with hundreds of events (in the broadest sense) filling the year. If you are fascinated by the history of the town, why not take a guided walk of Frome with a local historian on 6 June? The tour starts at 2.30pm from The Round Tower, 2 Bridge Street, with donations to Frome Museum. For details call 01373 836595.

Dont miss!

As mentioned above, Frome is literally full of historic buildings and the lovely thing about them is that theyre so varied, so idiosyncratic and, to a photographer, a gift. Luckily you can combine visiting the best of Fromes shops with the best of its historic streets by walking along Cheap Street, with its little water course running down the middle, and by walking up the Hovis-evocative Catherine Hill. But dont miss the old workers village of the Trinity area with its neat streets of cream stone cottages and be sure to seek out the lovely little Gentle Street right next to St John the Baptists Church, which is a fascinating building in itself

Steven Jenkins, Ceramicist and Printmaker
There are lots of artists and creative people here. Theres a great heritage of crafts in the area, with its textile and printing past. Frome is small but has a great community.

Step back in time

The Church of St John the Baptist dates from AD 685, when St Aldhelm founded his mission on the edge of Selwood Forest and the town of Frome grew around it. (The face of St Aldhelm now adorns the town as its brand.) But by the middle of the 19th century it had fallen into disrepair and was almost completely rebuilt in the 1860s at the huge cost of 40,000 (now worth almost 15 million). I wont go into great detail here about the church architecture, but its almost a cathedral, being big and extremely richly adorned with statues and carvings inside and, on the lower side outside, an ornate bas relief frieze of the Via Crucis (scenes of the journey to the Crucifixion), with a drinking fountain at its lowest point, the water of which forms the stream running through Cheap Street.
What I find fascinating about the extravagance of this church is that the work was finished in 1866, seven years after the publication of Darwins On the Origin of Species and it feels like a reaction to that, an over-zealous response of piety and religious fervour in the face of growing doubts about the literal truth of the Bible a sort shouting down of the opposition in stone form.

Jill Sandy, Volunteer, Frome Museum

We dont have just chain shops but lots of independent ones, as well as a thriving arts scene. I take visitors on the Town Walk and then pop into either La Strada coffee shop in Cheap Street or the Garden Caf on Stony Street.

As a final compliment to Frome, Ill say this theres a lot more to write about Frome, a very fascinating and interesting place.

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