Wiveliscombe: Wivey’s got the wow factor
PUBLISHED: 10:40 21 May 2019
From splashing around in a lido to shopping in an exclusive interiors store, there are plenty of surprises for visitors to the town of Wiveliscombe, discovers Catherine Courtenay
"So, can you tell me about Wiveliscombe…?"
Meeting local residents, Jo Dove and Barbara Edwards, having popped into Silver Street Studios where the two were at work, I was unprepared for the amount of information they proceeded to give me. In fact, so much is happening in Wiveliscombe, it transpires, that even they were surprised at the wealth of material they came up with in answer to my question.
The town has two breweries - Cotleigh and Exmoor - a fact I was aware of, but Cotleigh is also big on music, and holds monthly Silver Street Sessions of often folk-based acts - all arranged by David Bond, who runs the town's post office.
Another resident, Eddie Gaines, started up a film club, Cinema Obscura, which has been running for almost 20 years at the primary school and seeks out some of the best and unusual world cinema offerings. Then there's the recently expanded Wivey Gym down on the industrial estate which offers everything, from circuit training and boxercise to zumba, yoga and personal training.
The town has its own radio station (which was initially set up by Barbara's husband, Julian Mellor, way back in 2005 and is still going strong) and there's a very on-trend repair café, where, once a month, people can take broken items along to the community centre to be repaired, or help by mending things themselves.
I am feverishly writing everything down, but Jo and Barbara are still going strong...
Wiveliscombe has a great farmers' market, they say, then there's a community herb garden and a community apple pressing group. The town even has its own homeopath. A vet of many years, Geoff Johnson went on to train as a veterinary homeopath and eventually took further training to start treating humans too.
"The swimming pool, we nearly forgot the swimming pool!"
Yes, this is a town with its own heated open air pool, or lido. Situated behind the tennis courts, it's getting more and more popular every year, they tell me.
While they talk, Barabara is pinning a curtain. She's based at the front of the shop, making curtains and blinds and loose covers for furniture. Sewing has been a lifelong passion, but she trained as a biochemist and then as a teacher, before eventually going back to her heart's true vocation.
A ceramicist of more than 20 years, Jo now runs classes, alongside mostly commissioned work, from a room behind the shop front.
Creativity runs strong in this town, and is perhaps best displayed in its biennial 10 Parishes Festival of visual and performing arts which sees more than 100 events, taking place in Wiveliscombe and the surrounding villages. It's on this year, running from 7-15 September.
Having been the childhood home of the famous TV celebrity chef Keith Floyd, it seems appropriate that the town is championing a present day culinary success story.
Duende restaurant opened a year and a half ago but has already won a gold award by Taste of the West and was named best restaurant in the Somerset Life Food and Drink Awards 2018. Initially starting as a pop up restaurant around the Chilterns, chef patron Tim Zekki decided to put down roots in the Somerset town - much to the whole area's delight.
Another Wiveliscombe treasure, which you can't miss even if you tried, is The Courthouse Interiors.
Set in a striking red tiled building in the centre of town, it's like stepping into Liberty's of London - only better.
The Grade II-listed house was built in 1881 for William Hancock of Hancocks breweries.
It's particularly interesting inside, explains the shop's director Oliver Fatemi, because Hancock used old fittings within the house - even an ancient stone archway that came from the Bishop's Palace in Wells.
At the heart of the house is a central hallway where you can sit and enjoy a coffee and slice of cake, or a light lunch, while gazing up through three floors to the vaulted ceiling. Morris and Co fabrics and Persian carpets hang on walls and drape over banisters.
Every room in the property is packed with treasures to buy, both new and antique. Many of the items are sourced from around the world by 31-year-old Oliver who took over the business from his parents about a year ago. He goes to Iran for the Persian carpets and tapestries, some of which cost thousands of pounds and take many months to make.
He's proud to say that many of his designer fabrics and wallpapers from exclusive makers like House of Hackney and Cole & Son, can only be found in Harrods and Liberty. How does he achieve this exclusivity? It seems by being known in design circles, and through sheer persistence, along with a big helping of charm.
Away from the glamour of the Courthouse, Wivey has its core shops, essentials like the butchers - Thorne's - and Wivey Hardware, bold and bright-painted shop fronts indicating their solid presence in the town.
Then there's the garden shop in North Street which is overflowing with plants and, along with other stores, is on a mission to cut plastics in the town. Heather Harvey at Wivey Larder, the town's general store and larder, says there is an active Action on Climate Change group.
Her shop has refill points for customers to fill up on cleaning products and toiletries.
Sweets have always been sold loose, in paper bags, and egg boxes are re-used.
"It suits customers who want to buy a little and often," she says.
The latest addition is the milk dispenser. People can buy a glass bottle, or bring in any bottle, and refill from the milk machine. It's still from local Gundenham Dairy too.
For a relatively small shop, the Wivey Larder is packed with eco-innovation as well as products, and judging by the number of customers calling in, Heather and her team are on to a winner.
The town has a rich history, with the brewing industry playing a major part. The Wiveliscombe Heritage Arts Trail celebrates this with a series of plaques, made by artists to mark some of the sites of its 28 pubs and inns, along with sculpture and artworks at key points in the town, including carved oak seats and impressive sculpted gates at the entrance to the Jubilee Gardens.
The gardens also contain an obelisk, covered in tiles which were made by children at the primary school to mark the centenary of the First World War. The tiles weave in the story of the Mule Trains which brought animals originally from South America to Bristol docks where they were taken by train to various rural towns and villages to be nursed back to full health by local farmers before being shipped off to serve on the front line. Wivey's children helped care for the animals and this Home Front story is now immortalised through a beautiful piece of art.
For a former cloth making town it seems only fitting that Wivey is home to clothing companies.
Flying Dodo Clothing is run by Leah Kramer who restarted the company originally set up by her father in 1992 in Cornwall. The leisurewear range includes a smock-style garment that uses Tecnowool, a warm and cosy fabric made from pile and carded wool, that's not treated with chemicals and is mostly recycled.
Another company is Watt to Wear which creates branded garments for businesses and clubs, using both printing methods and embroidery.