European Report #3: Beautiful Beverley

I’ve written it before and I’ll write it again: Beverley, the East Yorkshire town where I was born, must be one of the loveliest places in England.

After previous visits home, I’ve documented Beverley’s tourist appeal – the Minster, the Westwood, the architecture and the pubs. This time round, I’d like to celebrate the shops. Beverley has lost many a green-grocer and butcher to the increasing homogenization of the British shopping experience: the town’s pedestrian shopping street (Toll Gavel) is, like almost every pedestrian shopping street in England, populated by Woolworths, Smiths, Boots, Thorntons, Burtons, and one of those Marks and Spencers Express mini-markets that are so popular these days. A giant Tesco’s in the centre of town appears to draw outlying villagers by bus and to have become designated as the meeting spot for local youth who obviously don’t have the wheels to get to the equally vast Morrison’s on the edge of town. There’s a Pizza Express and a Café Nero and even a Laura Ashley. It’s only time before Starbucks moves in.

In the heart of Wednesday Market, Jack’s is still going strong…

But corporate retail has failed to kill Beverley’s independent spirit. On Wednesday Market, Jack’s of Beverley still does a roaring trade in locally-made mustards, chutneys and jams (and freshly cut meats), while in the heart of Toll Gavel, Robinson’s Chip Shop remains as popular as ever. In the streets around the Minster, old-fashioned coffee and tea houses abound, the kind of places where you can still order currant buns, Bakewell tarts and toasted cheese sandwiches. And though Burgess’ ice cream has been through the wars of late, losing its two stores for reasons not purely related to supply and demand, its mobile van continues to deliver some of the whitest, creamiest ice cream known to man and cow.

…As is The Tea Cosy and countless other old-fashioned tea and coffee houses.

The persistence of these stalwarts is reassuring, but it’s the new generation of shops and cafes that give true cause to believe that Britain – or at least Beverley – remains at heart a “nation of shopkeepers.” Since audaciously opening in the heart of pedestrian Toll Gavel around four years ago, Tea Tree Bay has done a roaring trade with its street, surf and snowboard wear; I picked up a perfect autumnal Animal jacket this last trip, just like I picked up a Fenchurch cardie the previous time round and would surely buy my Quiksilver and O’Neill items there too if they weren’t cheaper in the States. Out beyond Tesco’s, meanwhile, in fact just the other side of the Majestic Wines Warehouse, Roberts and Speight lays claim to being one of the best independent wine and cheese stores in the north of England. They stock almost everything produced by Domaine la Soumade of Rasteau (which I visited in 1999), including the Vin de Pays Cabernet Sauvignon that doesn’t make it across the Atlantic; they also have not just Lebanon’s benchmark Chateau Musar red, the last three vintages all at sensible prices, but what looks like the rest of wine-maker Serge Hochar’s range, too. It’s all I can do not to bring the bottles home with me.

I have similar pangs for purchasing when I visit Ladygate Interiors, the downstairs of which is filled with perfectly designed if occasionally non-essential teapots, corkscrews, glasses, eggcups, stationary containers, LCD clocks and other such items by the likes of upmarket Italian brand Alessi. In fact, Beverley is well known as a home decorating destination – why else would Laura Ashley be here? – to which end the high-end chain Fired Earth displays upscale bathroom tiles, showers and sinks from its centrally located window, and Wednesday Market has just seen the opening of a furniture and dishware store that would not look out of place on Park Slope’s 5th Avenue.

Wednesday Market: the interior of newcomer Amanti would not look out of place in Park Slope or Primrose Hill; the exterior could only be a small English town.

(Sadly, last year Beverley lost one of its greatest independent shops, And Albert, which stocked fair trade furnishings and decorations from around the world. 26-year old Simon Murden, son of the store’s founder, was shot dead by police on the A63 near Hull after driving erratically against the run of traffic on the dual carriageway, and then allegedly charging at police with a sword. After an 18-month enquiry, the police were exonerated just this month. In the meantime, the Murden family closed the store in grief.)

Most encouragingly, I’ve noted an uptick in independent eateries. Café Nero in the market square is getting plenty competition both from Vanillas, which has the advantage of outdoor seating, and from nearby Mozart’s, which boasts an upstairs restaurant that I might try out next time around. Down on North Bar Within, meantime, newcomer Mason’s still appears to be going through an identity crisis – restaurant or café or lounge? Mediterranean or Thai or English menu? – but its rooftop bar has been an instant hit with the many well-off locals (the Mason’s web site calls them “sophisticates” who want a late-night option to the town’s many pubs.)

Café Nowhere on the narrow street of Lairgate offers Beverley an unexpected Bohemian brunch

And then there’s the newly-opened Café Nowhere on Lairgate, which boasts a ‘Hollywood’-inspired menu that comes down to film posters on the wall and a brave attempt at American brunch items – pancakes, omelettes, and French toast alongside the usual British Breakfasts, salads and, yes, toasted cheese sarnies. Parking myself down after an invigorating Saturday morning run on the Westwood, I initially passed over the idea of pancakes, figuring it a classic case of “coals to Newcastle.” But then I changed my mind; Who better, I thought as I ordered up a stack, to rate a Beverley café’s attempt at American-style pancakes than someone who eats at Phoenicia’s famous Sweet Sue’s twice a week?

As it turns out, they were wonderful, fluffy and about as healthy as pancakes can be (Café Nowhere boasts of organic eggs, and fair trade coffee and tea), with a bowl full of sautéed bananas and maple syrup on the side, just the thing for my post-run nosh-up. Service was brisk and conducted with a smile (as if anyone’s unpleasant in Beverley; I can’t walk around the town without thinking of that John Shuttleworth song, ‘Shopkeepers In The North’), and I took full advantage of the free reading materials, including the last week’s NME and the excellent new Hull freebie arts fanzine Ten Foot City. With its film nights, weekly psychic readings, nascent book club and general attempts at fostering a bohemian meeting spot, Café Nowhere is representative of Beverley’s youthful energy, one which ensures that for all the tourists around the Minster, country types at the market and yobs in the Push pub, Beverley is forging forward with its own identity as the northern market town to watch.

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November 2021