Artists and craftspeople are beginning to change the look of Haworth
PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 August 2017 | UPDATED: 16:37 26 August 2017
This popular West Yorkshire tourist destination is not just about the Brontes as Martin Pilkington reports
Fifteen years ago beacons of cultivated retailing did exist in Haworth, but they were outnumbered by purveyors of Brontë souvenirs of sometimes questionable taste. Today that precipitous street is a hub of stylish and artistic shops, the latter in particular often drawing upon local artists and craftspeople. ‘It used to be mainly souvenir shops selling “a thimble from Haworth”,’ says painter George Bowden, who with his wife Sarah opened the tiny gallery Wuthering Arts last year. ‘Haworth has come late to the party compared to Hebden Bridge, but we’re getting there, with a number of art-led enterprises on Main Street, and more on the way – a friend has bought what was the Edinburgh Woollen Mill, an old weaving shed, and that’s going to be a huge gallery.’
For George the Brontë connection remains important, but in a very different way to ‘a gift from’ souvenirs. ‘Most of what I paint is to do with Haworth, but it goes back to the landscape that inspired them and inspires me, places like Top Withins and Brontë Falls. I try to paint the experience of the moors.’
Lighthouse Lane, run by Katie Shelmerdine and her husband Howard, is another recent artistic addition. Katie’s vibrant Haworth-inspired paintings, delicate lampshades and fabric items, and household wares using her designs sit alongside pieces by other British artists and artisans fitting into what is clearly a growing scene. ‘Haworth has gone upmarket over the last few years,’ says Carol Addy who works in the shop. ‘There’s a lot more for the discerning shopper now, and people are trying to make it a lovely place to come and shop, with loads of great stuff from local sources – I bought three of Katie’s pictures of Haworth for my own house!’
At Number 71, the name and address of their shop on Main Street, Martyn Dowson and Kris Hird feature a wealth of what they themselves describe as quirky items. Much of the stock, again, is drawn from local creative talent. ‘A lot comes from the village or a five or six-mile radius – a big artistic community is developing in the area, so we have for example prints from a guy down the road, and cartoons from another who lives a stone’s throw away and we have pens made by a craftsman in York using wood removed from the roof of the Minster after the fire. Everything is either limited edition or an original.’
There’s a similar story at Hawksbys, where in a riot of colour and design stunning pieces by Yorkshire ceramicists and wood turners particularly catch the eye, though the stylish 1950s shop-fittings vie for attention. At the top of the street the shop fittings at The Cabinet of Curiosities, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, are a major part of the attraction. ‘We use lovely Victorian fittings to project something of a story about the place,’ says owner Caroline Rose, ‘and to help us sell lots of interesting and quirky bits and pieces. Collecting Victorian shop fittings has become something of an obsession for us.’ Soaps, candles, bath products and similar items – many made in its own Haworth workshop - fill the store with an amazing scent.
Many of the shop-owners and staff are keen to highlight their participation in the Fairtrade scheme, not surprising given Haworth was the world’s first ever Fairtrade village. At Daisy Days, Alison Wright thinks that’s partly about the customers they attract to Haworth now. ‘The people who come to the area are not take, take, take, they want to give back, they’re discerning, civilised people looking for something different.’ The different things they find in Daisy Days again include lots of local goods. She indicates jewellery from a maker in Sun Street and dazzling socks from Keighley. ‘I pick them up on Thursday on the way back from the gym,’ she says.
A few yards up the street at art-cafe Cobbles & Clay shoppers exercise their own creative talents. ‘We do very good food, and it’s a great place for coffee and a chat,’ explains owner Jill Ross, ‘but what’s unique here is you can paint pottery as well. There are about 100 pots to choose from, and we have paints and stencils, and books to spark ideas, though people come with their own.’ The painted pots are glazed and fired by Jill to be collected by or delivered to the customer, who then has a great gift for family of friends, or a very personal souvenir of the village that means more perhaps than a Brontë pencil – or thimble.
It’s not just the arty side of shopping in Haworth that’s a cut above. Those with a sweet tooth are spoiled for choice with the traditional Mrs Beighton’s Sweetshop, and the contemporary And Chocolate. Actually many of the fine chocolates at the latter emporium, opened by Simon Packham four-and-a-half years ago, probably qualify as art on looks alone. He’s an evangelist for true chocolate, carrying out tastings, and talks for local schools and organisations – strangely he is not short of invitations.
Mrs Beighton’s is packed with the sweets that might make a fortune for dentists but delight us nevertheless; gobstoppers and proper hard wine gums, cinder toffee, lucky bags and even Wright & Co’s Brandy Snaps from Brighouse. ‘It’s not an imitation old-fashioned sweet shop, it’s been a sweet shop for as long as anyone can remember,’ says Alan Breeze, who bought it three years ago.
The heritage Keighley & Worth Valley Railway celebrates its 50th anniversary next year, and the line itself is 150 years old in 2017. Rescued by enthusiasts after Beeching axed the branch line in 1962, it has proved a major tourist attraction for Haworth since reopening in 1968. ‘We started off with a couple of engines and coaches, and it’s grown from there,’ says station director Roger Wood. ‘We now have more than 10 steam locos, half a dozen diesels, and operate a service throughout the year.’ They also arrange events throughout the year, with upcoming mouth-watering prospects like their Beer and Music Festival between October 19th and 22nd, with more than 150 beers and 20 musical performances; and their regular Haworth Haddocks and Keighley Kormas – fish and chip and curry specials.