6 reasons to visit Driffield
PUBLISHED: 00:00 16 February 2018
Do you really need a reason to visit the East Yorkshire market town of Driffield? If so, Tony Greenway is here to give you not just one reason, but six...
Someone — I’m not saying who — practically sighed when I asked them to give me some good reasons to go to Driffield. ‘Look,’ they said. ‘It’s always going to be Beverley’s poor relation.’ That seemed a bit harsh to me. True, Beverley is, from an architectural perspective, a more attractive town (we’re bracing ourselves for outraged letters). But Driffield, the capital of the Yorkshire Wolds, and — so Google tells me — 13 miles or so directly north of Beverley, still has its charms. Doesn’t it? It does, agrees Claire Binnington, town clerk at Driffield Town Council. ‘If you’re looking for something like Beverley, you’re not going to get it,’ she admits. ‘But if you want an unpretentious, rural market town experience with a really good mix of national and independent traders, then that’s what we do.’
And Driffield does it very well. Come on, what other place has a singing barber (really) and a gorgeous little vintage tea room that whisks you back to a long-forgotten era? It also has a beautiful canal that’s currently undergoing development, an award-winning greengrocer, good pubs, some fine butchers and the Wooden House (on Exchange Street) which makes handmade furniture and accessories. ‘There isn’t really what you’d call “a tourist attraction” here,’ says market trader Phil Allerston, who has been selling traditional toys in Driffield for around five years. ‘There isn’t a big Minster to look around so if anything, it possibly suffers from that. But it is a small, traditional, friendly town.’ And it all sits in the middle of beautiful Wolds countryside.
OK, so if you take off your rose-coloured specs for a moment, you’ll notice that Driffield has its local problems, too. ‘Current challenges are the retention of our hospital services at the Alfred Bean Hospital, and the community has launched various campaigns recently to try to save the already diminishing services there, most especially the Minor Injury Unit,’ says Claire. From a visitor’s perspective, however, Driffield and its surroundings should definitely be on your ‘to do’ list. You can follow in the footsteps of the founding father of British archaeology, visit the town’s thriving street market, admire its pretty canal, get out and walk in the Wolds and take a trip to two exquisite nearby stately homes. Do you really need any more reasons?
1. Its independent shops...
You’ve got to love Driffield’s independent retailers, which sit comfortably alongside national chains. Walking into The Singing Barber, for instance, was like walking onto the set of Happy Days (ask your parents), with its jukeboxes, piano, guitars on the walls, records on the ceiling and showbizzy pictures above the mirrors (everyone from Shirley Bassey to Frank Sinatra). The owner, Laura Ellis, is a professional singer who has performed all over the world on cruise ships and also sang at Disneyland Paris for a number of years. She’s now started doing gigs again and covers all styles from rock ‘n’ roll to jazz and blues.
Down the street is the Molly & Jean tearoom, run by the stylish Simon Field. I thought Simon’s cafe looked very 1940s. But, then again, it could have been 1950s. ‘We class ourselves as a vintage tearooms, so cover a multitude of decades,’ says Simon. ‘We found the décor in local shops and businesses and we use all local suppliers, too.’
2. Its town trail...
John Robert Mortimer (1825-1911) is one of the town’s most important historical figures. A former corn merchant born in nearby Fimber who moved to Driffield in 1867, Mortimer began excavating prehistoric burial mounds on the Wolds, and is known as ‘one of the founding fathers of modern day British archeology’.
Driffield Partnership has produced a leaflet detailing some important locations around the town associated with him.
3. Its market...
Every Thursday, Driffield’s street market comes to town. ‘The market attracts locals and visitors from outside villages,’ says Angela Longoni-Sarr, market officer and events co-ordinator, Driffield Town Council.
‘Driffield is the heart of the Wolds. It’s a hub town.’
4. Its canal...
If you walk down the high street and over the level crossing, you’ll come to Driffield’s pretty canal, which was built from the town to the navigable stretch of the River Hull in the 18th century. A gala was held last year to celebrate its 250th anniversary.
Driffield’s Riverhead was the terminal for all goods transported by boat but in the post-war period the canal fell into disuse and became blocked to commercial craft (although leisure boats still use it). ‘There is a great ambition in the town to see the Riverhead area of Driffield developed and grow as a major tourist attraction,’ says Claire Billington. ‘The Driffield Navigation Trust, The Driffield Navigation Amenities Association and the Driffield Town Council, with support from East Riding of Yorkshire Council, are in the process of making initial steps to bring a major project to fruition at Riverhead that will attract visitors to the area and also bring more boats. In 2018 the canal will be fully navigable to Wansford after work on the Whinhill bridge has been completed by the Trust.’
The Driffield Show — held in July each year — is the largest one day agricultural show in the country, and is run by the Driffield Agricultural Society and held at the Driffield Showground.
The showground also plays host to various events throughout the year, including a vintage steam rally in August which attracts thousands of visitors. Plus the area has a strong connection to the RAF, whose personnel were stationed at the airfield during the war (14 people — army, RAF and one civilian — were killed after a Luftwaffe raid in August 1940). ‘We organise a vintage fair in May at the Showground — and that’s down to Driffield’s link with RAF,’ says Angela Longoni-Sarr. Look out for details soon at driffieldvintagefairandfunday.co.uk
6. Its close to two stately homes...
Sledmere House is a manor house extended and redecorated by Sir Christopher Sykes in the 1780s and 1790s that was gutted by fire in 1911 and then renovated (making it a property that is both Georgian and Edwardian). It’s now the home of Sir Tatton Sykes, 8th Baronet.
Burton Agnes Hall, meanwhile, built between 1598 and 1610, is an Elizabethan jewel described by journalist and author Simon Jenkins as ‘the perfect English house’. w