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Cordings joins the long list of quality independent retailers in Harrogate

PUBLISHED: 00:00 09 November 2015

Westminster shopping arcade, Harrogate

Westminster shopping arcade, Harrogate

© Peter Lopeman / Alamy Stock Photo

As an iconic London brand comes to Harrogate, we take a look at what independent retailers mean to the town. Words by Jo Haywood

Cordings styleCordings style

Cordings has clothed explorers, rock stars and royalty from its landmark store in London’s Piccadilly since 1839.

After 176 years of hard work and contemplation, it’s now taken the historic step of opening a second store – in Harrogate.

‘We have resisted attempts to open a second store in the past, but feel that Harrogate is the perfect location for Cordings,’ said managing director Noll Uloth. ‘The store will be even bigger than Piccadilly, and I feel we will be able to do justice to our collections, giving customers the same experience as they would get if they visited us in London.’

Cordings, which is part-owned by guitar hero Eric Clapton, has strong connections with Yorkshire. Many of its cloths are woven in local mills and numerous items in the collections are crafted in the county, including caps and waistcoats.

The new shop is set over three floors in the elegant surroundings of Westminster Arcade, selling field and country clothing, city suits and an exclusive ladies’ collection.

As a fiercely independent business specialising in top-end products, Cordings is in good company in Harrogate, a town that prides itself on offering an array of boutique businesses. There are, of course, the usual suspects when it comes to popular high street brands, but what sets the North Yorkshire town apart from its retail rivals is its concentration of stylish, stand-alone stores.

Hoxton North is a key case in point. This London-inspired lifestyle brand was set up by a Yorkshire duo who had lived in the capital for over a decade and wanted to import some of its vibrancy and verve to the north. Parliament Street in Harrogate seemed a natural home for their business adventure.

‘Setting up a business can be filled with uncertainty and doubt,’ said managing director Timothy Bosworth. ‘But Harrogate has a rich heritage of entrepreneurial drive with a lot of independent business situated around the town.

‘Where it’s different from other towns across the country is that it has a prestige and status that allows and affords its businesses to benefit from a seasonal tourist trade.’

It’s been a little over two years since Hoxton North opened in Harrogate and business is booming – thanks, in no small part, to an influx of likeminded individuals following in its wake.

‘What makes the town special for us at the moment is that we are seeing a growth of young professionals moving in who have all experienced living in cities across the country and now want to experience the food, drink and cultural diversity of Harrogate,’ said Timothy.

‘What the independent shops and businesses bring to the town is a rich retail and cultural mix that should be part of every town centre’s planning agenda.’

But Harrogate’s love of independent, boutique-style stores is not just a contemporary phenomenon. It’s a passion that stretches back decades – centuries even.

Ogden’s is a prime example. This renowned family jewellery business, based in James Street, has been championing the town’s independent-minded love of luxury for 122 years. So, who better to ask about Harrogate’s unique retail offering than Robert Ogden, a fifth generation member of this hard-working clan.

‘Harrogate has a good mix of high street retailers, particularly at the upper end of the cost spectrum,’ he said. ‘While these are not especially unique in terms of their offering, they are often housed in very aesthetically pleasing and unique locations. There are also still some wonderful independent shops, even though most of these are now found in streets away from the town centre.’

He believes independent shops are key to maintaining Harrogate’s vibrancy and its point of difference from, what he describes as, clone towns.

‘Harrogate’s beauty, green spaces and relative calm make for a very enjoyable shopping experience, a very different one from shopping in Leeds or York,’ Robert continued. ‘However, with declining interest in the spa town label, largely down to the leasing of the town’s best spa buildings to pubs and restaurants, and a reduction in conference trade, Harrogate needs a strong independent retail sector more than ever.

‘Leeds has seen huge investment in retail in recent years and is casting an increasing shadow. Independent shops are perhaps not Leeds’ strongest suit, and that is where Harrogate needs to score.’

If he has a criticism of the way the town’s independent sector is developing, it’s that too many shops are being squeezed out of the principal shopping streets because of high rents and the continued march of the multiples. He also thinks the council’s Masterplan strategy, aimed at accentuating Harrogate’s green spaces, is a little naïve when it comes to parking.

‘Like it or not, many shoppers come in by car, and putting parking fares up and pedestrianising vast swathes of the town centre will have appalling consequences for retail,’ said Robert.

‘On the plus side, Harrogate has better restaurants than it has ever had before and there are some fantastic independent shops in outlying roads, such as Cold Bath Road and Kings Road.’

So, how would he like to see the future of retail in Harrogate shaping up?

‘There’s a lot the council could be doing to strengthen Harrogate’s appeal to visitors,’ he concluded. ‘A good park and ride facility, a progressive parking policy in town that doesn’t penalise the retailers, a tourist website that really shouts about Harrogate’s appeal – only 12 shops are listed at the moment – a real focus on our heritage and wonderful buildings and, please, no more pedestrianisation.’ w

Share your views on Harrogate’s retail offering by writing to Yorkshire Life, PO Box 163, Ripon, North Yorkshire, HG4 9AG, email feedback@yorkshirelife.co.uk or tweet @Yorkshire_Life.

According to Cordings

:: John Charles Cording opened his first shop at 231 The Strand in 1839.

:: He worked with his sister Ellen, his mother Mary and, in 1857, employed his young cousin Henry Wilson, who eventually inherited the business.

:: The Duke of Connaught frequented the shop and in 1871 Sir Henry Morton Stanley was kitted out in preparation for his famous journey to find Dr Livingstone.

:: In 1877, the business transferred to 19 Piccadilly and, in 1902, acquired additional premises at 24 Jermyn Street and 35 St James’s Street, still called Cording House today.

:: Cordings was granted the Prince of Wales warrant as waterproofers to the future King George V at the turn of the century.

:: In 1922, the young Prince of Wales adopted Cordings as one of his outfitters in the manner of his father before him. It also made Newmarket boots for the Queen Mother, the Duke of Windsor and Mrs Simpson.

:: The Business passed out of the hands of the original family in 1971 when it was acquired by the owners of University Motors, the celebrated MG sports car dealers of Berkeley Square.

:: In 1986, a management team took over. Two years later, the Princess Royal made an official visit to the shop in her capacity as president of the British Clothing Export Council.

:: In February 2003, the management team approached Cordings’ best customer and asked if he would assist in a management buyout. He agreed within three minutes. That customer was Eric Clapton.

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