High street heroes of Ossett and Horbury

PUBLISHED: 13:36 11 February 2014 | UPDATED: 13:36 11 February 2014

Town Hall,  Ossett.

Town Hall, Ossett.

Joan Russell Photography

Talk to any of the independent shopkeepers whose successful businesses pepper the thriving main streets of Ossett and Horbury and it won’t be long before the word ‘loyalty’ crops up.

There’s a strong feeling of mutual support between store owners and their customers, with the latter wanting to shop local and the former making sure they have got everything they need on their doorstep.

‘People really want to buy locally,’ said Debbie Squires of Squires Family Deli in Ossett. ‘It’s been really noticeable in the past year or so that people have started challenging themselves to shop as local as possible, to stay loyal to their own community,’ she added.

‘When my daughter recently got married I got everything I needed right here in Ossett, even a milliner to make my hat. It took me 20 minutes to source what I wanted from start to finish – I couldn’t have done it as quickly online.

‘I think people are getting fed up of the impersonal service you get in supermarkets and on the internet. I’m proud to say that our customers are also our friends.’

The Squires began with a string of market stalls, but Debbie’s husband Peter always had a hankering for a proper shop. In fact, his idea of a romantic date when they met 28 years ago was to take Debbie to a few delis to weigh up the potential competition. He finally achieved his dream on May 15th (Debbie’s birthday) two years ago.

It was a case of now or never, but was not a decision the family made without considerable market research.

‘We quizzed our market stall customers about whether they’d use a local deli and what sort of stuff they’d like it to sell,’ said Debbie. ‘They were really enthusiastic, so we knew the customer base was there.’

Now people come from all corners of the county for Squires’ potted meat, coleslaw and fresh-from-the-oven scones (to name just three of their best-sellers).

‘They might come for my potted meat, but they stay for the day,’ said Debbie. ‘They’ll come on market day so they can really make the most of what Ossett has to offer.’

Peter and Debbie run the deli alongside their business partners Becky and Adam (their daughter and son-in-law) with invaluable help from Debbie’s mum Pat, their daughter Sarah and son George. They’ve also got full-timer Gill (whose daughter Sophie helps out when they’re busy) and Hannah, their Saturday girl, who they’re proud to say all feel like members of the family.

There are well over 100 businesses in the bustling centre of Ossett, only a handful of which are national retail chains, enabling it to maintain a strong local presence. This sense of community-mindedness is echoed in nearby Horbury, where there is a similarly impressive mix of independent shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs.

For a relatively small place, Horbury boasts more than its fair share of wonderful architecture and historic buildings including the medieval Horbury Hall and on Tithe Barn Street an old lock up – or kidcote – that was originally used as a prison.

Perhaps its architectural heritage shouldn’t come as a surprise though, given that renowned Georgian architect John Carr was born in the town. He designed and paid for the neo-classical Church of St Peter and St Leonard and is buried there.

Horbury has an interesting mix of notable medieval, Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian buildings, but it’s the shops and businesses that form the backbone of the modern town, drawing in customers from near and far. The vast majority are family-owned, like greengrocer Earnshaw’s of Horbury which has been open for business for 75 years, although the family’s local connections go back much further.

‘My great-great grandad had a shoddy mill on Twitch Hill in the 19th century,’ said Andrew Earnshaw. ‘So you could say that we’ve been in business in Horbury in three different centuries.’

The current business was set up by his grandmother Emma, who was inspired to set up a fruit shop in Queen Street in 1939 by her father Norman Hargreaves, a former collier who left the pit due to ill health and began hawking locally-grown produce round the streets of Thornhill, Middlestown and Dewsbury.

She ran the business with her husband Eric Earnshaw until his death in 1970 when the mantle was taken up by their sons Norman and Stuart. They formed a successful partnership that lasted until Stuart retired five years ago, replaced by Norman’s son Andrew.

To say the latest Earnshaw to run the shop likes working in Horbury is an understatement: ‘There’s a wonderful array of independent businesses here and it has a friendly village-like appeal to its centre. We have jewellers, butchers, bakers, dress shops, a furniture shop, cafes, hairdressers, nail bars, dry cleaners, bridal shops, several pubs, a deli, a DIY store and lots of eateries and fast food outlets. And, best of all, the businesses all complement each other.

‘Horbury is a positive, thriving community. Despite all the recent difficulties for the great British high street, our town continues to attract interest from way beyond its boundaries.’

Andrew paints an enviable picture of life on Horbury high street, but in order to maintain this level of success in the future surely it must be a moving rather that static picture?

‘The future looks bright for Horbury as long as it continues to pride itself on excellent personal service and providing specialists in their own independent fields,’ said Andrew.

‘We must also go along with technological advances in the retail sector. The use of email, social media and the internet shouldn’t be seen as a barrier to the smaller shop, but an opportunity to grasp with both hands.’

Tell us about your town’s high street heroes by emailing feedback@yorkshirelife.co.uk, tweeting @Yorkshire_Life or writing to Yorkshire Life at 1200 Century Way, Leeds, LS15 8ZA.

Latest from the Yorkshire Life