Why you should move to Beverley
PUBLISHED: 00:00 17 October 2016
Smart shops, a lively bar and restaurant culture plus a thriving arts scene all add up to an attractive town for house hunters and property developers, as Tony Greenway finds out
Quiz question: which good-looking Yorkshire location features a mix of chain stores and independent shops, gorgeous Georgian architecture, a minster, green spaces, cobbled streets, a racecourse, as well as a great entertainment and festivals scene? York? No. Or rather: yes, it does, but that’s not the one I’m thinking of. I’m thinking of Beverley.
One UK high street can look pretty much like another but Beverley is different thanks to its independent shops, where, for example, a traditional butchers (Ye Olde Pork Shoppe) sits next door to an e-cigarette outlet (Vape); where family businesses like Millie’s of Beverley (offering takeaway coffee, sandwiches and treats) are on the up and up and where most of the chains are on the smart side.
To my eyes, Beverley is like a small, contained version of York. Unlike York, however, you can park (for a fee) smack dab in the town square, if you can find a space or on the cobbled parking bays on North Bar Within in the beautiful Georgian Quarter, which is very handy.
Beverley’s reputation as a lively place to be is attracting new names on the bar and restaurant scene. This summer, after an £800,000 renovation of the former Hodgsons pub, a quirky new venue opened on Flemingate called The Potting Shed Bar & Gardens. This certainly lives up to its name, because diners can sit in one of the ‘potting sheds’ in the beer garden and order waiter/waitress service to their heart’s content. There’s already a Potting Shed venue in Bingley, but the owners took the decision to open a second one in Beverley. So we presume there’s a good reason for that – right?
‘We chose to open in Beverley because we saw a great opportunity to take over a well-known large unit in a great, affluent town,’ says Isaac Mayne of the Burning Night Group, the company behind the Potting Shed. In the summer holidays immediately after its launch, midweek clientele included families during the day and then drinkers from the local area after work. ‘Weekends have been a mix of customers,’ says Isaac, ‘from the local football team after matches to people from York and Hull who are in Beverley for the day.’
As an expression of Beverley’s bustling business confidence, a £70million retail development called the Flemingate Shopping Centre opened in 2015. Situated near the minster, it includes a Debenhams, Bolo, Peacocks, Outfit, H&M, Costa and – possibly most popular of all – the Parkway Cinema; although, when the centre launched, some residents and traders expressed fears that it could threaten the shops on the high street.
But for the casual visitor, Beverley offers more than just shops, restaurants, bars and cafes. There are some wonderful buildings and heritage to marvel at, too. This includes the Gothic splendour of the minster (which recently doubled for Westminster Abbey in the ITV version of Victoria starring Jenna Coleman), and St Mary’s Church with its stunning nave ceiling, painted blue with gold stars. And don’t overlook the Grade I listed Guildhall in Register Square, with its ornate Georgian courtroom dripping with plaster stucco-work. When I visited one Friday morning in late August, this was the location for an exhibition called Beverley on Film, a collection of local history movies about life in the town through the ages (you can still catch it: it runs until November 18th). If you’re new to Beverley, walking trails are a good way to get your bearings, and include the Beverley Town Trail, plus a ‘can you spot them?’ trail of 22 full size paintings by local artists Fred Elwell (1870-1958) and Mary Elwell (1874-1952).
Arts and entertainment is also buzzing. East Riding Theatre, which opened in 2014 in a converted Baptist church, has Judi Dench as its patron and actor Vincent Regan – from the movies Troy, 300, Clash of the Titans, and Snow White and the Huntsman – as its artistic director (you might not know his name, but you’ll know his face). There are festivals galore, too.
Jim Pybus is director of the biggest one: the atmospheric annual Beverley Folk Festival, which has grown considerably over its 34 years and now enjoys an international profile. ‘We’re proud of the festival,’ says Jim. ‘We estimated that we attracted 6,000 people over the weekend of the 2016 event.’ Four years ago, the festival relocated to Beverley Racecourse, which means the main stages are a mile from the town. ‘But we want to involve the town in the event, because the festival is part of Beverley,’ says Jim. ‘So there are venues in the town centre that put on fringe events.’
Not surprisingly, all of the above means that Beverley has become something of a property hotspot – an effect called ‘the Beverley bubble’ according to Roland Peck from EweMove estate agents in the town. ‘People move to Beverley for the lifestyle,’ he says. ‘We sell quite a lot of our properties to people from the South. The town is a bit of a hidden gem. Some people describe it as a mini York.’ (You know, just like I did at the beginning.)
Houses aren’t cheap but it seems that lots of people, young and old, want to move here or retire here and, buoyed by three secondary schools – Beverley High School (outstanding, Oftsed 2015), Beverley Grammar School (good, Oftsed 2015) and Longcroft School (good, Oftsed 2013) – the town regularly features in ‘Best Places to Live’ lists. ‘You do pay a premium for living in Beverley,’ says Roland. ‘Property in the villages outside costs a little bit less. You can get a bit more for your money there, let’s put it that way. But lots of people want to live in the town.’
Well, not all of them. Some of EweMove’s customers are international and buying in Beverley for investment purposes. ‘We just sold a property to someone in Singapore,’ says Roland. ‘He hasn’t seen it. He’s buying it for capital growth. Even in the bad years when things crashed, Beverley levelled and never sank.’
No wonder developers have their eye on the place, too. In January, for instance, it was announced that Linden Homes and Strata Homes want to build a whopping 800-1,000 properties on Beverley’s south-eastern flank on a 41-hectare site between Beverley Parklands and the southern bypass (the plans also include a park and ride scheme for around 300-500 cars and new pedestrian/cycle access). Linden Homes confirmed that, at the time of writing, a submission for planning permission had been made ‘but this has yet to be determined by the local planning authority’.
The argument is that new developments like these attract more retail business. ‘And I think the town is big enough to absorb them,’ says Roland, who points out that Beverley’s heritage will remain. ‘Also, in my opinion, Beverley shouldn’t be a museum. Will developments have a big impact? I don’t think so, because historically the town has always had them. And anyway, where are locals going to live?’
You certainly get the feeling that no-one wants to spoil Beverley’s good looks by putting up an eye-sore. Last year, the press reported that buyers of converted Grade II listed buildings at Westwood Park, bordering Westwood pastures, had been banned from hanging out their washing, lest the site of the homeowners’ smalls ‘detract from the visual enjoyment of the building or otherwise cause offence to fellow residents’.
‘Visual enjoyment.’ That phrase seems to sum up Beverley’s appeal rather well because, once seen, this is a town that’s not forgotten. ‘When people come here for whatever reason, they’re very likely to return,’ says Jim Pybus. ‘That’s because they realise what a special place it is.’