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Why Hawkshead is becoming a major destination for foodies

PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 January 2020

Owners Robin and Joanne Johnston in their 550 year old tea room The Minstrel's Gallery

Owners Robin and Joanne Johnston in their 550 year old tea room The Minstrel's Gallery

Milton Haworth

Foodie businesses in Hawkshead are enjoying the taste of success and are one of the reasons crowds flock to the charming and historic village

Chocolatier Ella O'Brien paints the face of Alice Gates aged seven at the chocolate workshop for childrenChocolatier Ella O'Brien paints the face of Alice Gates aged seven at the chocolate workshop for children

With its cobbled square, traffic-free centre and buildings going back to pre-Tudor times, Hawkshead has long had a chocolate-box image so it is fitting that one of the latest enterprises to join its attractions is a based on the cocoa bean.

Hawkshead Chocolate Factory, nestling in the clutch of shops around the car park oozes celebration of the sweet stuff. Not only does it sell an endless selection of luxury and novelty delicacies, it gives visitors the opportunity to make their own.

The old Lancashire village's own Willy Wonka is Andrew Wilson who comes from a long-line of chocolate entrepreneurs. He was the third generation to run famed Kendal Mint Cake and novelty chocolate makers, Wilson's, which started in Kendal back in 1913.

Around its centenary the original factory moved to near Holme on the Lancashire-Westmorland border, but had to go into administration in January 2016 due to massive overheads. The brand is still going strong with Andrew buying back the name.

Judy Haddow with son-in-law Andrew and Daughter  Fiona Wilson in Judy's gift shopJudy Haddow with son-in-law Andrew and Daughter Fiona Wilson in Judy's gift shop

Andrew and his wife Fiona, who is Hawkshead born and bred, bought an existing clothing shop, gutted it and began the chocolate making as a franchise of the Scotland-based Cocoa Bean company.

By mutual agreement, 18 months later, that arrangement ended and two years ago the Wilsons went about recreating their own brand.

'Children come in and make their own chocolate creations with shapes like dinosaurs, cats, trains, bears and others. They can even get their faces painted in chocolate,' says Andrew.

Most of the young customers go away smeared with the stuff, which must seem like heaven. They also get to keep their aprons and hairnets. And it is not just children who enjoy the chocolate experience - hen parties, works outings, and grown-up birthday parties, as well as school groups keep the chocolate creativity flowing.

Hawkshead Grammar School built in 1585 and attended by William WordsworthHawkshead Grammar School built in 1585 and attended by William Wordsworth

The Chocolate Factory is two doors down from Haddows Gift Shop, which is run by Andrew's mother-in-law, Judy. And to complete the family trilogy, Andrew's wife Fiona runs Honeypot delicatessen in The Square.

In a strange twist of fate Andrew's mother, Sally, a land army girl during World War Two met his father James when he was selling mint cake and chocolates in Hawkshead.

'And that is exactly how I met Fiona, when I came to the village to sell mint cake,' says Andrew. 'That gave me as good a reason as any to be in Hawkshead, a stone's throw from where my dad met my mum.'

Fiona went to the village school when the new first opened in the early 1970s and has never left, apart from holidays, since. 'I just love Hawkshead, and never wanted to leave it. It is such a pretty village,' she said.

She and her parents bought the Honeypot 21 years ago, when it was a bakers and general grocer. They have since developed it into a specialist deli, stocking hundreds of local and luxury foods and drinks.

'We are about supporting producers, both local and small independents from around the world, including 50 brands of honey.'

In fact the only luxury brand they don't stock is Hawkshead Relish, as the eponymous brand's base shop is just two doors away. In between is Hawkshead's oldest building, now The Minstrel Gallery, originally built in 1458 it has been a private dwelling, an apothecary, an inn called the Crown and Mitre and since the 1940s a tea room. Last April it was taken over by Sunderland couple Rob and Joanne Johnston.

She had been in the NHS for 39 years as nurse and health visitor, but had always been a keen baker, supplying cakes for colleagues and patients. Rob had been a gardener, and had been visiting the Lake District since being a child.

'We aim to keep it as a traditional tea-room,' said Rob, and Joanne added: 'We are living a dream, doing what we always wanted to do in a place we love, together.'

Like others before them, the Johnstons are already falling in love with chocolate-box Hawkshead.



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