Cockermouth - a town of opposites has something for everyone
PUBLISHED: 17:49 20 March 2014 | UPDATED: 17:04 05 January 2018
Cockermouth may be a town of contrasts but that just helps to ensure it has something for everyone, as Suzanne Elsworth reports
Cockermouth is a town of opposites - there’s its history and its modernity, the fact that it’s packed with heritage, yet it became the first town in the county to launch its own community-led online app. There are its retail areas, with bustling Main Street, Station Street, and their off-shoots, and the slightly more tranquil Market Place.
And then there’s its hospitality, a generous split of independent coffee shops and traditional tea rooms, as well as proper hostelries with pub grub and real ales, and contemporary modern restaurants rubbing shoulders with young, lively bars.
According to those that live and work there, and the visitors who keep on coming back, it’s those different facets that give this gem town its charm.
So says Joe Broomfield, Allerdale Borough Council’s Town Centre Manager. ‘We’re blessed with a great range of independent businesses in an incredibly attractive, historic town centre,’ he says. ‘It’s this variety which makes Cockermouth so appealing.’
What many visitors don’t instantly see is the fact that, as well as the shops and hospitality businesses, Cockermouth is also home to a plethora of other enterprises. Steve Bishop owns one of them, Flame Concepts, which specialises in internet, mobile and ticketing technology – and he used his expertise to help the town’s Chamber of Trade create the Cockermouth app.
‘Although it’s steeped in Georgian history, Cockermouth embraces new ideas,’ he says. ‘It’s got a strong community hub, where working with the town’s people and groups is an enjoyable way to do business. That’s why creating the app was a great project.’
One of the newest shops in town is Number Fifteen. Owner Kay Curzon had a high flying job with Ikea before she moved to here and shared her retail expertise with the National Trust and Keswick’s famed Pencil Museum. In 2013, she opened her own shop and the result is a gallery with an eclectic mix of art, crafts and gifts – all of them made in Britain.
Number Fifteen has fitted well into Cockermouth’s unique selling point – that range of independent shops, eateries and other businesses – and that’s something Kay believes will help it thrive. She adds: ‘Many of the pieces I sell are unique – in today’s climate I believe more and more of us are looking for that individuality and are more discerning in the products we purchase.’
And then there are the historic businesses which have even braved environmental disasters to survive. Joe Fagan, landlord of The Bush pub on Main Street, is Cockermouth-born and bred. He took over the historic pub five years ago – just months before it ended up under several feet of the water in the 2009 floods.
‘I’ve always drunk in The Bush, just as my father and grandfather did before me,’ Joe says. ‘The earliest official records show a pub here in 1800 but we think there was a coaching inn before that, possibly back as far as the 1600s.
‘The reason I wanted The Bush is because it’s a traditional public house. That’s not to say it’s old fashioned – I just like to think we provide proper traditional hospitality.’
It’s amazing to think five years have passed since those dramatic floods which made headlines around the world. Since then, the town has seen the installation of new flood defences to protect the worst-hit areas – including a unique self-raising barrier along a section of the River Cocker. Sue Cashmore leads Cockermouth Flood Action Group, which was instrumental in getting the work completed. She received a British Empire Medal in the New Year Honours for her dedication.
‘I was delighted and proud to have been awarded the BEM,’ she says. ‘But, of course, I did not do this alone and have to thank the members of the flood action group for their support.
‘The people of the town are finally beginning to feel less anxious about river flooding. However, there is still work to do. Some properties were flooded in December from surface water due to maintenance problems on highways drains and the smaller water courses. We will continue to campaign until the town is safe from all sources of flooding.’
A strong seam of tradition runs throughout the town. From the fascinating historic fittings in JB Banks hardware store, which has a quirky little museum tucked away at the back of its Market Place shop, through to the birthplace of William Wordsworth at the opposite end of Main Street.
Now a National Trust visitor attraction, visitors to Wordsworth House and Gardens can step back to Georgian days, sampling the food, lifestyle and costumes of the era. But the team there appreciates the need to move with the times too. Even Fletch, the resident ‘perchcrow’ – so called because he’s not scary enough to be a scarecrow – has his own online blog.
Andy Walsh and his wife Angela opened The Coffee Kitchen, an award-winning café tucked away off Main Street, in 2011. They say there was a definite temptation to start a venture in one of the tourist honeypots but they made the right decision to open up in Cockermouth.
‘Although there are a number of tourists all year around, most of our success has come from building up a regular clientele who come in to see us every week – and, in some cases, every day,’ says Andy, who has just been elected as the new chairman of Cockermouth and District Chamber of Trade.
‘Of course, places like Keswick and Ambleside abound with visitors in the summer and tapping into that tourist market was tempting but it’s something we’re glad we avoided. Cockermouth is a great place to be.’