Colne - Lancashire’s capital of cool

PUBLISHED: 00:15 13 October 2014 | UPDATED: 18:56 02 February 2018

Ashley Sutcliffe of Live Like the Boy

Ashley Sutcliffe of Live Like the Boy


The retailers of Colne were not prepared to accept their fate as a run down post-industrial town, as Anna Izza discovers

Colin and Susan Unwin at About CoffeeColin and Susan Unwin at About Coffee

I’d been intrigued by the chatter and the buzz on social media about the retailers and cafes in Colne so, not being one to miss a chance to shop, I headed off one sunny day to explore Lancashire’s newest capital of cool with colleague and stylista, Laura Crabb.

Albert Road, the main street, was very attractive, with almost every building festooned in flowers - the hanging baskets and window boxes filled to bursting.

What a treat too to find that the first, well-signed car park is actually free. What a great way to encourage trade and welcome new visitors.

On the way in I’d spotted ‘Sale’ signs in a very chic looking shop, A White Room, which is where we began our exploration. The architecture of this lovely Lancashire town - Pendle’s second largest, after Nelson - is quite beautiful. There are carved stone facades, tiled entrances and well-crafted street furniture and lighting. A White Room is located in Norway House and looked like my kind of place with a Habitat/Heals vibe judging by the contents of the window display.

Ruth Crompton of The Dressing RoomRuth Crompton of The Dressing Room

For fans of Scandi-dramas such as The Killing and The Bridge, imagine my delight to be immediately confronted by gorgeous ‘Artichoke’ style lampshades by Normann and lashings of Alessi, Conran and Kartell. Speaking to managing director David Riley I hear White Room was at the vanguard of Colne’s style revolution. Established almost a decade ago, it is the go-to shop for that special gift, wedding present or ‘conversation piece’ for your home.

‘We have great belief in Colne. We’ve stuck our flag in the sand, said we are here and we aren’t going away,’ said David. ‘During the height of the recession I looked out of my door and saw virtually nothing but empty shops boarded up. I look out today and it is packed with designer shops and cafes. It’s about time we shouted about what we have here in Colne.’

Back outside there are cute cafes and giftshops, smart banks and offices, but where Colne has tapped into the public consciousness most is in its wealth of vintage and up-cycling outlets. With TV awash with sewing, baking and home-making and with events such as Crafty Vintage and Vintage by The Sea growing in popularity, Lancashire really does love vintage. It was tough dragging ourselves out of The Dressing Room, not least because owner Ruth Crompton made us feel so welcome with her friendly chat and obvious passion for clothes, accessories and recycled glamour. The shop was a real find and needless to say we couldn’t resist a few little purchases ourselves. We’ll definitely be back.

More wonderful clothes and designer shops like Inspired Interiors and Pendle Belles, a vintage and collectibles shop run by Sandra Fernandeze. ‘I moved here from London - not for a job or a man but for Colne! I fell in love with it.’

David Riley of A White RoomDavid Riley of A White Room

Sandra has worked as an independent financial advisor. ‘I came here by accident. I’d been sent to the north west on a bit of a wild goose chase and I just happened to find myself in Colne. I thought it was so beautiful that I came back here month after month until I bought a holiday home here.

‘Four years ago I sold up in London and moved here permanently and set up my shop. The town is so beautiful but it’s the people who make it. They are so friendly. I thought it would be like London with cut-throat competition between traders but everyone works together and the place has reached a whole new level of cool.

‘We appeal to a whole range of people, from people keen on designer fashion to little old ladies who like to have a mooch around. I keep expecting the bubble to burst but Colne just keeps getting better.’

Then we took a look at the towns oldest building, St Bartholemew’s Church and we arrive at Live Like the Boy and About Coffee, both with bicycles in their window displays in honour of the Colne Grand Prix (which was just about to whizz by) and the recent Grand Depart. We’ve been chatting happily on Twitter to Live Like the Boy’s Ashley Sutcliffe for some time, so coffee would have to wait. We heard about Ashley a few years ago when the now super-popular Roaming Roosters first opened – he created the really distinctive look for the space and kitted it out with cool furnishings and décor. So now we’re here to check out his new shop (he’s recently moved up the street) and of course, it does not disappoint.

It’s an Aladdin’s cave of cool. Of course we were impressed, not least by the ‘Boy’ himself; Ashley shakes hands, careful not to disturb the cutest sausage dog nestled in his other arm. ‘This is Stanley,’ says Ashley. ‘He’s been a bit demanding today, wouldn’t settle until I picked him up!’

I’m immediately drawn to a section of unique wallpapers, sourced by Ashley. ‘That dotty one there, that looks like a pin board. It was spotted online by an Australian TV show and I’ve just shipped it off to them.’ There are luxurious cushions that have featured in many a design magazine, retro drinking glasses – remember Babycham? - as well as funky seating cubes like retro cameras, boom boxes and rubiks cubes. There’s vintage Ercol furniture and industrial style cabinets, doggie-shaped magazine racks and chic crockery. This relatively small space provides a feast for the eyes and inspiration for any home makeover – or just hire Ashley with his interior designer hat on, to pop round!

There was so much more to see in Colne but now we needed a cuppa, so it was just a hop and a skip to About Coffee. Again, we’d heard about this place on Twitter and on googling we found it had consistent five star comments on Tripadvisor. An array of cakes on display in the glass cabinets was very tempting but it was the amazing display of specialist coffees and teas that cought our eye.

The staff are incredibly helpful, friendly and ready to advise on making the best choice of brew. I went for a breakfast tea and Laura for a cappuccino with cinnamon. As we enjoyed our drinks we reflected on what Ashley had said.

‘It’s difficult to pin the success of Colne down to any one thing,’ he says. ‘But one of the really important factors is the way the shops all support each other in building a town with a future, a future we all want to be part off.

‘We’ve pushed hard for things to happen but haven’t put it all on the council, we have expected to do things for ourselves and got on with it.’

It seems to be a model for success.

Mill town

There have been settlements in and around Colne since ancient times. Between the 6th and 10th century, it was part of the kingdom of Northumbria and was held by the Vikings. The the Normans arrived and it remained firmly in their grip.

Up until 1311, it was under the control of the de Lacys at Clitheroe Castle. Pendle and Trawden Forests were royal hunting grounds and St Bartholomew’s Church dates from before 1122 when the town’s market was located in the churchyard.

During the next century a corn mill and a fulling mill were established and coal was also mined before it developed into major centre for the wool industry in the 18th and 19th centuries. During the Industrial Revolution, cotton manufacturing became the mainstay with 30 mills operating in the town.

* Anna Izza works for Marketing Lancashire. You can find out more about Colne online at

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