Gingerbread, Gin and Giant Art in Ormskirk
PUBLISHED: 19:01 29 October 2017 | UPDATED: 19:15 29 October 2017
It may only be a small town, but these home grown products are causing a big stir
Gingerbread is a long-standing tradition in Ormskirk, one that can be traced back centuries. During the mid 18th century, women would make the sweet yet fiery treat and sell it throughout the town, and there are records of gingerbread ladies paying £20 to East Lancashire Railway in 1855 so that they could sell on the platforms.
Today, you won’t find Neil Thompson standing on the platform of Ormskirk station wearing a pinafore with a basket loaded with gingerbread, but at the town’s market on Church Street on Thursdays and Saturdays selling his popular produce. It’s such a hit that he often sells out.
‘It was around 18 months ago that we decided to start making Ormskirk gingerbread. We found the recipe which is used the most, but it wasn’t to our taste so we have tweaked it to form our own,’ said Neil, who set up Mr Thompson’s Bakery in 2011 after being made redundant from his job in accountancy. ‘We started with the plain version and then started to add extra flavours such as fudge, rhubarb and lime. At the Ormskirk Gingerbread Festival, we sold out of 1,000 pieces in around 90 minutes so I thought there might be some money in this!’
Neil had always baked as hobby, and before becoming an accountant he had considered a career in catering. ‘I would get out of the company car, put down my briefcase and start baking. So being able to set the business up now, it’s like I’ve come full circle.’
He works alongside his daughter, Lilli, 19, in a workshop in the back garden of the family home in Ormskirk. Together the duo create wonderful cakes, muffins and other sweet treats for both the public and trade, including supplying Annie’s Tea Room in Crosby and The Green Room in Ormskirk.
‘At the moment, the cakes and gingerbread are our staples. If it carries on growing we may have to get a small unit.’
For Lilli, she remembers baking with her dad on Sundays and says that it’s great to now be a part of the business with him. ‘I was popular in school as cupcake girl! I used to come home from college at lunchtime and help dad with baking. It’s a nice partnership, I’ve always been a daddy’s girl so we get on and have a laugh.’
The young baker is responsible for the Christmas flavour of gingerbread that proved popular last festive season, and the mulled wine, mince pie and Christmas pudding varieties are sure to be in lots of stockings this December too.
‘It’s really fun to come up with the flavour ideas. Currently we are working on different versions of popular 1980s flavours for muffins, things like Black Forest gateaux, pineapple upside down cake and apple pie and custard. The latter took two weeks to perfect.’
Another thing that seems to be popular with the foodies of Ormskirk is one of the nation’s favourite snacks, the pork pie. The particular pie in question is from G & E Hallsworth and Son, who this year took home a gold award for best homemade pork pie at the 2017 National Pie Awards.
The butcher’s shop on Wigan Road is now into its third generation since opening in 1958.
‘It’s the first year we have entered the pies into a competition and to win was fantastic,’ said Chris Hallsworth, who started baking the traditional hot water crust pastry pies around five years ago. ‘It’s brought more people in and we’ve got some good regular customers from it.’
This isn’t the first award they have picked up, but in fact one to add to a collection which applauds their sausages and other meat products. ‘I have plans to turn upstairs, which used to be my family home, into a bakery so that I can bake more pies and pastry goods as they seem to be going from strength-to-strength.
‘You have to diversify with this job, and that’s how we have survived for almost 60 years. It may look like a traditional butcher shop but we are always developing and offering quality and products that you can’t find in a supermarket.’
The perfect tonic
Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few years, everyone knows that gin is currently the most fashionable thing to drink. The lust for the spirit has boomed, and there are now many varieties available on the market. One gin connoisseur in Ormskirk loved the tipple so much that he decided to make his own.
‘It all just started as a hobby. I had been a gin fanatic for decades and around two and half years ago I thought I would have a go at making my own,’ said Peter Golightly, left. He purchased a copper still and after obtaining a license to produce alcohol at home, began to create his own recipes to drink personally.
‘I tried out 100s of different combinations and ingredients, and then one Friday night I hit upon one and thought it was fantastic. I then decided I would sell it and the business began.’
Named after his hometown, Ormskirk Gin is citrus led with key notes of juniper, cardamom, coriander, lemon and ginger – the latter which links back to Ormskirk’s history with gingerbread. It is stocked in restaurants, bars and pubs around the local area, as well sold at Taylor’s Farm Shop, Holborn Wines and online, where Peter has had orders from around the world, recently shipping to Australia and Italy.
‘It’s been a great experience and is totally different to roles I have had in a career in corporate IT. I love it. I have also started two sister brands, Lancashire Gin (which has a floral flavour inspired by the Red Rose of Lancashire) and Two Spires which I am going hoping to focus more time on now.’ www.ormskirkgin.com
A taste of Africa
Whenever you drive down County Road in Ormskirk, you can’t help but be wowed and slightly curious about the life-size sculptures of elephants, giraffes and gorillas in the Pangea showroom.
‘People come in and say “We just had to stop” when they have been driving past,’ said general manager, Bev Howard about the custom built showroom. ‘It is a great location here on the A59; we get many visitors and local people popping in.’
It’s easy to see why. Pangea Sculptures is a collection of artisan sculptures designed to inspire. The range of animals is part of a sustainable international arts initiative connecting skilled African craftsmanship with art lovers in the UK and beyond. It was established in 2014 when local retired entrepreneur, Ian Unsworth, saw early versions of the sculptures being sold by the side of the road while visiting Nairobi.
‘Ian didn’t intentionally set out to do this,’ explained Bev. ‘But he had retired from a business of 30 years and was looking at giving something back. His uncle lives in Nairobi and while visiting him he noticed all of these art pieces on the side of the road. He asked the driver to stop and was stunned by them.’
Ian had some of the sculptures shipped home and met with one of the designers called Moses and his community. He put forward the idea of forming a business that would provide a regular income and employment for people in an area of poverty, and today they now employ over 30 people.
‘The artists are aged from 16 onwards. People can’t afford to go to school so many were unqualified and looking for a trade. Us being able to employ them means that they can help to look after their elders and also help to fund their children through school. All basic things to us. We have plans to do more, it’s only a very small thing we are doing at the moment.’
Pangea is looking at purchasing a new piece of land to build a new workshop, where the stunning sculptures are welded by hand. They are all crafted from recycled material, including oil drums and car parts, making each metal animal sculpture unique.
It all starts with a wire skeleton, before a small team of artists each piece the animal together. An elephant could take up to five people to complete, and a 14ft giraffe may take up to 1,500 hours. They are then transported to the UK in 40ft shipping containers and are finished and lacquered here.
‘The most popular seem to be the elephants and giraffes. I think people relate to them, but we do sell everything that is made,’ said Bev. The smallest piece starts from £79, and the largest, an 8ft elephant, costs £3,995. They are currently also participating in a road show with Costco and over the summer had a pop-up store on the island of Majorca.
‘There is a healthy international trade as well as local. We have had several high profile purchasers, as well as people just wanting a wow factor in their home, garden or business. Knowsley Safari Park bought a life size giraffe for their roundabout.’
On the team’s last visit to Nairobi, they invited Moses and some of the artists to visit England, so that they could see their sculptures in situ at the showroom. Bev is hoping to make it an annual event. ‘Hopefully by mid-November we will have everything arranged. They are all Manchester United supporters, so we will try and get them to Old Trafford too while they’re here!’