7 of Ormskirk’s fantastic independent businesses - and a purr-fect charity

PUBLISHED: 12:39 21 September 2020

Emma Taylor-Johnson of Emma's Wild Garden. Photograph by Kirsty Thompson

Emma Taylor-Johnson of Emma's Wild Garden. Photograph by Kirsty Thompson

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Reasons to visit the town include a Harry Potter-themed cafe and a music shop with six rooms of glorious boutique guitars

Burscough Street, Ormskirk. Photograph by Kirsty ThompsonBurscough Street, Ormskirk. Photograph by Kirsty Thompson

Where to eat

Mandrakes - a whimsical café bar with official Harry Potter merchandise - has even been approached by other town councils who want them to establish a Mandrakes in their town. Owners Aileen Piper and Gail Usher are keen to oblige and will be opening their second venue in Ambleside soon with others already being earmarked.

‘It’s because we generate lots of footfall,’ Aileen says. ‘We’ve just celebrated our first birthday and have had visitors from all over the world; kids love it and so do adults - we’ve even had a couple travel to get engaged here. We’re such an Instagram friendly venue - everyone loves having their picture taken with the mandrakes or in the herbology room.’

Alex Fisher at Woodlands Animal Sanctuary.  Photograph by Kirsty ThompsonAlex Fisher at Woodlands Animal Sanctuary. Photograph by Kirsty Thompson

Specialist bagel deli

Martin Fautley has been making handmade bagels in The Bagel Deli since 2018.

‘I learned my trade in one of the bagel capitals of the world: London’s Brick Lane, and I figured that if they made the grade there, they would make the grade anywhere, and they did,’ says Martin who uses only the best ingredients for the bagels, filling them with luxurious goodies such as salmon and beef from suppliers who also supply the Queen.

His London shop had an army of fans - including a number of famous names - but sadly for them, although Martin runs a delivery service, it doesn’t extend to London… yet.

Helen Suarez of Baby Room Boutique.  Photograph by Kirsty ThompsonHelen Suarez of Baby Room Boutique. Photograph by Kirsty Thompson

One of Lancashire’s best guitar shops

Sound Affects, owned by former banker Tim Lobley, is a specialist guitar shop, housing six rooms of glorious boutique guitars. All the rooms have their own characters, from Country and Western to the Chesterfield room and they contain rare guitars - both new and pre-owned that can cost up to £30,000. Unsurprisingly, people come from all over the UK, attracted by Gibsons, Fenders and the rest of the constantly changing stock but Tim who delights in guitars even if, on his own admission he doesn’t play them very well, will do his best to help whatever the budget.

‘We really start around the £1000 mark but If someone only has a £100 to spend then we will try and work with that. We’re a friendly bunch, not elitist and we’re all guitar lovers,’ says Tim who also offers guitar lessons and a recording studio, both of which are being made Covid friendly.

The Pooch Lounge in Ormskirk.  Photograph by Kirsty ThompsonThe Pooch Lounge in Ormskirk. Photograph by Kirsty Thompson

Upstairs, Dave Ramsey and Thomas Neilson run Cream T pickups, making hand wound boutique guitar pick-ups. Such is their high renown that clients include Genesis, Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards to name but a few.

English-grown flower specialist

Emma’s Wild Garden is a delicious florist with a difference. Owned by former teacher, Emma Taylor-Johnson. It specialises in English blooms and terrariums. So, how did she jump from classroom to garden?

Gail Usher and Aileen Piper of Mandrakes in Ormskirk.  Photograph by Kirsty ThompsonGail Usher and Aileen Piper of Mandrakes in Ormskirk. Photograph by Kirsty Thompson

‘I ran the school allotment, loved it and so started to do some gardening and floral courses including a very prestigious one run by the Royal Horticultural Society and discovered that I really did have green fingers. So, I decided to pull on my wellies and make the jump. That said, I still get my teaching fix by running classes in my workshop. Right now, they obviously must be small groups but they’re still fun. We do all sorts of courses and I’m planning my Christmas ones now.’

Emma loves talking about the gorgeous scented blooms that grow in England, some of them in the North West and has noticed a real trend for brides to want to carry ‘home grown’ flowers in their bouquet.

‘Terrariums are tremendously popular too and I think I’m one of the go to specialists in the UK. They were a Victorian/Edwardian speciality: botanists would use them to bring back samples and now, people like them because they’re easy to maintain. Clients can choose from the ones they see in the store or I can make one for them. I send out kits too and parents have told me how much they have appreciated the activity during lockdown. See, the teacher is still in me,’ laughs Emma.

Tim Lobley of Sound Affects in Ormskirk.  Photograph by Kirsty ThompsonTim Lobley of Sound Affects in Ormskirk. Photograph by Kirsty Thompson

Designer babywear

The Baby Room Boutique, specialising in Spanish and Portuguese pieces, is owned by Helen Suarez.

‘It’s quite unusual to have a boutique that caters mostly for babies and tots but why shouldn’t babies be stylish too and luckily, lots of parents agree with me.’

The outfits are traditional in style and colour and Helen adds: ‘The Royal family are powering the traditional trend. Royal children generally wear classic outfits and every time a photograph appears of the Cambridge children particularly, there is usually a flurry to find similar pieces.’

Dog pampering services

Ormskirk can claim to have some of the best-looking dogs around, and much of that is down to husband and wife team Adrian and Nicky Davison who run The Pooch Lounge.

‘As soon as the new rules allowed us to re-open, we had a flurry of embarrassed looking dogs at our doors.’ says Adrian. ‘Dogs whose owners had decided to let the fur grow into what we called Lockdown Look and dogs whose owners had decided to do a do-it-yourself groom with varying degrees of success. It wasn’t only humans who yearned for a professional cut.

Although The Pooch Lounge only opened earlier this year, just before Covid-19 promptly closed them, it’s already become the go to salon for pooches who enjoy the finer things in life. Expect to see a fair sprinkling of dogs belonging to Premier League footballers, there’s a Swarovski dotted sofa for canines to lounge on, drinks are served and a spritz of doggy perfume is available for those who want to sashay down Ormskirk High Street enveloped in a fragrant cloud.

State-of-the-art cat sanctuary

Woodlands Animal Sanctuary has attracted national interest for its new £176,000 cat facility. The money was the largest donation ever made by the charity, Support Adoption for Pets.

‘It really is a state of the art,’ explains manager, Alex Fisher. ‘We got the grant last year, so this year, in the middle of Covid it was a major operation to get all the cats into the facility. It houses about 50 and includes a maternity wing, as well as a wing for cats who for one reason or another are always going to live here.’

The permanent residents have their own lovely outdoor space, although it was a challenge to prevent escapees before high wire netting was formed into a roof over it.

‘In the quad - in front of the waiting for adoption cats’ rooms - we have a space where our ducks wander about but luckily for them they don’t know they are being watched and the cats can’t get out - they can look but not touch,’ says Alex who offers Tea and Tour afternoons, where visitors can book in to have a tour of the site.

So, are these spoiled felines grateful for their luxurious surroundings? ‘Well, they’re cats, so I think they just accept it as their due,’ laughs Alex.

READ MORE: Why Ramsbottom is another great town to visit

Three things you shouldn’t miss on a visit to Ormskirk

1. There’s been a market here since 1286 when monks at Burscough Priory were granted a Royal Charter by Edward I and it’s still going strong. The streets around the clock tower in the town centre are lined with stalls every Thursday and Saturday.

2. The town has been associated with gingerbread for at least 300 years. It’s a tasty tradition that continues, with biscuits available from some town centre shops and the market.

3. The wide pedestrianised streets, friendly independent stores and familiar high street names make it popular with shoppers while the restaurants and pubs, including the historic Buck i’the Vine, keep fans of good food and drink happy.

In the area

Rufford Old Hall, just a couple of miles up the road is said to be one of the Lancashire houses where William Shakespeare spent some time. Now owned by the National Trust, the hall has been closed since lockdown, but is a fascinating place to visit when it re-opens to visitors. nationaltrust.org.uk/rufford-old-hall.

The Martin Mere Wildfowl and Wetland Centre is one of the region’s biggest tourist attractions, with around 200,000 human visitors a year and many more feathered ones. Visits must be booked online at wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/martin-mere

Local landmark

Legend has it that Ormskirk was founded by the Viking leader Orme, who found Christianity and built a church (or kirk) where he tried to please both his daughters, one of whom wanted it to have a tower, the other a spire.

The truth is more mundane: the spire was built in the early 14th century and the tower added about 150 years later to house the bells from the dissolved Burscough Priory. It is now one of only three in the country to have a tower and spire and is also notable for some impressive Norman architecture.

Among those buried there is the seventh Earl of Derby, James Stanley, who was beheaded at Bolton in 1651 after the Civil War. His body and head are in separate caskets.

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