Wayfarers Arcade celebrates 120 years in Southport
PUBLISHED: 09:52 15 January 2019
The elegant Lancashire seaside resort has character in spades and some quirky places to shop – including the stunning Wayfarers Arcade
Yvonne Burns, manager of the Wayfarers by a statue of Red Rum
Owner, John Eccleston, and guitar maker, Mike Smith, at Dad's Guitars
Vintage and Retro fashions courtesy of Julia Stoddart at The Royal Arcade
Julia Stoddart with one of her retro fashions
Jewellery designer Raymond Blundell
Husband and wife team, Meg and Maciej Olechowski at Cake Creations in Wesley Street
Nathan Augustin, Kalina Mlodawska, Samuel Weaver and owner, Ben Chew at Megafauna
Upholsterers Jeff and Cheryl Grisedale
Whoever does not visit Paris regularly will never be truly elegant,’ said the novelist Balzac. That may be true but, given that Napoleon III modelled the French capital on La Belle Southport, the same could be said of our famous resort. It has elegance in buckets – and spades, of course.
Among Southport’s most elegant features are its shopping arcades and The Wayfarers, which has 35 shops, recently celebrated its 120th birthday. Yvonne Burns, in her 19th year as centre manager, says: ‘We had a cake, bunting and general jollifications.
‘During our celebrations, we had several people share their memories about coming here,’ she adds. ‘One lady even told us that she had been born in the caretaker’s flat in the days when staff wore hats and gold brocade.’
Yvonne has given talks on the centre’s heritage and its many fascinating facts include the puzzle on why there is such a narrow entrance to such a fabulous arcade. ‘The builder, a thrifty Lancashire man with one eye on the rent book, didn’t want an entrance taking up space that could be used for another shop,’ laughs Yvonne. ‘But shopping here is a chic experience and customers have high expectations.’
The Wayfarers birthday cake was made by Meg Olechowska, who owns Cake Creations with her husband, Maciej. ‘Making cakes is time to let the imagination run free,’ she says. While she creates the cakes, Maciej is tasked with delivering them very carefully. His van even has a ‘Cake on Board’ warning sign.
Meg who is also well-known for her ginger biscuits, even giving recipes used down the road in Ormskirk a run for their money. Quite something, as the West Lancs town is famous for them.
Ben Chew, cook and owner at Megafauna, is on a mission to make vegan food delicious – even a quiche. ‘How do you make a tasty quiche without eggs? One of the secrets involves chickpeas and people travel for miles to sample them,’ says Ben, proud that Megafauna is 100 per cent vegan, although you won’t find the word on the shopfront or on its menus.
‘We want people to visit us for great tasting food first and because we’re vegan second. Some are astonished when they realise they’ve just had a vegan meal that tasted delicious,’ says Ben who only buys produce from within 50 miles, including vegetables grown by a local autistic society.
Julia Stoddart’s passion for vintage fashion is responsible for prompting her to open Southport Vintage and Retro in The Royal Arcade. ‘Retro and vintage are popular right now – even high street stores are designing pieces in that style,’ says Julia, who often has to be diplomatic when someone recognises a psychedelic outfit they wore to a disco in the early 70s.
‘Chaps come in looking for Peaky Blinders type outfits, especially as some of it was filmed in Southport. We usually get a rush on when it’s the races and weddings are popular too.’ Julia has just taken delivery of a beautiful 1930s wedding dress, kept in pristine condition by a bride who was widowed within weeks of being married.
‘I do get to hear the stories of the clothes and that’s what gives them a heart. Every piece in this shop was once loved.’
Master craftsman Raymond Blundell also hears stories in his work designing and making pieces of bespoke jewellery in his Southport studio.
‘Bespoke wedding rings are always popular but it is becoming ever more fashionable for people to bring in pieces they’ve inherited. They love the heritage but aren’t so keen on the design, so it makes sense to re-fashion them.
‘One chap brought in his late wife’s jewellery to be made into a bangle for his wrist. That’s not unusual but he wanted it to be riveted, so that it would never come off,’ says Raymond who attracts clients from all over the UK.
Jeff Grisedale who runs Grisedale Upholstery with his wife Cheryl is also an accomplished craftsman, although his stock in trade is springs.
‘Well yes, those and fabrics,’ says Jeff who is the third generation of his family to run the business, that also makes curtains and blinds, using the traditional methods and tools that were used by his father and grandfather.
‘We’ve carried out work for the aristocracy, Cunard Shipping and today, a variety of well-known footballers. I’m seeing some of my grandfather’s sofas come back into the workshop for refurbishing. They are about 60 years old and I guess we could all do with our springs looking at around that age! Every upholsterer has his own recognisable traits: there’s a soul to our work and we’re proud of it,’ explains Jeff, who once spent three years sourcing an exact shade of blue for a client.
Cheryl works alongside Jeff in their studio but John Eccleston’s wife gently suggested to him that he found another home for his guitar collection. He did and the famous Dad’s Guitars was born, so called because his children were constantly told: ‘Don’t trip over dad’s guitars!’
Guitarists from as far away as Honolulu make contact with John when looking for their holy grail and it’s not often that he has to disappoint them. He usually stocks about 200 from under £100 to a £10,000 Gibson.
‘I’ve had tears of happiness in the shop when people find their dream guitar,’ says John whose customers are greeted by the opening chords of a Beatles’ song when they open the shop door.
John’s colleague Michael Smith also repairs, services and builds guitars. ‘I’m often asked to make a guitar that looks like it was built in the 50s or 60s but with modern tweaks. It can be the best of both worlds,’ says Michael.
Southport can relate to that but if you can’t decide whether to shop in Paris or Southport, remember it’s the Lancashire resort that set the pace.
BROUGHT TO BOOK
Southport caused a social media storm when Broadhursts staff member Joanne Ball revealed on Twitter she had just sold a book that had sat on the shelf since May 1991. ‘We always knew its day would come,’ she wrote when a children’s biography of William the Conqueror was sold for 99p. It was retweeted almost 150,000 times as book-lovers around the world celebrated the sale. The customer bought it for his grandson who was doing a school history project.
DO YOU DARE GO?
Frank Hampson, once a young art student in Southport, created ‘Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future’ in 1950 as the front page strip of the Eagle comic. In a short time it became phenomenally popular, with a million boys waiting expectantly each week for the next episode.
He is widely regarded as the most important British comic strip artist of the post-war period and the Atkinson in Lord Street has an exhibition devoted to his life and art running until March.