Leominster, Herefordshire

PUBLISHED: 23:17 08 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:02 20 February 2013

Grange Court

Grange Court

There are lots of good reasons to visit Leominster. Herefordshire's largest town (Hereford itself is a city) hasa magnificent priory church to which the town owes its existence.

There are lots of good reasons to visit Leominster.
Herefordshire's largest town (Hereford itself is a city) has
a magnificent priory church to which the town owes its existence.

Nearby, the strikingly mobile Grange Court (it was once the
town's market hall and located some distance away from its
present position) with its park and teashop in a pavilion is a distinctive feature of Leominster. There are street markets, specialised and general. Then there is the museum. There are festivals throughout the year.

Leominster Festival in June regularly attracts internationally
known celebrities and performers. Leominster in Bloom goes one further than floral displays with over a hundred banners hung across the streets - each one meticulously
stitched by local ladies and depicting in symbols one or
another of the town's businesses.

The Leominster 27

Antiques are to Leominster as books are to Hay-on-Wye. Chris Poole visits all 27 of its dealers and finds everything from barometers to dresses fit for the cast of Atonement...

It's true that many of the region's towns offer a similar range of attractions and events and that Leominster is not unique in this respect. But look a little deeper and you will find 27 features that define Leominster's special character today. To find them there is no better place to start than with George Court at his curio and antique shop Court's Miscellany in Bridge Street. The style of his shop gives a clue to the puzzle. In this small town of 11,000 or so people there are no fewer than 27 antique dealers. George is the President of LADRA, the Leominster Antique Dealers and Restorers Association.

"There are probably more antique dealers here than any
other town in the Midlands," says George, explaining that this development goes back to the late 1940s. Richard Grainger, current chairman of the auctioneers Brightwells, shares this view of the origins of the antiques trade in Leominster. Brightwells can trace its roots in Leominster back to the middle of the 19th century. An established focal point for the surrounding agricultural and livestock-based economy it started to diversify in line with an emerging pattern in the town after the Second World War. From its imposing site on the eastern edge of the town it occupies a dominant position today in Leominster's antiquerelated businesses. Diversity has been the key to
its success.

"We've been prudent over the years and are not vulnerable to the vagaries of the banking sector," explains Richard adding the reassuring analysis that the business is "reasonably weatherproof during this inclement weather." George Court, too, describes the antiques trade as quieter but staying fairly stable. And it isn't just large emporia offering a wide range of antiques that makes Leominster unusual. You can certainly find these. Apart from Brightwells' salerooms there is, for example, Minister House Antique Centre occupying five floors of a splendid Georgian building in Broad Street complete with a lovely walled garden for outdoor displays.

The Secondhand Warehouse and Antiques Centre has expanded recently to cover a huge floor space packed with all manner of furniture and collectibles. But just across the road is one of the town's more unusual outlets - The
Barometer Shop. It would be hard, perhaps, to produce a viable business plan that relied on the trade in "mercurial
and aneroid" barometers alone, as the shop's name suggests. Sure enough, inside this delightfully eccentric setting there are, in addition to the barometers, hundreds of clocks - as its owner, Colin Jones, says "to suit every taste and every room in the house." As with most of the town's specialised dealers, The Barometer Shop has been here for many years.

It is unusual in that all of the repair and restoration work is done at the Leominster premises and that they are one of very few that can handle the highly specialised work required for repairing or restoring mercurial barometers. A short walk away is another of the town's gems - Teagowns and Textiles. There probably isn't, outside London, another shop in the country with such a range of beautiful, vintage clothing and accessories. The exquisite dresses and gowns are sourced from private collections and around 3,000 items are squeezed into this Aladdin's cave for those looking for something special in satin or lace. Filmmakers seeking period costumes come here to shop - some of the costumes for the Keira Knightley film Atonement filmed at Stokesay in south Shropshire were bought from Teagowns and Textiles. "My customers come in as housewives and
go out as princesses," says owner Annie Smythe.

Music and books are also represented among the town's diverse businesses. J&B Langstaffe Violins have been making and selling instruments for more than 20 years. Hummingbird Books in South Street has thousands of second-hand books on its shelves covering every conceivable subject. And who could resist a shop called "Utter Clutter" specialising in evocative household items? Some have combined antiques and bric-a-brac
with other activities. On one edge of Leominster's market square there is The Old Merchant's House - a traditional black and white building - combining tearooms (where, incidentally, those needing a gluten-free diet are well catered for) with several floors of showrooms including a fascinating 1960s nostalgia room.

Leominster is an intriguing town. There are plenty of references to lions (The Lion Ballroom, Lion Antiques etc). But if you come here believing that large predators once stalked their prey on a savannah in this part of Herefordshire you will be disappointed. Nor does the town take its name from King Leofric, as some have suggested. Eric Turton, local historian, confirms that the name Leominster existed before Leofric and his wife, Lady Godiva, graced the area. And while she may have caused something of a stir in Coventry there are no records to suggest that she similarly titillated the men folk of Leominster. The legends are attractive but the reality is that "Leominster" is an anglicised version of a Welsh name for the town.

It would be impossible to do justice to all of the Leominster 27 in this article. Suffice to say that antiques are to Leominster as books are to Hay-on-Wye. The only real way to enjoy all that it has to offer is to go and see for yourself.

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