Rural riches – why market towns and stately homes can thrive AND do!

Last weekend I was fortunate to spend some time in Bakewell, Derbyshire.

It is a small market town with a population of 4,000 that has 143 shops, pubs and restaurants. 75% of these shops are independents, which is some way above the national average of 65%.

One of our field researchers surveyed the town this month (pure coincidence) and the vacancy rate is way below the national average at 7% with no leisure vacancy and a little bit of redevelopment happening.

The main food anchor is a Co-Op and apart from that there are a number of diverse and interesting shops. Some of which are playing to residents and workers and others to the significant number of tourists that come to walk or fish or take in the Peak District air! Better these days than in the industrial past where the dark stained brickwork shows!

So why am I blogging about my weekend in a Peak District market town?

Well I am doing this as I think it shows a number of interesting attributes to a town which are fairly unique but also caused me to wonder and also be amazed.

So what were these things? In no particular order;

  • Whilst the town has some tea rooms it also has a large Costa which somewhat surprised me. How it trades, I do not know but it appeared to be quite a hang out for people particularly the young.
  • There are a mix of Premium clothes shops such as Orvis and independents such as Brocklehursts of Bakewell and Brides of Bakewell.
  • The towns ‘outdoor pursuits’ credentials were also clear with a Rohan shop (they only have 50 shops and one is in Bakewell!), Mountain Warehouse, Cotswold Outdoor, Track and Trail and Millets. The density of hiking boots and trousers/coats to people is quite something so one has to think that visitors arrive unprepared for their outdoor pursuit. In this sector, in particular, discounting was rife.
  • Fashion and clothing wise there were some interesting ‘Tweed’ shops such as Rural Threads, a suit shop and then the biggest surprise was a Fat Face which seemed a little out of place and off pitch. Nice shop but not much trade when I went in. The final surprise, not that it was there – but what was in it was Edinburgh Woollen Mill. Now I must be somewhat out of date with my EWM shop visits as I was blown away by what the shop had to offer as I was expecting wool and cashmere clothing. I was wrong as I could have bought Walkers shortbread, DVDs, cards, jams, oatcakes, hats, coats, sweets and toys. So what I thought was a clothes shop was in fact a department store and I can see that for certain people it was a ‘one stop shop’.
  • There were a number of pubs in the town all of which appeared to serve good food and only two restaurants. One of which we visited was incredible in every respect from service to the food – it would not have been out of place in Heddon Street, London. This restaurant was called Piedaniels.
  • In addition to this there were a number of sandwich shops, delis, antique shops and Bakewell Pudding shops – not to be confused with Bakewell Tart, which Mr Kipling invented!
  • There are a number of hotels and pubs with accommodation in the town but what was interesting is that on our first night in the hotel we were told that the dining room was fully booked as they had fallen for a Wowcher deal and they had been overwhelmed with take up. An own goal perhaps?
  • Finally there were a couple of very traditional shoe shops (Wards) that reminded me of my childhood.


One of Bakewell’s traditional food shops – popular with tourists (Courtesy of UKStudentLife)

Chatsworth House

We managed to cover the town quite quickly and so it was out onto the hills and surrounding area that we ventured.

You might be thinking that that is where retail stops, however you would be wrong, as we visited Chatsworth House, an amazing stately home nearby. As it happens they had a Christmas market on with about 60 stalls selling all sorts from cheese to socks and everything in between. In addition to that the house has a number of own brand shops which sell a vast array of items as well as provide locations to eat and be merry.


Picture. Chatsworth House on a sunny day! (courtesy of

Now the weather on Saturday afternoon was, shall we say typically British, wet and windy! This did not put people off as I counted hundreds of cars and eight coaches! All of us had paid at least £10 for the pleasure of parking to enjoy the rain and of course the stalls.

The following day we returned and ‘due to high winds’ the Christmas market was closed so we only had to pay £3 to park. We then visited the house and the Toad of Toad Hall Christmas display which was amazing but then again so was the entry fee £23 each (entrance to the house and gardens). Now why am I telling you all of this?

Premium retail in a premium location and the place

I am recounting this as it was an example of premium retail in a premium location and the place was absolutely heaving with people, eating, drinking and shopping and they crossed every socio-economic group you can imagine. This is a side to retail that is often forgotten or not known – the other extreme of my car boot sale post!

The finale for us was a visit to the farm shop. You would think there is nothing unique in this although the number of farm shops has increased significantly over the last five years and who would have thought with austerity and supermarket price wars!

So we arrived and lo and behold there was a queue to get into the car park. As I chatted to the parking attendant (these places including Chatsworth House employ a vast number of people so don’t underestimate what they do for the local economy even if you are a republican at heart) he told me that this was not uncommon and his issue was that he only had parking for four coaches and eight were inbound!

Based on c.50 people in each coach that is 400 people!!

So we finally parked and went into the shop. You would have thought that Black Friday or Cyber Monday had hit Derbyshire early. The number of people and baskets piled high was incredible.

This was premium produce and not where you would buy Danish bacon with added water or Turkey twizzlers. This was serious top end organic local retail, even the beer and gin!

The finale was the queues to pay. There were at least six check-outs and still the queue was over 50 deep and no doubt it continued all day.

What a tremendous insight the weekend was for me into what retail is all about – destination, experience, provenance and aspiration. None of us can deny that we love to shop and when the location, offer and mix is right it is intoxicating or certainly for those of us paying the credit card bill!

I applaud what I saw in both Bakewell and Chatsworth but I did also question why some retailers were there and how they make a profitable living.

Retail is all about – destination, experience, provenance and aspiration.


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