THE EDIT • August 2019
Looking to bag the ultimate British souvenir? The best way to start is with the ultimate British shops. From Derbyshire’s best Bakewells to a little Norwich bear shop, our crop of travel writers share the most brilliant, tack-free boutiques in the land
The address book for distinguished Londoners has barely changed in centuries – and neither has the weather. So it is unsurprising that, since 1830, anyone seeking to keep out the inclement in natty British style has popped in to James Smith & Sons at 53 New Oxford Street, widely known as ‘the umbrella shop’ to cabbies. For us, it doesn’t get much better than the beechwood-carved hare handle on the lightweight London brolly.
Says who: Alex Briand
The only question to ask yourself about Bicester Village is: why wouldn’t you? This surreal but oddly attractive New-England style clapboard village was purpose-built to house miles of the best-loved fashion, beauty and homeware brands in the world, selling goods at massive discounts (up to 60 per cent in most cases) to well-heeled bargain hunters who flock there in droves. Alongside luxury retailers (Balenciaga, Celine, Gucci, Max Mara, Prada), there is a wide choice of restaurants (Café Wolseley) along with seasonal art pop-ups and events. All within an hour of London by rail, coach or car.
Says who: Maureen Rice
Going on a bear hunt? Look no further than Robert Stone’s Norwich business, which has been bursting at the seams with traditional and one-of-a-kind teds for almost 30 years. As well as a sleuth of Steiff, Hermann and Charlie Bears, it also carries stock from the last remaining bear factory in the UK, Merrythought (producer of the ‘Jarvis’ 100th Anniversary BA bear).
Says who: Ruth Lawes
Established in 1840, Armstrong & Son is one of Britain’s oldest vintage clothing stores and an Edinburgh institution, with outposts in Grassmarket, Teviot Place and Clerk Street – each with walls of sequins, flares, cashmere, ministerial robes, military jackets, antique Victoriana, vintage Levi’s, juke-boxes, rocking horses and the opportunity to spot the likes of Florence Welch among the rails.
Says who: Melissa Lawford
Not many hardware stores promote a ‘Brush of the Week’, but not many hardware stores are like A G Hendy, which serves Hastings High Street with the can-do spirit of a Betjeman verse. New and vintage household goods range from rattan carpet beaters to Bakelite lamps to, naturally, some very fine brushes, and an adjoining kitchen plates up freshly cooked seafood for weekend lunches. Its forthcoming scissors exhibition is a must.
Says who: Bryony Coleman
Before ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ became a national design classic/homeware cliché, it was a long-forgotten WWII poster found deep within the bowels of Barter Books in Alnwick. Those seeking further global inspiration would do well to search inside – following the miniature model train as it navigates the stock of thousands of books. The breadth here is key: a recent visit for one High Life magazine staffer saw some considerable time spent admiring a £39,000 Kelmscott Press edition of Geoffrey Chaucer from 1896 – before a purchase of Spike Lee’s 2006 autobiography for £6.
Says who: Andy Morris
We’re not wildly overstating it when we say that Leeds-born Everton Campbell was pivotal in shaping the way we Brits dress today. The proof stands in his hometown, at the menswear maverick’s Hip Store – a sartorial hotspot where Campbell has handpicked the coolest wardrobe gotta-gets since 1987. And, if it wasn’t so cool, it would probably boast about being the first UK importer of streetwear overlords Supreme, the first retailer outside of London to stock Vivienne Westwood, and a one-time provider of suits to fashion deities Paul Weller and David Bowie.
Says who: Chris Sayer
A terribly smart shopping outlet 80 miles south of Inverness, nicknamed The Harrods of Scotland, where all those driving north from England for a week of sport in the Highlands stop for essentials such as tweed knickerbockers, toffee, cashmere socks and whisky-flavoured marmalade. There’s an excellent restaurant, too – thick slices of smoked salmon or steak and kidney pie – which, if you’ve been driving in the car for hours, beats a sandwich at a miserable service station.
Says who: Sophia Money-Coutts
In an age of government sugar taxes and celebrity chefs rapping your knuckles for sucking on pineapple chunks, Devon’s oldest (and pinkest) sweet shop charges on. No sermonising newspaper columnists, not even the ruling elite, not even the Soviet military – who bizarrely added its home of sunny Salcombe, The UK’s Favourite Seaside Town 2017, to its list of nuclear targets – have managed to stand in the way of this 150-year-old sugar emporium from stubbornly stocking more fudge, liquorice and boiled sweets than your teeth know what to deal with.
Says who: Chris Sayer
There are endless stories about the 200-year-old origins of the Bakewell pudding (a confection of jam, almonds, egg and pastry which, like so many English puddings, sounds almost too absurd to exist). Similarly, the argument rages on as to whom in the Derbyshire town of Bakewell sells the best. The Old Original’s Post a Pudding service lets you send a pud to someone you love – or a tart, if you’re feeling modern.
Says who: Kat Brown