Cambridge is a wonderful city for Christmas shopping with so many beautiful independent shops alongside the big chains. Here’s the low down on where I’ll be shopping this Christmas ….
….. Cambridge Imprint for beautiful Christmas cards, wrapping paper, gift tags, paper chain kits and their brilliant Christmas cracker kit which comes with everything you need to make superb personalised crackers. Just add in your own little gift and a joke (cue pained groans from my nearest and dearest!). And you end up with a gorgeous box to keep for yourself.
…… Radmore Farm Shop for Christmas meats, game, free range turkeys, cockerels, geese and all the trimmings from hand made sausages to home cooked ham plus Vicky’s scrumptious Christmas cakes and mince pies. Choose your Christmas tree from the selection of top quality Nordmann Firs (which won’t drop their needles) and, even better, Ben will deliver said tree to your door.
….. Cambridge Cheese Company for classic Stilton, local Cambridge Blue and beautifully kept cheeses from all over Europe. Seasonal specials that they’ve been quietly maturing in their cellar include Gumburner (an old, very strong cheddar) and Dragon Slayer (a hard, sharp cow’s cheese). You’ll also find panettone studded with marrons glaces, panforte, stollen, nutty toronne and plenty more Christmas deliciousness here.
….. Cambridge Market for armfuls of holly and mistletoe to deck the halls, holly wreaths (lovely just as they are or add some bling with your own decorations), fresh fruit and vegetables. At award-winning All Saint’s Garden Art and Craft Market, you’ll find a wide variety of local artists and crafts people selling hand made jewellery, ceramics and much more. Perfect for winkling out original gifts.
Now I’ll be honest, I don’t have many vices and I’m not a big drinker but a long cold gin and tonic is one of my not-so-guilty pleasures in life. And thanks to the recent rise of the craft gin movement, there’s a gin for every palate and every mood, whether it’s pink (from local firm Pinkster, accessorised with raspberry and mint), light and floral (my G&T at a restaurant last weekend was adorned with flower petals), herby (with a charred rosemary twig, that’s The Botanist G&T at the Cambridge Union Bar) or lavishly garlanded with enough fruit to give Carmen Miranda a run for her money (that was just absurd, from a hotel bar on the Suffolk coast).
So when a friend told me there’s a new gin in town, I scurried down to Hope Street Yard, off Mill Road, to meet John Saul, General Manager at English Spirit Distillery, who have just opened their first tiny but beautiful bricks and mortar shop in this pretty, eclectic enclave.
While we sipped a gin and tonic, John told me the story of how the business came into being nine years ago. Founder, Dr John Walters, is a biochemist from Oxford. Listening to a Radio 4 programme, he heard an “expert” say that it’s impossible to make eau de vie in this country. Spurred on by the challenge, John built a still and made an eau de vie that was really good. Better, in fact, than the expensive eau de vie sitting in his drinks cabinet.
Today, English Spirit Distillery’s range includes gins, for which they make their own vodka base from sugar beet, to be assured of quality and provenance. There’s a Cucumber Spirit which contains no juniper and a digestif Sambuca, which is distilled three times. John tells me it’s too fine to do the coffee bean/flame thing! Rum is distilled from sugar cane molasses while 1.2 tonnes of apples from the Sandringham Estate make just 90 bottles of apple brandy. A single malt spirit is flavoured in the still and distilled five times, making it super smooth with layers of flavour. Gin based fruit liqueurs are distilled and also macerated with fruit while their top seller, Toffee Vodka liqueur, is best enjoyed over ice or ice cream.
John has lived around Mill Road with his wife, Eloise, and their family for many years. They love the area with its sense of community and will be holding informal, laid back acoustic mic nights in Hope Street Yard with future plans for gigs, craft markets and food trucks. The Tasting Room is open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. At the moment you can have a free tasting and buy bottles while they wait for a bar licence to come through.
But back to the gin … we sat in the sunshine outside the shop, chatting to John and Eloise and sipping the limited edition Hope Gin, which is distilled especially for this new Cambridge venture. It’s an aromatic London Dry gin, flavoured with bergamot oil, orange zest, rose petals, coriander, bay leaf and juniper and it’s just delicious. I reckon Earl Grey himself would have approved!
Kettle’s Yard House and Gallery on Castle Street has recently reopened after a lengthy refurbishment which has enabled Director, Andrew Nairne, and his team to create new gallery space to display modern and contemporary art from around the world.
The opening exhibition, “Actions. The image of the world can be different”, showcases the work of thirty eight artists. “Actions Part 2” will open on 11 April with a two screen film installation, “Auto Da Fe”, from John Akomfrah and paintings by Caroline Walker who, in collaboration with the charity Women for Refugee Women, has painted refugee women housed in temporary accommodation in London.
At the heart of Kettle’s Yard is the house, once home to Jim and Helen Ede who created it from four derelict eighteenth century cottages in the late 1950’s. With a lifelong passion for art and having worked as a Curator at The Tate during the 1920’s, Jim became close friends with many artists including Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Christopher Wood and David Jones. Over the years, Jim acquired a significant collection of art and sculpture which he brought to Kettle’s Yard along with furniture, glass and ceramics. But the Edes equally valued natural found objects and artwork by their grandchildren. More than anything, they wanted their art to be enjoyed in an informal domestic setting, holding open house every afternoon of the university term and welcoming undergraduates to their home.
Natural light was crucial to the Edes. The day I visited, the streets were carpeted in snow and the light had a very special ethereal quality to it. I was struck by the tranquillity of the house and by its colour palette with exposed brick, varying tones of wood, natural linens, pebbles, feathers and shells, all harmonising with the Ede’s art collection to create a wonderful serenity. Jim and Helen handed over the building and their collection to the University of Cambridge in 1966 so they knew it was in safe hands but it must have been a wrench for them to leave this peaceful haven when they moved to Edinburgh in 1973.
The Ede’s musical tradition continues today with a varied programme of contemporary music and chamber concerts in the house. New archive and research areas have given enhanced research opportunities in collaboration with the University’s History of Art Department. A breathtaking double height space is now home to Kettle’s Yard’s education and community programme, hosting a year round schedule of events and activities, many of them free, for all age groups. It includes workshops, talks, panel discussions and artist led drop in workshops for families every Sunday.
At The Garden Kitchen Cafe, you’ll find tea, Fairtrade coffee, cake and light lunches with vegan, vegetarian and gluten free options. The Shop offers a carefully curated selection of cards, prints, books and jewellery with ceramics from The Leach Pottery and from local ceramicists Rachel Dormor and Maree Allitt alongside beautiful bespoke wrapping paper from Cambridge Imprint, its design inspired by a Barbara Hepworth fabric.
Kettle’s Yard is a very special place that I know I will return to again and again. There’s such a lot going on there, far more than I can write about in this post, so do check out the website for full details of all that’s happening over the coming months. Then go and experience the magic of Kettle’s Yard for yourself.
“Diamonds are a girl’s best friend” as the song goes. Well, I’m not so sure about that but I do know that I can never walk past this gorgeous shop in Green Street without pausing to admire the jewellery in the window. And then, quite by chance, I met Harriet at a party over Christmas and she told me her story.
Harriet learned to make jewellery with her father, a doctor who was also a talented goldsmith. With his help, she designed and made her first ring aged four and was hooked from that moment on. In an early sign of her entrepreneurial streak, at the age of eight she and her sister were making earrings from gold wire which they sold initially to friends and later at an artist friend’s stall in Covent Garden. Harriet is dyslexic, although this wasn’t identified until adulthood. Drawn to art, maths and science, she took a degree in Industrial Design and went on to work in the film business, but she never stopped making jewellery in her spare time, working in a shed at the bottom of the garden. When her waiting list got to thirty three people, all of whom had found her by word of mouth, Harriet made the decision to switch career into bespoke jewellery.
Harriet had two aims when she set up her business 20 years ago and they remain her aims today. Firstly, she wants to make bespoke jewellery reachable, offering high quality at affordable prices. The team that you meet in her shops are all designers and delight in telling a customer’s individual story through each commission. There’s also a ready to wear collection which features one off rings and very small runs of pendants, necklaces, earrings and other dress jewellery.
Secondly, for ethical reasons, Harriet prefers to work with fairtrade gold and has been a trailblazer in this field. Having located a gold mine in Colombia which operates on fairtrade principles, she met another jewellery activist and then the Fairtrade Foundation who asked her to advise them on how their process could work for jewellers in the UK. This movement works against child labour, for safety in the mining process and supports women’s rights, education and environmental issues. In buying fairtrade gold, you are supporting artisanal miners who receive a fair price for gold and extra money for their communities, which they are empowered to spend as they wish.
In 2011, Harriet and the Association launched fairtrade gold, now used by around three hundred UK jewellers as well as internationally. The majority of the jewellery in her shops is made of fairtrade gold. She buys diamonds direct from Botswana and Namibia and thoroughly checks the provenance of these and coloured gemstones to ensure that she meets the highest ethical standards possible.
2018 is shaping up to be another busy year for Harriet. As well as her Hertfordshire HQ, a beautiful converted barn with glass walled workshop, showroom, coffee shop and garden, and the Cambridge shop/design studio, Harriet is launching another shop with a design studio in Primrose Hill, north west London later this month. It’s an area she knows well as she and her husband, Tim, used to live there and with the neighbourhood’s mix of independent specialist businesses, it feels like a natural fit. Then there’s the design and production of the new ready to wear collection, pieces from which you can see in the photos through this post.
And Harriet has written a book about starting a creative business. It’ll be published in September and is inspired by her voluntary mentoring of creative businesses, during which she notices common threads with successful entrepreneurs as they combine creativity and innovation to build a viable business. Harriet has received many business and jewellery industry awards in recognition of her innovation and success and I, for one, can’t wait to see what she does next.
There’s a new stall in the Market on Sundays. It’s bright, colourful, sells beautiful yarns from around the world and makes me want to resurrect my long-dormant knitting skills!
Camilla Carter set up Knitting Needle Lane last autumn, a decision sparked by the closure of her favourite local wool supplier and a family holiday in Cyprus, where she browsed happily in Nicosia’s many yarn shops and then had a light bulb moment. Returning home, Camilla built her website and started selling online. She now also has a regular Sunday market stall where she is enjoying dealing directly with customers as well as being part of the friendly and welcoming market community.
There’s a great selection of yarns on the stall and it’s always changing as Camilla moves with the trends. You’ll find established names such as Sirdar and James C Brett alongside Toft, a contemporary brand, Blossom DK for baby knitting and mixed colour skeins of colourwheel yarn.
From Manos del Uruguay in South America comes hand dyed yarn produced by this non-profit organisation which was founded in 1968 to give rural women jobs in their home towns. You can read more about this fabulous enterprise on http://www.roosteryarns.com/about-manos-del-uruguay
Sourced closer to home, Camilla stocks bespoke hand dyed skeins of yarn from Cambridge resident Jemma Arrowsmith of “Under the Olive Tree”, who also supplies shawl, hat and cowl packs complete with a pattern and yarn in the kit. Camilla also sells knitting needles, crochet hooks, knitting bags and other supplies.
Camilla has been knitting since she was seven years old. Taught by her grandmother and then her mother-in-law, she’s always enjoyed the soothing creativity of this hobby which counterbalances her busy family life and her professional life as founder of Marketing Magic and as joint owner, with husband Stuart, of the wooden window and door company, Cambridge Classics. Now Camilla is planning to pass on her skills at knitting classes held in conjunction with Sewing Daze at Witchford, near Ely. The six week course, open to all from beginner level, will happen on Tuesday evenings starting on 23rd January and costs £30, which includes needles and yarn. Plus there will be tea and Camilla’s home made cake ….. sounds like a pretty perfect evening to me!!
So Christmas is coming ….. I’m making a list and checking it twice before I head off to the Cambridge Made Christmas Fair, which for the past couple of years has been my go to at this time of year for local handmade treasures and really original Christmas presents.
The Christmas Fair showcases the multifarious talents of a collective of Cambridge designer-makers who have come together as a team under the Etsy banner. Etsy is the world’s leading online marketplace for handmade goods, through which individual makers can run an online store to sell their wares. But it’s much more than a sales forum. It’s a community minded operation that encourages sellers to form teams, meaning that craftspeople can pool their experience and expertise and support each other in what can sometimes be a solitary existence.
I met with Debbie Poyser and Sara Bevan from the Cambridge Etsy team, who firmly believe that people should be able to make things for a living and, indeed, that it’s an essential human impulse to make. They told me that four years ago, their first Fair was a pop up shop in a room above a pub in central Cambridge. The Cambridge BID team then got involved, helped the group to set up a Summer Fair and from there the project went from strength to strength.
This year, the Fair is being held at St Andrew’s Baptist Church and will show the work of forty three designer-makers, artists and craftspeople over three days. There’ll be a huge variety of hand made goodies including ceramics, jewellery, textiles, quilts, botanical toiletries, cards, decorations, toys and homewares. Some new makers will be coming on board each day so it’s definitely worth visiting the Fair more than once. Should you work up a thirst doing all that Christmas shopping and need to recharge, refreshments will be available at Livingstones Cafe in the church. You’ll also be able to help raise funds for Jimmy’s Night Shelter by stopping at the charity table.
Cambridge Made welcomes applications from makers who would like to share opportunities and be a part of this supportive group. Just contact them through Facebook at Cambridge Made.
As shopping experiences go, sorting out the Christmas presents often feels like something of a mission but I can promise you that this Fair is different. So make out your list, come along to support local designer-makers and see what treasures you will find.
The story of Radmore Farm Shop is really the story of a family. Vicky Rogers grew up on Radmore Farm in Northamptonshire alongside her sister, parents and extended family. While Vicky’s father reared pigs on a large scale to supply supermarkets, Vicky and her sister decided to get a little diversification project going. They set up a small farm shop in a wooden shed, selling eggs, potatoes and vegetables that they’d grown themselves and this experiment turned out to be a big success.
Fast forward a few years ….. Vicky, by now in her final year of studies at Anglia Ruskin University, met Ben Aveling, who was working on a management training scheme in a Cambridge pub. Ben had never worked on a farm before but it wasn’t long before he and Vicky were spending their weekends at Radmore and taking with them shopping lists from people who wanted farm fresh produce brought back to Cambridge. Seeing the demand, this enterprising couple decided to set up a retail operation and so, in 2006, Radmore Farm Shop came to Cambridge, settling initially in Victoria Road, then moving to Mitchams Corner. Earlier this year, it put down roots in splendid new premises in Victoria Avenue.
Staffed by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable team, it’s a light and airy space where a big range of stock is beautifully displayed. Vicky and Ben’s aim is to make fresh farm produce available in a place where you can come and also do a whole shop so they offer a wide range of groceries. In her bakery on the farm, Vicky makes meat pies, quiches and cakes and can also bake to order. Ben is in charge of butchery. There’s a superb range of meat and poultry on offer including home reared free range chicken, pork (from the pigs still raised by Vicky’s father but on a small scale these days), pedigree free range Dexter beef and lamb. They also process game so you will find venison, pheasant and pigeon in season.
Vicky and Ben are always increasing the range available at the shop and are passionate about championing the work and produce of local independent small suppliers. They have just relaunched Radmore’s online store which you can access through their website. Just browse through the products, pick a delivery day and your shopping will come to your door.
As for Christmas, Radmore has it covered. Top quality Nordmann non-drop fir trees will be available from the end of November and Ben will deliver your tree for free in Cambridge. Christmas meats include the top-notch Kelly Bronze free range turkeys, geese, ducks and free range cockerels from the farm (Vicky and Ben’s Christmas dinner of choice!). Keep an eye on the website for details of special Christmas events and tastings which are happening in the coming weeks.
So to finish, back to the family who all still live at Radmore Farm. Vicky and Ben now have two beautiful little boys so the next generation is being raised there. You can keep up to date with them all by checking out Vicky’s blog about family, farming and food on http://www.myfamilyandotherhungryanimals.com