Taking a look around Alnwick
I’m ashamed to say that in more than a decade of living in the North East, I’d never – until yesterday – paid a proper visit to the attractive and historic Northumberland market town of Alnwick – named by Country Life magazine, in 2002, as the “best place to live in Britain”.
Emerging from one of the town’s many quaint alleys into the principal shopping thoroughfare, Bondgate Within, you can see why it won that accolade. The town centre has some lovely public spaces and landmarks, with the consistency of the architecture and array of independent shops helping to create an environment with real character. Indeed, it’s no mean feat that even Alnwick’s Sports Direct store – housed in a historic building in Market Street – manages to look quite attractive.
Alnwick also appears to boast plenty of good pubs and tea rooms – always an important factor in attracting people to visit and shop in a town. Certainly, I can commend the superb lunch that we enjoyed in Hardy’s Bistro at the White Swan Hotel, an 18th century coaching inn famous for housing fittings and the First-Class Lounge from RMS Olympic, the Titanic’s almost identical sister ship.
Because there are so few visually incongruous buildings in the town centre, the ones that there are really jar – most notably the modern property housing Iceland, and the rather unappealing former Threshers premises. The latter, however, could be markedly improved by installing a more sympathetic shopfront in terms of colour and design.
On the topic of shopfronts, I was impressed with what M&Co has done to transform the former Woolworths store in Alnwick. Ballysundriven’s May 2009 photo on Flickr shows the sad appearance of the property following the demise of Woolies. Prior to its opening in October last year, M&Co looks to have installed a smart new shopfront that complements the historic building within which it sits, and makes it difficult to recognise the property as being a former Woolworths.
In previous posts I’ve talked about the gap that Woolworths’ demise has left in many smaller market towns, where the absence of a general retailer – selling a bit of everything – is keenly felt. In Alnwick, the fabulous Proudlock House and Home store – selling furniture, gifts, homewares and hardware over three levels – certainly fills that hole to some extent.
However, the quite large number of empty units that pepper the town centre do suggest that Alnwick would still benefit from the arrival of a footfall-driving variety retailer, such as Boyes or Alworths, to limit the amount of retail spend that leaks down the A1 to larger centres such as Newcastle and Morpeth.