Crediton is one of the places you must visit in Devon
PUBLISHED: 14:26 24 February 2015
Don’t just drive through Crediton - park the car and explore this lively town, says CATHERINE COURTENAY
Photography by NDPhotos
How many of us have driven through Crediton and thought that next time we’d stop and take a look around? On one of the main routes into Exeter, its long High Street will no doubt be familiar to many.
As traffic slows through the town you get the chance to glance at a tantalising variety of small, independent shops but, perhaps due to being so close to the big city, I’d guess that all too often this is a town that’s been bypassed in preference for its neighbour’s bright lights and chain store appeal.
Crediton has a history which in many ways is just as impressive as Exeter. It’s significance goes way back to the 10th century when its monastery was chosen to be the site of the first cathedral in Devon and Cornwall. A decision to move the cathedral to Exeter was made in 1050 - it was felt, probably justifiably, that Exeter was a safer site. Although no evidence of that early Saxon cathedral remains, it retained a bishop and a church, which in the 1230s was dedicated to ‘The Church of the Holy Cross and the Mother of Him Who Hung Theron’. It’s a suitably long title for such an impressively beautiful building.
During Henry VIII’s notorious reign the parishioners got together and successfully negotiated with the king to buy the church for £200, so saving it from demolition. If this was an indication of Crediton folks’ community spirit, then it appears to have had a lasting effect on the town.
For example, at one end of the High Street there’s the Crediton Community Bookshop. When the owners of this well established independent bookshop had to sell up, locals decided to work together to keep it open. And they did. A team of volunteers now help man the shop, ensuring its survival.
At the other end of town there’s Once Read, a second hand bookshop which opened about four years ago. When boxes of donated books started appearing on the doorstep, Jim Thatcher, who co-owns the shop with Jessica Lee, says he began to realise what sort of town he’d arrived in. Clearly amazed and somewhat humbled by the generosity of the locals, they started giving a percentage of the shop’s profit to local charities. A further development was the setting up of a Crediton Charitable Fund, which helps child-based groups and organisations in the town.
“We get all sorts of small things donated, like china and DVDs, and all the money from those goes into the fund. I realised what a community minded town this is, and let’s face it, I’ve four children, we all live here, so naturally I’ll do what I can to support the town.”
Once Read is an extraordinary shop, tiny and jammed with books, but Jim knows where everything is (and there’s thousands more in store). People pop in for a chat, some come in, sit on the floor and will read a book for up to an hour, and there’s always a free book for any children under the age of five who come through the door.
Crediton is enjoying something of a revival. Long standing family owned businesses are being joined by a host of small shops and businesses bringing a fresh new lease of life to the town. It retains an appealing traditional feel, so you’ll find a gentleman’s outfitters and an Aladdin’s cave of a hardware store, but there’s also superb delis for food fans and boutique gift and antique shops.
Set just off the High Street is the town square where the bi-monthly farmers’ market is held - an award winning market no less, it picked up this year’s top award in the Devon Life Food and Drink awards. Surrounding the square there’s a mix of cafés and shops from the fishing shop, to which angling customers come from miles around, and the Crediton Coffee Company - a buzzing coffee shop where, uniquely, you can see, and smell, the beans being roasted in front of you.
A newly formed Crediton Traders’ Group has high hopes for the town and is already planning a series of initiatives for the coming year. “We’ve got history in Crediton - parks, monuments, buildings; we’ve got a huge variety of independent retailers - and of course we’ve got a gorgeous church,” says the group’s chairman Tara Conabeare.
This readiness to work together, and commitment to the town and its future is inspiring. Scratch the surface, talk to the locals and you find a real passion and positive vibe going on.
When his mum said she was going to sell the family shop, Leigh Arthur, decided to take it on. The Crediton Pet Shop has now been in the same family for four decades. And it’s another family affair at Stevie B’s - one of two bakers’ shops in the town. Husband and wife team Steve and Lyn Bundey run the business together, and are joined by daughter Jess and their son’s partner Lorraine. “Even mum helps out too,” says Lyn. “She’s 76, but insists on doing all the washing of the whites and tea towels.”
Crediton is a town with energy and a positive outlook on life. It’s also full of surprises, one of which is that it only costs £1 for long stay parking. So next time you’re passing, park the car and take a look around - you won’t be disappointed.
“People say we’re a bit like ‘the white Desmonds’” says Gemma who owns R & G Barbershop and Shaving Parlour with her partner Robin Bishop. And it’s true - there’s an uncanny resemblance to the 1980s comedy show about a characterful West Indian barbershop. “People come in, they have a chat, then a haircut. We’ve got coffee and tea, and some beers in the fridge, so they might have another chat or have a shave,” says Gemma. “Sometimes they just come in for a chat and go out again - they don’t even have a haircut,” she laughs.
The camaraderie may be like Desmonds, but the shop itself is very different. Gemma and Robin have transformed what was a former counting house in the square into a stylish, relaxed open plan loft space. With its wooden floorboards and leather sofas there’s a definite New York loft vibe and it’s filled with an eclectic mix of vintage items, from barbershop ephemera to posters to hats - no wonder it’s so hard to leave.
“We sourced stuff from antiques shops and car boot sales,” says Gemma. She points to a yellow hat hanging in a collection on the wall: “That was brought in by a customer - it’s an old fireman’s helmet.”
Robin and Gemma offer cuts and shaves - the proper cut throat shave complete with hot towels and razors. There’s one set price for a cut and one for a shave, keeping things nice and simple.
“We get a real mix of customers,” says Gemma. “We do really traditional barbershop cuts, but we always try and push guys to do something a little different - and they like it. It’s very 1950s styling at the moment, with quiffs and classic cuts. And a lot of guys are coming in with beards now, so we do beard care and grooming.”
It’s not yet been two years since they opened the barbershop (originally in a smaller unit off the High Street), but the couple are now very much a part of the community. Gemma says: “Whenever a new customer comes in, we find out they know someone we know. Crediton has certainly accepted us now.”