The small market town of Marlborough is emerging as something of a honeypot for the creative industry. Arabella Youens finds out why.
Search through the list of top-end country-house decorators working today and the chances are they either live in or have a studio close to Marlborough in Wiltshire— from Robert Kime, decorator by Royal Appointment to The Prince of Wales, to Emily Todhunter of Todhunter Earle, via Joanna Wood (who has just sold her cottage) and Susie Watson, who has cornered the market for hearts-and-flowers painted pottery and duck-egg-blue table linen.
Fabric manufacturer Fermoie designs and produces its collection from a workshop on the edge of the town and both the owners—the former Farrow & Ball duo of Tom Helme and Martin Ephson— live nearby. Just to the south lies the studio and workshop of the boutique wallpaper manufacturer Barneby Gates.
But what is the creative draw of this town, which, after all, isn’t much more than its (albeit very pretty) high street? ‘It has the ideal combination of being in proper countryside, but still accessible from London—it’s about as far west as anyone is prepared to go if they need to commute daily,’ says Charlie Wells, head of Prime Purchase (07500 818272), who used to live in nearby Ramsbury. ‘Although it’s in Wiltshire, it’s very much west-Berkshire orientated, by which I mean that people who live there are still London-centric. They use the capital on a regular basis.’
Another attractive factor is that Marlborough is well positioned for travel elsewhere around the country, believes Dominic Birkmyre of Marlborough-based Birkmyre Property Consultants (01672 516619). ‘The M4 lies just to the north and you can travel by train from either Pewsey or Swindon. There are a lot of blue-chip companies now based in industrial parks around Swindon and, of course, there’s so much going on down the M4 corridor.’
Architect Hugh Petter of ADAM Urbanism recently used the town as inspiration when he designed a broad high street with space for a market and parking in Tregunnel Hill, Prince Charles’s latest project, adjoining Newquay in Cornwall. ‘Unlike many high streets in towns around the countryside that are undistinguished, with their replica chains of shops and cafes, Marlborough has its fair share of independent boutiques and with the High Street being so wide and long, it makes for a lovely place to promenade on a Saturday morning,’ adds Mr Wells.
The council even still allows for an element of free parking, which is thought to help keep business brisk by pulling in affluent residents from the surrounding countryside—for a long time, the Waitrose in the town was said to be the highest grossing supermarket per footfall in the company’s network.
Rory O’Neill of Carter Jonas in Marlborough (01672 514916) likens it to a trendy London ‘village’, such as Marylebone High Street or Wandsworth Common. ‘There are a number of creative and well-known faces living nearby who appreciate the independent nature of the town and its bijoux stores and cafes, such as The Polly Tea Rooms and Bertie Golightly clothing.’
Another major draw is, of course, Marlborough College, which long held a reputation for having a bohemian nature (it was one of the first to admit girls to the sixth form), but that angle has been rather overshadowed recently by the fact that it’s The Duchess of Cambridge’s alma mater.
‘The popularity of the college ensures that there’s a constant appetite from parents for country houses within easy distance,’ says Mr Wells. ‘For prep schools, there’s Pinewood School and you can still do Cheam. St Mary’s Calne lies to the west and, of course, there’s the incredibly popular St John’s Academy where parents can choose, should the financial situation require it, to “swamp the comp”.’
The source of the trout chalkstream River Kennet travels through the town, but another rural playground for locals is the 2,750-acre Savernake Forest. Since 1939, it has been on a 999-year lease to the Forestry Commission, which, it’s thought, is unlikely to be threatened by last month’s sale, by its trustees, of Tottenham House, the former seat of the Earl of Cardigan.
Need to know
- Pubs The Red Lion, East Chisenbury; The Bell, West Overton; The Marlborough, Marlborough High Street
- Fairs Marlborough Mop Fair, Marlborough International Jazz Festival, Marlborough Literature Festival
- Schools Marlborough College, St Mary’s Calne, Pinewood School and St John’s Academy
Commute Hungerford, Swindon or Pewsey